RAND and Rational Choice Theory

Soldiers of Reason by Alex Abella focuses on the history of the RAND Corporation, a government-sponsored think tank that was highly influential in setting the underpinnings of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War.  In terms that sometimes border on conspiracy theory, Abella casts RAND as the primary strategic force driving American foreign policy since the end of World War II. But Abella’s account of RAND drives far deeper than just another analysis of Cold War foreign policy or academic assault on U.S. empire.  He mounts a fundamental critique of rational choice theory itself.

Praying for an Orange Couch

After reading Youssef Cohen’s Radicals, Reformers, and Reactionaries for my summer course, I was reminded of what we mean when we assume rationality in rational choice models. We assume rationality in decision making, that individuals will attempt to maximize their utility given their preferences and the constraints that exist. There are a few important components in rational choice models, however, that we do not make any assumptions and judgments about. First, in terms of preferences, we merely require that they are transitive. We do not judge their quality. If the actors prefer to buy a bright orange couch for their Continue reading Praying for an Orange Couch

China, Sudan, and the British Empire

As the opening of the Olympics in Beijing nears, NPR is running a few series on the foundations and future of China’s global power within the context of the country’s history and economic position.  Today’s installment, “China and Sudan: A Marriage Sealed in Oil, History,” is the first of stories that will outline China’s influence in Africa.  The story recounts the tale of Major General Charles Gordon of Great Britain.  He worked to secure trading lines with China, and later to manage Britain’s colonial possession at the time, Sudan. The relationship between Sudan and China is widely believed to be Continue reading China, Sudan, and the British Empire

Over 100 Places that May Fund Your Research

Academic Productivity has recently posted a great find from the Online Education Database: 100 places to find funding for your research: Whether you’re researching the habits of marine life, ancient texts or just a new way to market products, you’ll likely need some funding to get your studies underway. The Internet is a great place to start looking for sources of funding, and we’ve put together a list here of a hundred or so places where you can get some assistance for your next big research project.

Strategies for Writing: Advice from the UNC Writing Center

Ever the connoisseur of writing strategy and style, I have encountered enough advice and discussion that I could probably change my dissertation topic to the analysis of the modi operandi of academic writers.  I’ll stick with my current dissertation topic for now, but some of this advice needs to be shared with as many  interested people as possible, such as that from the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  The handouts they have created offer valuable advice for academic writers at all levels.  Of the most useful for my purposes has been the handout on Continue reading Strategies for Writing: Advice from the UNC Writing Center

The Dark Knight and Game Theory

If you have not already seen The Dark Knight, then you should read this post at a later time as to avoid spoilers after the jump.  Otherwise, follow the jump for a game theoretic discussion derived from the movie that has already broken two box office records for both best midnight opening and top first day revenue.  I personally enjoyed the movie immensely, but that discussion does not follow. So, officially, consider this a spoiler alert for what follows.

Manual Data Collection in the age of Computers

I am beginning a new data collection project that requires the manual coding of data collected from various sources in print and online.  As I start this project, I am tasked with how to build a master record of all the data I collect in the process.  I have worked on projects that used extensive paper coding forms that were later filed away only to be retrieved when appropriate.  This serves as a safeguard to both checking original coding decision, errors in the database, and any other information the coders found while researching the topic at hand.  Alternatively, other projects Continue reading Manual Data Collection in the age of Computers

More from SSRN: Publishing Advice for Graduate Students

It appears that I might be a little late to the game judging by the Technorati reactions; however, that will not stop me now or in the near future.  After some initial prompting from Richard Frank, this stellar introductory piece for graduate students posted back in January (universalized for all disciplines) details four avenues for publication: book reviews, conference presentations, articles and replies, and books.  Abstract: Graduate students often lack concrete advice on publishing. This essay is an attempt to fill this important gap. Advice is given on how to publish everything from book reviews to articles, replies to book chapters, and Continue reading More from SSRN: Publishing Advice for Graduate Students

A Newly Found Appreciation for the UN?

When I took my 10 year old brother for a tour of the UN the other day, I was not surprised when he insisted that the UN was actually an art museum. Even with my limited experience in the IR subfield (which includes one graduate level seminar and frequent exchanges with colleagues who study IR), I have come to realize that the UN is not considered a "serious" force in domestic politics around the world. Even using the word "force" seems inappropriate, because states can ignore the UN’s rules and very few of them are actually punished for doing so. Continue reading A Newly Found Appreciation for the UN?

Sounds like a Comprehensive Exam Question

A recent NY Times article pointed out a literature issue in the field of biology, and I began to wonder if political scientists have the same problem. The problem: even though Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species laid the foundation for Modern Biology, it is surprisingly uncommon for biologists to actually read the book (although they still cite it). Olivia Judson from the NY Times admits that the book is a little outdated (it was written 150 years ago); however, she argues that biologists can still learn some lessons from it, so they should still read it. Hence, I Continue reading Sounds like a Comprehensive Exam Question