Category Archives: Blogosphere

No Freedom in the Ghetto

The academic ghetto (composed of the humanities, International Relations, sociology, and so on) is a place of low-employment and low-wages. There are four types of people in the academic ghetto:

  • Pimps who run the game. They are the professors.
  • Escapees who are about to get out. They are (graduates who leave the field but use their skills.
  • Losers, who those sucked into the system until their time, youth, and money desert them. They are non-tenure track instructors.
  • Disaster tourists, who get a thrill out of the place. They are students or others who for whatever reason don’t need the degree for employment.


Pimps are in zero-sum competition with each other. This conflict leads all pimps to give up freedom in exchange for safety.

Pimps act tough, but only because they are in a dangerous environment.  They are prisoners of the lack of jobs and opportunities.  There is no freedom in the ghetto.

A pimp may lord it over losers and strut for disaster tourists, but his life is essentially one of fear. Signs of weakness are pounced on. The only safe approach is to stay within your square block, not venture outside, and avoid conflict (while appearing not to). Original thinkers are weeded out, punished, or otherwise compelled to keep their heads down.

A sad example of this occurred this year at the formerly interesting group blog, Duck of Minerva. As I described it in a post from August

An example of this was at The Duck of Minerva, a blog dedicated to celebrating one alley in the academic ghetto (International Relations). A humorous post on identifying and infiltrating old boys networks by a professor at a research university, Brian Rathburn, entitled “Intellectual Jailbait: Networking at APSA” was taken down, all comments on that post were deleted ,Brian was forced to issue a self-criticism, Brian’s post became a non-entity (substantively replaced by Steve Saideman‘s post “Networking is Hard Work“), and two thinly veiled attacks on Brian were posted, (Daniel Nexon‘s “Sexual Harassment in Political Science and International Studies and Laura Sjoberg’s Let’s talk about sex). .

To go back to the analogy, Brian, Daniel, and Laura were pimps who engaged in a turf war. Steve instead gave in to the system, avoiding conflict with the most generic post possible.

The results?

But Steve — who wrote a generic and grey post, who kept his head down — he’s still there. He even said he likes his job. Brave stuff.

If you are young and thinking of entering the humanities ghetto — don’t. If you’re already there — run.

What should a Political Science PhD student do? Should she blog?

tdaxp’s Note: Once in a while I use the platform of this blog to give personal advise. Recently a blogger, who also comments at Duck of Minerva, asked if blogging was a sensible choice in today’s world. This post is an attempt to answer that question.

Over at Duck of Minerva, Anita Kellogg also asked recently if she should blog while preparing for a career in academic International Relations. The full text of her question, posted at Duck of Minerva after the defenestration of Brian Rathburn, was:

I am an IR scholar who in the last couple of weeks decided to try blogging in earnest as a counterbalance to the isolation of dissertation writing. When I read Brian’s post yesterday, I definitely started to have second thoughts. I know I will make mistakes. I am still trying to find my voice and focus. I would like to write about politics more broadly, but should I only write about issues where my qualifications are stronger? Even if I stick to IR, do the potential negatives for job searches in the future outweigh the more immediate benefits now? I am really unsure of my answers to these questions at present

The short answer is:

Drop out of International Relations immediately

The long answer is below…

But first, some context…

Actually, Anita’s choice whether or not to blog first depends on why she is in the academic ghetto.


As I’ve said many times, there are four types of people in that land of few jobs and low wags:

1. Pimps who run the racket
2. Losers who are exploited by the pimps
3. Escapees who are preparing to leave
4. Disaster tourists who get a kick out of the whole thing

Average salaries for political science PhDs are not pretty, implying that successfully pimping (teaching at a research-one university) with that degree is as unlikely as ascending to the top of the Black Gangsta Disciples.


Assuming that Anita is not actively trying to leave Political Science, that leaves being a Loser or a Disaster tourists. Disaster tourists come in three shades

1. Those with income from parents such that they do not need to work to support themselves
2. Those with income from spouses such that they do not need to work to support themselves
3. Those with sufficient personal capital (financial, skill-based, etc) that the years in graduate school can be seen as an extended “finding yourself” vacation

Assuming she’s not a disaster tourist, the best advise for Anita is to run.


But let’s assume that Anita’s goal is to be a pimp — to land a job at a research-one university — and she doesn’t mind that she will be exploiting others to do so. (The countless students who will take on student loans, work hard for years, and leave with few jobs and low wages). Then the answer is still obvious

Don’t blog if you need a job in the humanities ghetto

The reason is that there are two sorts of job markets

1. Job markets where few individuals have veto power over hiring
2. Job markets where many individuals have veto power over hiring

In the first kind of job market, an individual needs to impress a superior in some many: ideological bias, pleasant personality, research skill, whatever. While hiring here in such an environment is idiosyncratic and arbitrary, it’s attack surface area is relatively small. Only one individual must be assuaged, meaning at worst you’re dealing with the idiosyncratic and arbitrary prejudices of one person. One might, however, get a job because one’s odd beliefs somehow flatter the hiring manager.

The second kind of job market describes political science, as well as the rest of the humanities ghetto. A hiring committee is more idiosyncratic and arbitrary than a hiring manager, because in a hiring committee the disqualifying attributes are the sum (set union) of the disqualifying attributes as decided by all of the hiring committee members. The hiring committee process, further, is set up to avoid anyone receiving a job because one’s beliefs somehow flatter a specific member.

You can think of the possibility of not getting a job as a result of an idiosyncratic bias as a series of draws. One hiring manager means one draw per thing associated with you. Two means two draws. And so on.

