Monday, April 20, 2009

IR Scholars vs. Policymakers

Joe Nye's Washington Post op-ed has started a debate on IR scholars and their policy relevance. Following Dan Drezner's thread, I summerize recent arguments as below.

Nye is concerned about the growing gap between the government and IR scholars.
"While important American scholars such as Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski took high-level foreign policy positions in the past, that path has tended to be a one-way street. Not many top-ranked scholars of international relations are going into government, and even fewer return to contribute to academic theory...
The fault for this growing gap lies not with the government but with the academics.
Scholars are paying less attention to questions about how their work relates to the policy world, and in many departments a focus on policy can hurt one's career. Advancement comes faster for those who develop mathematical models, new methodologies or theories expressed in jargon that is unintelligible to policymakers. 
And the solution must come from the academy itself.
The solutions must come via a reappraisal within the academy itself. Departments should give greater weight to real-world relevance and impact in hiring and promoting young scholars. Journals could place greater weight on relevance in evaluating submissions. Studies of specific regions deserve more attention. Universities could facilitate interest in the world by giving junior faculty members greater incentives to participate in it. That should include greater toleration of unpopular policy positions. 
I don't accept that this isonly the academy's fault.  Even when IR scholars try to speak with one loud voice, the result is often a deafening silence in the policy world. 
Raj M. Desai and James Raymond Vreeland also disagree; they believe that "both sides need to make an effort."
Nye complains about the methodological rigor in contemporary political science as an impediment to its relevance. This is ironic, given that it is precisely this rigor that has allowed modern political science to improve its forecasting power - something that is presumably vital to policymaking. We now have better statistical tools to predict, for example, the likelihood of state failurecivil conflictdemocratic breakdown, and other changes in governments. Game-theoretic models can be used to analyze trade disputes and war, as well as the behavior of international organizationsterrorist movements, and nuclear stateswith greater precision and clarity than just a few decades before.

But a part of this fault may also lie within the halls of certain government agencies. Nye also points to a strong connection between economists and policy makers. No wonder. Staffers at the US Treasury, the Fed, the National Economic Council (to name a few places) are comfortable reading cutting-edge economic analyses because they have been trained to understand mathematical models and statistical results. If people at the State Department or the National Security Council have not been comparably trained, however, they will not understand contemporary political science or its capacity to inform policy. Academic political science can do a much better job of reaching out to policymakers. But governmental agencies need to focus some effort on recruiting individuals who have the background and skills needed to apply modern political science to their daily work. Both sides need to make an effort.
What do you think? Comments invited.

No comments: