FY2014-15 Report on Personal Research Program

Reflections and ‘lessons learned’ in FY2014-15 on my personal research program:

 

1. I spent much of FY2014-15 dealing with a rapidly changing higher education sector and university environment. The classical strategy of stable environments based on scale advantages no longer exists outside of Group of 8 universities. Two new operational models have instead emerged: a private equity-influenced emphasis on productivity, and a venture capital-influenced approach to revenue generation that uses a J-curve structure. As part of these shifts I learned more about business development, how to negotiate research contracts, and intellectual property.

 

2. I focused my personal research program on a core research area: the study of hedge funds and terrorist organisations as strategic subcultures. My personal research program has two projects: an on-going PhD at Australia’s Monash University, and the black box development of a quantitative trading system to self-finance future research. The PhD builds on the scholarship of Jack Snyder, Alastair Iain Johnston, Colin S. Gray, Ken Booth, David Haglund, Jeffrey Lantis, and others. I found new links with the work of Max Abrahms, David Aronson, Boaz Ganor, Timothy Masters, Lasse Heje Pedersen, and Nate Silver.

 

3. I deepened my approach to research design and methodology. An important part of this was reading books from the Cambridge University Press series Strategies for Social Inquiry; the Columbia University Press series Columbia Studies in Terrorism and Irregular Warfare; the Princeton University Press series Princeton Studies in International History and Politics; the Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology; and the German publisher Springer. I shifted from past work on critical theory to empirical methods.

 

4. I invested in specific resources to understand agent based models, computational social science, machine learning, and stream processing. These areas will enable my personal research program to grow in the future. They have also expanded my academic, industry, and social media networks.

 

5. I had one research publication for the year: a coauthored book chapter with Deakin University’s Ben Eltham in the Jeffrey S. Lantis edited book Strategic Cultures and Security Policies in the Asia-Pacific (Routledge, 2015), which was a reprint of a 2014 article for Contemporary Security Policy journal. I am publishing more slowly yet in higher quality outlets.

 

Some goals for my personal research program in FY2015-16:

 

1. Successfully complete Monash University’s mid-candidature review for my on-going PhD and continue with write-up.

 

2. Engage with causal analysis and process tracing as research methodologies. Continue to do related background reading for post-PhD research on Bayesian statistical inference and computational social science applications in counterterrorism.

 

3. Successfully backtest the following trading strategies: event arbitrage and mean reversion.

Roy Christopher’s Summer Reading List 2015 + Bonus Material

I have some book suggestions in Disinformation alumnus Roy Christopher’s Summer Reading List 2015.

 

The emergent theme in my list this year is: the wealth extraction strategies of oligarchical elites and how to Become them.

 

Here is some bonus material I wrote that you might find useful:

 

Lasse Heje Pedersen Efficiently Inefficient: How Smart Money Invests & Market Prices Are Determined (Princeton University Press, 2015). Lasse Heje Pederson is the John A. Paulson Professor of Finance and Alternative Investments at the New York University Stern School of Business. Perdersen’s “efficiently inefficient” theory of financial markets focuses on active investors who have a comparative advantage. This book examines six economically motivated investment styles and eight hedge fund strategies. It contains one of the best descriptions I have read of how active management works. Pedersen also interviews influential hedge fund managers and investment managers including James Chanos, Cliff Asness, George Soros, Myron Scholes, Ken Griffin, and John A. Paulson. For a history of hedge funds see Sebastian Mallaby’s More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite (Bloomsbury, 2010).

 

Han Smit and Thras Moraitis Playing At Acquisitions: Behavioral Option Games (Princeton University Press, 2015). Han Smit is a Professor in the Faculty of Economics at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Thras Moraitis was Group Head of Strategy and Corporate Affairs at Xstrata. Playing At Acquisitions offers a synthesis of three business strategy methodologies: behavioural economics, game theory, and real options. An in-depth case study on the company Xstrata is also provided. Smit and Moraitis provide a personal synthesis that will enable you to perceive your own cognitive biases, to understand others, and to make more effective decisions under uncertainty. For a conceptual understanding of business strategy see J.C. Spenders Business Strategy: Managing Uncertainty, Opportunity, and Enterprise (Oxford University Press, 2014).

 

Lauren A Rivera Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs (Princeton University Press, 2015). Lauren Rivera is Associate Professor of Management & Organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Pedigreefollows in the footsteps of Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca in examining how the processes of elite reproduction and social stratification occur in elite firms who hire students from elite schools into entry-level jobs. Rivera uses interviews and participant observation to discover how employers use a range of filtering mechanisms to reproduce elites in a way that is reminiscent of ancestral heritage and cultural transmission. This book also offers novel insights on the sociological study of contemporary elites and elite circulation. For a micro-study on elites, non-elites and economic stratification see Robert D. Putnam’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (Simon & Schuster, 2015).

 

Karen Dawisha Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (Simon & Schuster, 2014). Karen Dawisha is the Director of the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies at Miami University. Putin’s Kleptocracy was originally under contract at Cambridge University Press before potential libel concerns led to Simon & Schuster publishing the book. Dawisha uses archival, internet, interview, and other sources to show how Putin rose to power and how he and a small oligarchical elite succeeded in extracting economic wealth from post-Soviet Russia. Dawisha’s research informed the PBS Frontline documentary Putin’s Way (13th January 2015). Putin’s success at wealth extraction can be compared with Thor Bjorgolfsson’s Billions to Bust – and Back (Profile Books 2014) and Bill Browder’s Red Notice (Simon & Schuster, 2015) in which self-styled ‘adventure capitalists’ and emerging market financiers were not so lucky. On Putin’s use of sociological propaganda to restructure post-Soviet Russia see Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible (PublicAffairs, 2014) and Jason Stanley’s How Propaganda Works (Princeton University Press, 2015).

Reading Pile

1. Loretta Napoleoni. 2015. The Islamist Phoenix: The Islamic State and the Redrawing of the Middle East. New York: Seven Stories Press. PhD supervisor Luke Howie and I have discussed me including a section on ISIS in my study of terrorist organisations as strategic subcultures. Napoleoni contends that ISIS engages in a new form of nation-building in order to re-establish the Caliphate. One of several quickly written books to emerge as ISIS has gained military power projection in Iraq.

 

2. Richard Seymour. 2014. Against Austerity: How We Can Fix The Crisis They Made. New York: Pluto Press. A left-wing polemic that anticipated current political events in Greece, the Queensland state election, and in Australian federal politics. Seymour describes austerity as neoliberal crisis management, and as an elite strategy to change socio-economic foundations. An angry and insightful analysis of the conditions that might lead to oligarchical collectivism (George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four).

 

3. Luke Howie and Peter Kelly. 2015. ‘Sociologies of Terrorism: Holographic Metaphors for Terrorism Research’, Journal of Sociology, 1-15 (online first). The authors propose a ‘holographic theorising’ framework and ‘holographic social scientific imagination‘ [emphasis original] (p. 2) for how terrorism studies researchers can explore, interrogate, and re-evaluate data. A central challenge the authors identify is that terrorism events ‘develop, shift, and change‘ [emphasis original] (p. 3) whilst interview transcripts and other research data can remain ‘forever frozen in time‘ [emphasis original] (p. 3). The article includes insights from an on-going interview research project, theorist Donna Haraway, and popular media including Star Trek: Voyager, and I, Robot.

Lessons from MacArthur Genius Yitang Zhang

Some lessons from The New Yorker‘s profile of MacArthur Fellow and mathematician Yitang Zhang:

 

1. Immerse yourself in the research literature of your discipline. Zhang spent years reading mathematics journals about alegebraic geometry number theory at the University of Kentucky, and keeping a low profile: he had published only one paper, in 2001.

2. Choose a focal point or meta-question for your research program that will have a significant impact. Zhang focused on ‘bound gaps’ about prime numbers.

3. Organise your life’s tasks in order to pursue your individual research program. Zhang worked at a Subway and in New Hampshire in order to have more time to write and pursue his research program on his own terms.

4. Streamline your publication track record to focus on publications in high-ranked journals. Zhang submitted “Bounded Gaps Between Primes” in late 2012 to Annals of Mathematics after years of work.

5. Understand how the referee process works for journal articles. Zhang benefited from reviewers Henryk Iwaniec (Rutgers) and John Friedlander (University of Toronto) who were critical yet sympathetic to Zhang’s study, and Annals of Mathematics editor Nicholas Katz.

Stack Ranking

For the past year I have read Michael O. Church‘s blog about his Google experience with stack ranking: the employee performance management program that Silicon Valley firms have adapted from Jack Welch (GE), Andy Grove (Intel), and venture capitalist John Doerr.

 

Business Insider has just published an excerpt from Nicholas Carlson’s new book on Yahoo’s stack ranking experience under current chief executive officer Marissa Mayer. Carlson’s reportage includes in-fighting teams, stifled innovation, and performance review politics. It echoes Kurt Eichenwald’s indictment of stack ranking at Steve Ballmer era Microsoft.

 

This year, I will be revisiting the work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Antifragile), Alan Fish (Knowledge Automation), and others, as I continue to see stack ranking being applied in many different organisations.

Analysing the Hajime Masutani Interview in Haruki Murakami’s Underground

I spent today analysing the Haruki Murakami Underground interview with former Aum Shinrikyo member Hajume Masutani. Some insights:

 

1. Masutani experienced early alienation from his family, initial career aspirations, and university studies.

 

2. Masutani encountered and joined Aum after seeing an Aum book and visiting a dojo. He spent seven years in Aum including working on animation about Aum’s leader Shoko Asahara which now enjoys an afterlife on YouTube.

 

3. Masutani engaged in cycles of work and meditation but did not really progress in Aum. He became suspicious of Asahara after meeting him. His experiences reflected parallel research that psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton did on Aum.

 

4. In 1993, Masutani noted that Aum adopted a more proto-militant outlook and a greater emphasis on Tibetan Vajrayana teachings.

 

5. Masutani grew more alienated from Aum after leaving and learning of the 20th March 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system. His views to Murakami were similar to United States cultic scholars like Margaret Thaler Singer.

Black Mirror Views

Venkatesh Rao and The New Yorker‘s Emily Nussbaum on the UK Channel 4 series Black Mirror.

 

In 2003, I was an intern at Swinburne University’s Strategic Foresight program. One of the internal documents I saw were plans for a postgraduate unit on digital continuity challenges and futures. The unit’s material anticipated Rao and Nussbaum’s concerns by a decade. But I’m yet to see Black Mirror in full.

Human Terrain System: New Book

Today’s PhD writing time focused on the Human Terrain System (HTS): the controversial United States military program to embed anthropologists and sociologists with counterinsurgency specialists in Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s been a clear evolution of the sub-literature on HTS from initial advocacy of so-called cultural intelligence to critical post-mortems of the HTS program’s impact, results, and effectiveness.

 

Amongst the recent and new books on HTS is Montgomery McFate and Janice H. Laurence’s edited collection Social Science Goes to War: The Human Terrain System in Iraq and Afghanistan (London: Hurst & Company, 2015). I’ll be adding it to my PhD reading list – as HTS can be understood as one possible politico-military application of area studies and anthropological knowledge that also underpins the strategic culture framework I am using to examine terrorist organisations.

PhD Structure Template

Introduction

 

● Research question and immediate debate.

● How the PhD addresses and resolves the debate.

● The new theory that the PhD develops.

● New causal and/or explanatory variables that are introduced.

● The essential argument that the PhD makes.

● The specific contributions of each PhD chapter.

● The PhD’s overall structure and plan.

 

Chapter 1: New Theory

 

● The chapter’s goal.

● The literature gap and what it reveals for the research question.

● The basic reorientation that the chapter achieves.

● The critical assumptions of existing theories.

● What the chapter will achieve: its original contribution.

 

Overview of the Existing Literature

 

● The major paradigms and causal claims of the major theories.

● Theory Strand 1 and subsequent developments.

● Major theoreticians and contributions for Theory Strand 1.

● The theory-building structure of Theory Strand 1.

● Critics of Theory Strand 1.

● Similar structure for Theory Strand 2, 3 . . . n.

 

Analysis of the Major Theories

 

● The theory-building gap / puzzle in the Theory Strands and what the New Theory resolves.

● Past work that is suggestive of the puzzle that the New Theory resolves.

● Why the theoretical arguments remain underdeveloped.

● Competing theories that fail in explanatory power compared with the New Theory, and why.

 

New Theory

 

● What the New Theory introduces as a new causal and/or explanatory variable.

● The foundations and key assumptions of the New Theory.

● The causal logics of the New Theory.

● Theory-building tensions between the New Theory and existing theories.

 

Theoretical Foundations

 

● The concept at the heart of the New Theory.

● Incomplete notions that the New Theory addresses.

● Deductive or inductive logics of the New Theory.

● The New Theory’s different set of priorities.

● Exogenous conditions that shape the New Theory.

● Primary factors that shape the New Theory.

 

Summary of the Argument and Competing Hypotheses

 

● Summary of the chapter’s original contribution to theory-building and theory-testing.

● Diagrammatic summary of the New Theory’s causal logic.

● Expectations and implications of the New Theory.

● What the case studies will demonstrate about the New Theory.

● What Chapter 2 on methodologies will discuss about the case studies.

● What the case studies will demonstrate about the New Theory versus its alternatives.

● Closing argument on the value of considering the New Theory.

 

Chapter 2: Methodology

 

● What methodology has been used in the major studies to-date in the problem domain.

● What recent studies have demonstrated in terms of methodology selection.

● What the case studies will contribute to a new understanding of methodology.

● Summary of the chapter’s planned contribution to methodology.

 

Contribution of Past Studies

 

● The key variables that the problem domain and major studies revolved around.

● The major studies in the problem domain and the debate around them.

● What new studies in the problem domain have revealed.

● What new possible variables are needed to answer the past debates.

● The major studies that suggest the need for new possible variables.

● What is incomplete about the major studies’ explanations of new possible variables.

● How the major studies have tried to deal with this incompleteness.

● What the New Theory would suggest in dealing with this incompleteness.

● Recent studies which anticipate the New Theory in terms of methodology.

● Findings from recent studies that cause a rethink of prevailing assumptions.

● Conjectures that are partial explanations of the New Theory.

● What has been put forward separately that suggests the New Theory.

● How to interpret the findings of these studies.

● Summary of the main findings of past and recent studies.

 

A New Approach and a Summary of Findings

 

● The limitations of past and recent studies that the new approach will address.

● Causal methods and process tracing of the new approach.

● How selection bias and generalizability will be dealt with.

 

A New Approach to the Study’s Dependent Variable

 

● The deductive logic of the study’s dependent variable.

● Limitations of existing deductive logic to deal with the study’s dependent variable.

● Additional problems that are faced in understanding the study’s dependent variable.

● Defining the study’s factors.

● Explanatory reasons for the study’s factors.

● Endogenous nature of the study’s factors.

● Justification of the study’s chosen method.

● Scoping of the study’s chosen method and required data collection.

● How to evaluate the evidence from the required data collection.

● The larger causal picture that the data collection fits into.

● Summary of the study’s key research questions that the case studies will answer.

 

A Summary of the Findings

 

● Structure of the summary.

● Structure of each selected case study.

● Criterion for case study selection.

● Summary of across-case comparison.

● How the case studies answer the study’s key research questions.