To use Anita as an example, recently on her blog she’s gone out of her way to attack (or discuss) conservatives, a Christian evangelist (on the subject of charity) anti-vaccination activists (who, admittedly, are nutcases — though some have PhDs), a sitting Senator (who I’ve also attacked), public radio (albeit humorously), and St. Thomas Aquinas (albeit indirectly).

The possibility of being interviewed by a conservative, or an anti-vaccine nut, or a fan of St. Thomas Aquinas is relatively small. But the more members of the committee, the greater the chance. The more posts you have written, the greater the chance.

The only students in the humanities ghetto I know of, whose careers were helped by blogging, were escapees leaving the ghetto.

If you want to blog, run.

Stereotyping, and Rare but Important Events

Phil Arena has an interesting but problematic piece up at Duck of Minerva, entitled “Bayes, Stereotyping, and Rare Events.” The substantive topic of the post is a recent survey of Muslims that I’m not too interested in. But Phil uses statistics to mask a deeply flawed and irrelevant conclusion:

Put simply, the probability that you’d be mistaken to assume that someone who belongs to group Y is likely to commit or have committed act X simply because most such acts are committed by members of group Y grows exponentially higher as X becomes rarer. The reason you should not assume that a person is a terrorist just because they’re Muslim, then, is not just that this is politically incorrect and likely to offend delicate liberal sensibilities. It’s that it’s almost certainly incorrect, full stop.

The first and last sentences in that paragraph have almost nothing to do with each other. Phil’s conclusion is irrelevant, and the “full stop” leaves the most important part of the conclusion unsaid.

And Phil’s not alone in such a mistake. Take for example an recent statement on the NPR program “Tell Me More” by Fernando Vila. Fernando is responding to a statement that a disproportionate fraction of violent crimes in New York City are committed by African Americans:

VILA: Well, I mean, the notion of paranoia is a good one and Mario’s statistics actually sort of feed into that – into this culture of paranoia. I mean, the vast majority of black people are not committing crimes.

VILA: You know, it’s like to say, I don’t know – the vast majority of hosts on NPR are white males. That doesn’t mean that every time I encounter a white male on the street I assume he’s a host of NPR. You know, it’s just a backwards way of looking at it

Phil and Fernando make exactly the same mistake: false assuming the cost of a “false positive” (accidentally marking someone as suspicious) is the same as the cost of a “false negative” (accidentally marking someone as not suspicious). But the truth is all errors are not equal.

The cost of a mistake is a function of the severity of the mistake.

Is the cost to society of 1 false positive (falsely placing an individual under suspicion of terrorism) the same as the cost to society of 1 false negative (falsely removing suspicion from an actual terrorist)? No, of course not, but Phil’s post is based that on fallacy. Otherwise his conclusion makes no sense.

There is a serious question as to where we should become indifferent to the trade-off — 10:1? 100:1? 1:1000000? — but it is certainly not 1:1.

Likewise, Fernando’s statement on NPR is irrelevant. While the consequence of guessing an individual’s employment status at NPR might be 1:1 (few would care either way), the costs of falsely assuming someone would attack you is far less than the cost of falsely assuming an individual will not attack you. Again, there is a question of trade-offs — 1000:1, 10000:1, 1000000:1? — but the cost of all errors are not identical.

Now, obviously Phil and Fernando had different motives here. Phil’s obviously trying to popularize some basic statistics, while Fernando is doubtless ignorant of basic statistics. But in both cases an unwary audience will be led astray into thinking all errors are equally important.

New Blog Recommendation

New Blog Recommendation

You read tdaxp, so you’re smart.

That’s self-serving flattery, but not untrue. If you’re reading this post, you like intelligent, thought-provoking, and unexpectedly combative posts, like my posts on education reform, scientific research programs, the rise of Christianity, and the Chinese Civil War. You’re the sort of person who probably has also read Tom Barnett on globalization, Mark Safranski on history, Razib Khan on genetics, Catholicgauze on geography, and Lion of the Blogosphere on social class.

With this in mind, I recommend Miss Nurse, RN.

(Parenthetical note:I am writing this from China, and the only one of these sites to be blocked is Lion of the Blogosphere and Miss Nurse, RN. Make of that what you will.)

I have little tolerance for health-advise pseudoscience or sophistry, but I like how “Miss Nurse” takes a critical but educated view of personal health. Her posts don’t treat the reader as an idiot, and have no easy answers.

In other words, they are what we need as we become a sicker and sicker society.

Read Miss Nurse, RN.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-10-07

Some Thoughts on Being a Professional

Catholicgauze has an awesome post about geo-literacy. He references several careers for the geo-literate, that is, geographers, including:

  • Real estate analyst
  • Market Research
  • Political Consultancy
  • Business Consultancy

Note the common theme: all of these things allow someone who loves geography to do what they love, while getting paid, and building expertise.

A career is really a process of finding a way to do the following three things simultaneously:
1. Do something you love
2. Do something you get paid for doing
3. Do what you can be the best in the world at

It’s as dangerous, I think, to focus only on maximizing how much you love your job, without regard to the other two, as it would be to maximize your pay, without regard to the other two.

A professional should wisely combine what he loves with what he can be an expert in, and what he can get paid for doing.

Education Around the Blogosphere

Yesterday was pretty cool because two bloggers I really respect took up some themes I introduced on this blog.

Zenpundit has an excellent article, “A Convo on Monopolies and Public Education,” in response to my earlier piece, “Monopoly!” As he states, “we draw different normative conclusions while agreeing on most points of fact, second order effects and political dynamics,” so it’s been fascinating. I’ll be replying soon — check it out!

But that’s not all! Catholicgauze is glad we’re not Krygyzstgan in his post “OCED 2009 Report on Student Performances,” which discusses my post, “Don’t Ignore the Poor.” Catholicgauze has often talked about the poor state of US geographical education, so education matters are close to his heart.