April 18, 2012

Matt on (Methodologcal) Masturbation

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Matt on (Methodological) Masturbation

Matthew Flinders of Sheffield University made an interesting speech at the PSA in Belfast, accusing political scientists of ‘methodological masturbation’ and failing to communicate with politicians and the wider politically-engaged public. I think he’s largely right, but not entirely. He’s right that many political scientists have been taught that a $1000 word makes you sound more clever than a $1 word. If you’re qualitative in methodology, you tart up your language with ‘critical’ buzzwords and if quantitative, you compete to outdo others on summation signs, formal theory and Bayesian/monte carlo fancy methods that offer very marginal improvements over basic regressions. The structures of our discipline (top journals, grants, associations – especially APSA) force us to play it safe: ploughing a narrow furrow for your entire career is a safer way to notch up publications than taking risks by crossing disciplinary boundaries. Meanwhile, reducing one’s weighty theoretical lingo to the intelligible currency of the masses is in some way ‘selling out’. Where Flinders is wrong, however, is when he assumes that it is easy to get things published in broadsheets or to have programmes commissioned on radio/tv. It is easy if you are a known quantity or have connections. From my own experience, I know that when I lose a contact at one outlet, this closes the door to submitting , and when I establish one, this opens a door. Many journalists I know have confided that their publication is a relatively closed shop – people who attend the same round of social events and ‘know’ each other. Same is true in broadcast media, where my experience with film production companies trying to get a documentary sold is that it is damn near impossible without a strong ‘tabloid’ angle or connection. This does not mean that publishing is impossible – only that one may have to settle for a regional rag rather than the FT. And, as one who has also published in the Australian, I cannot agree that they are simply waiting on scraps of publishable material from British academics…the timing has to be right.

April 11, 2012

Guest Post: Meika Jensen. An Academic Battleground: Finding the Balance Between Faith, Education and Politics

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The 20-something demographic has been a painful battleground for the church. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 70%, are entering college, encountering new ideologies, and leaving the church entirely between the ages of the 18 and 30. Many college-level concepts, especially environmental responsibility or climate control, are seen as hostile toward a church viewpoint. This has lead all higher education institutions, from the best masters degree programs to community college to be viewed as overtly and vigilantly secular by many on the right.

For some Christians (or people interested in the Christian vote), this has led to an outcry against higher education and colleges in general which are blamed for robbing churches of their attendance rates and giving little or nothing in return from a religious point of view. Republican nominee Rick Santorum recently called colleges “indoctrination mills” over a spat about the Obama policy of encouraging college enrollment rates. To hear Santorum speak, the choice is between college dropouts and church dropouts.

While Santorum may be fishing for votes, many church leaders might admit to similar feelings. On closer inspection, however, the divide between higher learning and faith does not appear so clear. A number of churches would step up with counter-arguments of their own. The General Board of Church & Society, via the Methodist Church, takes a stance of global and environmental justice, seeking proper environmental stewardship as well as social responsibility. The Methodists are not alone in these arguments – emergent churches across the United States take up similar pro-environment and pro-social conscience arguments. Where do they expect Christian youth to learn environmental responsibility, social justice, and proper use of technology? At college, of course.

Indeed, colleges themselves have no problem accepting faith while teaching science: Many exemplary private universities respect their roots in a Christian foundation while equipping students with general knowledge and skills necessary to treat the world according to Biblical, faith-based standpoints. Education and faith, some argue, are inextricably linked. Further studies on church dropout rates even indicate that education itself is not a factor in falling church attendance, but rather the common 20-something miasma of doubt may be to blame.

Yet pressure continues to build on both political and religious fronts. On their way to secure votes for the coming election, politicians are proving eager to encourage any religious view that gives them an advantage. Santorum’s comments are not the only partisan jabs seen in recent months. Other environmental issues, such as the green tech movement, have gotten their share of flak for no other reason than being a project of the opposing party. Meanwhile, in the struggle to keep youth in church, religious organizations find themselves caught in the crossfire, seeing the potential in education but fearing loss of faith or direction.

Website by Eric P Kaufmann