● What the required data collection revealed to answer the study’s key research questions.

● What was novel and / or surprising about the study’s findings.

● How the findings support the New Theory versus existing alternative explanations.

● How the data collection evidence deals with potential criticism of the New Theory.

● Discussion of the case studies and the data collection evidence.

● What the case studies reveal about systematic variables.

● Summary of case study interpretation and New Theory framework.

 

Chapters 3 and 4: Case Studies

 

● What the chapter’s case study is on.

● How the New Theory provides an explanation that existing alternatives do not do.

● Potential complications of the case study.

● How existing alternatives may answer some aspects of the case study versus the New Theory.

 

Origins of the Case Study

 

● The scholarly consensus on the case study.

● The key causal factors that the case study will address.

● What is critical and not so critical in the case study.

● The knowledge gaps that the New Theory will fill in the case study versus existing alternatives.

 

Background of the Case Study

 

● Deep roots of the case study.

● Major events in the causality of the case study.

● Major decisions in the causality of the case study.

● Major strategies of the strategic actors of the case study.

● Re-evaluation of historical periods of the case study.

● Popularity of existing explanations of the case study.

● Limitations in the existing explanations of the case study that the New Theory addresses.

● Reasons for the changes in policy of the strategic actors of the case study.

● Summary of the historical chronology of the case study.

 

Case Study Pivotal Decision and / or Historical Period

 

● Background to the pivotal decision and / or historical period.

● Major pivotal decisions and / or events of the historical period.

● The decisions and reactions of different strategic actors.

● Summary of the key dynamics in the pivotal decision and / or historical period.

 

Thematic Analysis

 

● The main categories that the case study explanations can be grouped into.

● The level of analysis that the different case study explanations function in.

● Key aspects of the original argument that the case study makes.

● What evidence the original argument draws on.

Key events that the original argument uses.

● Key decisions, expectations and priorities that advance the original argument.

● What the above analysis demonstrates.

● Implications of the above analysis.

● How views and aims of the strategic actors evolved over the key events.

● Summary of what the case study explains versus existing alternatives.

 

Analysis of Case Study Strategic Actor and Temporal Period

 

● Existing consensus in the scholarly literature.

● Problems with the existing consensus.

● Weakness of the existing consensus that opens the way for the New Theory.

● Basic facts of the case study milieu.

● Strategic actor priorities and obsessions in their decision calculus.

● Chronology of key events and decisions.

● Systematic causes versus unit-level causes.

● How the above analysis supports the New Theory and challenges existing alternatives.

 

Conclusion

 

● This chapter’s original contribution.

● What the case studies illuminate about the knowledge gap.

● The causal chronology and the case study results.

 

Chapter 5: Implications of the Argument

 

● What the project and the case studies have shown.

● What existing alternatives state about the key research questions.

● How the New Theory addresses the key research questions.

● What new dimensions must be incorporated into the New Theory for explanations.

● What the New Theory builds on in terms of paradigmatic logic.

● How the major strategic actors might reason using awareness of the New Theory.

● Comparative logics of the major strategic actors using awareness of the New Theory.

● The empirical outcomes of the New Theory and the case studies.

● What the rest of the chapter will achieve.

 

Broader Implications of the Theory

 

● What the case study chapters have shown about the New Theory.

● What the methodology chapters have shown about the New Theory.

● Insights of the New Theory about the strategic actors in the case studies.

● How the New Theory helps to understand knowledge gaps in existing alternatives.

● What the case studies have revealed about the study’s dependent variable.

● Implications of the New Theory for unit-level variables.

● Practical implications of the New Theory.

● Further methodological advances that the New Theory might underpin.

 

Epilogue

 

● Explanatory and predictive value of the New Theory and case studies.

● New research that can be undertaken using the New Theory.

● Further theoretical studies that are needed to understand the New Theory.

● Dilemmas and puzzles that can be explored using the study’s findings.

● Final implications for the development of sound theories.