Summer Vertigo

by Kieran Healy on June 7, 2005

Summer Vertigo is the counterpart to Winter Regret, the Christmastime feeling that produces lists of “Books I Did Not Read This Year”: At the beginning of the Summer break, teaching is done and it seems like there’s a bunch of free time open for you to tackle, oh, well just about any number of projects. Projects fall into three categories:

# Stuff you should be finished with already.
# Stuff that’s been on the back-burner for a while, but is doable now you have some time.
# Fantasy projects that share many of the characteristics of black holes.

Category (1) stuff is the most irritating, because it feels like a continuation of what you’ve been doing all year. This breeds resentment, which inhibits productivity. Category (2) stuff is the most promising, as the groundwork has already been laid some other time, and really it would just take a decent push to generate something tangible, like a couple of new papers. However, things in this category are never as attractive as things in Category (3). These are really easy to come up with, and are guaranteed to fail over the time you have available. Examples include: Learn French. Learn Bayesian statistics. (Presupposes learning matrix algebra properly.) Read Piero Sraffa’s early papers. (Implies reading lots of classical economics.) Reread (and this time _write notes_ about) Identity and Control and Markets from Networks. Read a lot of Bourdieu.

And that’s just a small sample of those Category 3 items that are related to my work. There’s also things like reading West-Eberhard’s Developmental Plasticity and Evolution or any number of other books. Let alone any _fiction_. That’s when I begin to think that what I _really_ need is a way to upload substantial parts of the brains of, say, Brad DeLong or “Cosma Shalizi”: into my own. None of this even broaches subjects like getting my “Ellsworth Truth”: put back together and out on the trail. I feel ill.

No Need for Neologism

by Kieran Healy on June 7, 2005

“Orin Kerr says”:

bq. someone needs to come up with a name for discussions about the blogosphere’s gender/political/racial breakdown. These sorts of questions seem to pop up pretty frequently, and always lead to lots of discussion. Ideas, anyone?

Er, I guess if pushed I “could think of a word”: (Maybe this is a VC thing: I remember a while back one of the other conspirators came up with the phrase “Reverse Tinkerbell Effect” to describe self-defeating prophecies or self-undermining beliefs, a phenomenon he seemed to think no-one else had ever noticed.) If you wanted to get legalistic about it (this is the VC, etc) then you might say the request was for a name for the _discussions_ of the blogosphere’s sociology rather than the thing itself. But that would just be the amateur or folk sociology of the blogosphere. This might itself be the subject of study if, for instance, you were interested in explaining the typically depressing structure of discussions about women in blogging, or what have you. Alternatively, maybe Orin is looking for some well-established Usenet folk-concept like “flame war.”

I spent a fair chunk of time over the last few months working as chair for one of the divisions of the annual American Political Science Association’s annual meeting, which is being held this year in Washington DC. It was an eye-opener – I’d never understood how the decision-making process worked before; i.e. how decisions are made over which paper proposals are accepted or rejected. It was also somewhat startling to see how many good papers don’t end up being accepted through no fault of their own. If I had had the slots, I would have accepted twice as many papers for my division as I was able to – there were a number of very good paper proposals that ended up not being accepted due to reasons of space or fit. But there is also a political economy to the process of decision-making; if you understand it properly (I didn’t, prior to participating in the process), you can maximize your chances of getting a good proposal accepted. Mediocre or bad papers are of course still likely to end up on the cutting room floor. Some lessons are posted below the fold. NB that these only apply to the APSA meeting – the processes of choice (and hence the best means to maximizing your likelihood of paper acceptance) will vary dramatically from conference to conference. Those with expert knowledge of other conferences and other disciplines are invited to share tips and experiences in comments.
[click to continue…]

Nominations are closed, but now you can vote, at the In Our Time site, on who is the greatest philosopher of all time. I’m surprised that there is even a debate about this among educated people, but I suppose that even the CT contributors might disagree amongst themselves. For me, there’s one so far in front of the others that it’s not worth debating. To my complete dismay, my two favourite celebrities on the BBC list (the greatest living Irishman and the greatest living Englishman) chose others, and my least favourite concurred with me.

If present trends continue ….

by Chris Bertram on June 7, 2005

There’s a “fun article in the FT today”: about the practice of extrapolating from current trends. Unless you are a subscriber, you’ll only get the first couple of paragraphs, but you’ll see the general idea:

bq. At the time Elvis Presley died in 1977, he had 150 impersonators in the US. Now, according to calculations I spotted in a Sunday newspaper colour supplement recently, there are 85,000. Intriguingly, that means one in every 3,400 Americans is an Elvis impersonator. More disturbingly, if Elvis impersonators continue multiplying at the same rate, they will account for a third of the world’s population by 2019.

Jonathan Wolff on humanities research in the UK

by Chris Bertram on June 7, 2005

Today’s Guardian has “a piece by Jonathan Wolff, political philosopher at UCL”:,9865,1500524,00.html , on the peculiar way in which humanities research is funded in the UK and the distorting effects this may have on the way academics work:

bq. Many of the grants currently awarded require outputs to be specified in advance, and to be submitted for publication soon after the grant ends. There is at least a suspicion that this is having a peculiar effect. Some people, including some leaders in their fields, are simply refusing to jump through these hoops, and are not applying for grants. Others are playing a more subtle game. They are applying for grants for their “second best” projects that they know they will be able to complete and deliver to deadline. At the same time, on the side, they are working on projects they care about much more, but have not included on their funding applications. Why not? Because they do not want to be forced to stand and deliver when the grant is over. The work is too important to them for that. Years more might be needed to sort out the details. Maybe it will never be ready, or at least not in the planned form. Genuinely creative work is risky, and risk means the real possibility of failure. But even when it succeeds it is unpredictable, perhaps even a little chaotic, and often deadlines are deadening. Better not to promise anything.