Political Science?

The New York Times ran an article on Sunday by Professor Jacqueline Stevens titled Political Scientists are Lousy Forecasters. In it, she cites evidence of how poor most political science modelling is, mostly because it is government or think-tank funded and therefore comes down on the ‘right’ side of the debate. She also quotes Karl Popper who laughed at political sciences pretensions at science believing science can only be conducted in isolation or controlled conditions, a notion totally at odds with human emotional rather than rational (take note economists) behaviour.

However after returning to university and continuing to work there is some capacity, my advice to political scientists would be do some actual research. You know ‘go out there and ask questions bringing some science into what is right now is political pontificating in ivory towers. I am constantly surprised how reluctant/cowardly academics in political science are to getting their hands dirty and talking to people.

It reminds me of the row between the value of academic Laura Seay and journalist Tristan McConnell. Seay criticised journalist’s understanding and analysis in the Congo. The fact she did it in Foreign Policy, a noted top-down rag is a bad starting point. Despite Congo being her research area, she wrote this piece from Texas. She lamented the incomplete analysis while welcoming the exposure of issues of poverty and violence. While we all wish for thorough research, this can take years. While our professor is happily writing away, getting paid and going home to the family, these problems are not going away. Thorough analysis is welcomed but NGOs and journalists on the ground are savvy and intelligent enough to get to the nub fairly quickly.

What i think we are really hearing is the ground lost by academia in the public mind and to some degree its relevance. Academic research didn’t highlight or predict the fall of Yugoslavia or report the massacres to the world. Its prescription has also failed Bosnia since. If they do comment, it all comes too late. I was even invited to a conference on whether academics should be more public involved. Naturally the first day was reserved for debating what is ‘involved!’

Sociology is always the way forward.

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So William married a common Kate eh?

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A report from the Scottish NUS today highlighted what will become more noticeable as the student fees kick in in England and Wales.

Students were classed as coming from a poorer background if they grew up in one of the least affluent 20% of postcode districts.

St Andrews University admitted 13 students from these areas. It teaches a total of 7,370 undergraduates.

Students will not only stop going to universities but universities themselves will be more hesitant about taking on poorer students who may have to drop out due to financial impossibilities. That would affect university funding. But in this example at St Andrews, there are no fees. The university has simply chosen not to have poorer students. If this were a private institution, the case would be arguable. Alas William and Kate’s university St Andrews is funded totally by the taxpayer, the ordinary person who goes to university for a leg up, not a foot on your head.

Double Tragedy

Horatio Chapple was killed by a polar bear last week in Northern Norway. Four others were injured and the bear, a mature male was shot dead. While the details of why this happened are still fairly unclear, two points stood out for me. Firstly what a terrible way to go. And secondly the boys were on a trip with the British Schools Explorers Society. That’s a registered charity which seeks to provide an opportunity for youth development. However those in real need of development might have been missed.

As per usual, this opportunity with the Explorers wasn’t in fact a real leg-up for Horatio. The trip cost £2,900 which sounds reasonable. After all, the flights, insurance and organisational costs would be significant. But this therefore limits the access. Who can afford such development? Horatio was a student at Eton College (ironically another registered charity) which costs £30,000 + a year to attend. His photo on the BBC story showed him sat on a racing yacht. He was hoping to study medicine at Oxford which costs another £3,000 a year.

Now I am not saying all the kids were from the same background but what we see here is an example of the reinforcement of social and cultural capital. A simple embedding of social advantages. Alongside the government’s cuts to council budgets and the façade of its replacement Big Society merely add to such disparities of opportunity. The kids on the tragic Norway expedition may need less development. They might have the advantages already. A real charitable expedition involves taking on those who lack access yet who need opportunity. Opportunity leads to empowerment. That is development.

The Joys of Just Thinkin’ and Drinkin’

So why was this last semester so good? Well as mentioned before, the last five months in Nottingham and generally at Uni were excellent. It took a month to find my feet but when I did, it all went so fast with such variety. This last semester in particular changed my outlook.

The academic focus shifted to more sociology from migration, NGOs and globalisation and an international relations module called disaster politics. Not only are the modules far more global in perspective but the group I study with are nicer, more varied and make up a good team. We socialise together, help each other with essays and party. I’m also auditing a post-colonialism module taught by Colin Wright, a really impressive man.

I’ve got 4 more essays to write but they are under control. Then one last, the dissertation at 15,000 words is a challenge but I think I can meet it.

I’ve said friends with the people from the first semester (Leanne, Josh, Oscar and the critical theory crew) and built on it. Guys like Edan, Arthur, Sam, Keaton and Wei are all laid-back and fun. The girls (Laura, Elena, Dena, Kat, Heather, Ces and Cat) are all fun and out-going. Its a warm atmosphere.

I’m involved much more closely with the magazine, contributing more travel, music, news and commentary and socialising with them. I’ve put up a few articles up here and there are more to come. Ones about Love, Ronda and world music. Rosie, Ellie, Ruth and Claudia have all proved great fun with jabber with. I’ve made friends with Vicky too.

Other activities include going to Vivali, bbq or picnics in the park, a night at the theatre, seeing Bright Eyes and the Wombats and a whole host of random occasions.

Pedro, Oli and Sarah came up to visit. Joe is over next month, Linden should be over and the new guys I live with in Lenton seem cool.

And I’ve learnt a lot. Ultimately it has just been nice to sit back and gather a framework round your ideas. Its like a Sunday in the pub, sitting with like minded people every day. Its all been pretty damn good. 😀