ISA 2015 Pitch Postmortem

Two paper proposals I pitched missed out on the first round of the International Studies Association’s next annual convention in New Orleans, February 2015. I’m on the waiting list.

 

I’m taking this as useful feedback. Here’s some things I’ll keep in mind for ISA 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia:

 

  • Spend more time in advance to craft and distill the papers to fit the ISA annual convention’s yearly theme.
  • Pitch individual panels on different streams / topics rather than two papers on variations of the one topic.
  • If possible make contacts in advance to be on panel and roundtable discussions.
  • Use the annual convention as a development tool for progressing the write-up of scholarly journal publications.
  • Keep online visibility tools – academic CV, Google Scholar, Academic.edu profile – up-to-date.

 

I’ll be working on all of these in the coming months to prepare for future academic conferences.

Reading Steve A. Cohen’s White Paper in the SAC Insider Trading Case

I’ve followed hedge funds – pooled fund structures that engage in active management often uncorrelated with financial markets – for about a decade.

 

Almost 12 years ago I wrote a Masters paper on Long-Term Capital Management (PDF) in Swinburne University’s Strategic Foresight program. I read Sebastian Mallaby’s history More Money Than God (PDF) and MIT’s Andrew Lo. Hedge funds appeared to be exemplars of Richard Slaughter‘s Institutes of Foresight thesis. More recently, I have thought of hedge funds as possible examples of meso-level, organisational strategic subcultures.

 

Today, I re-watched the PBS Frontline documentary ‘To Catch A Trader‘ (2014) and read the white paper (PDF) from SAC founder Steve A. Cohen’s lawyers in the now-notorious Elan and Wyeth insider trading case. Cohen’s portfolio manager Matthew Martoma was convicted of insider trading and sentenced to jail. Cohen’s SAC was fined millions and is now basically a family office.

 

I’ve had the white paper for over a year but only today got a chance to have a close read of it with an eye on how Cohen’s lawyers describe his trading strategies. I learned to do this when studying strategic foresight methodologies.

 

Some of my summary notes from the white paper:

  • Back of envelope estimate of Steve Cohen’s trading portfolio size in July 2013: $US1,253,000,000.
  • Cohen trades over 80 individual securities a day.
  • Algorithms, direct market access, and dark pools are routinely used for trade execution.
  • The PBS Frontline documentary describes Edge as an informational advantage about market activity.
  • The white paper describes the following as Events: (1) corporate access (competitor announcements; adverse developments); (2) market moving (catalysts, technical analysis); (3) analyst convergence (broker-deal reports; ratings such as downgrades); and (4) market rumours (false market).
  • SAC portfolio managers develop a Company Investment Thesis. This may involve: (1) trimming positions whilst going into earnings announcements; (2) using option hedges to offset long/short positions using a market neutral strategy; (3) anticipating slippage: incremental shifts in share prices due to the timing of executed trades; and (4) responding to risk reviews of large positions.
  • Market price-psychology patterns that Cohen has identified: (1) increases in individual share prices versus S&P 500 declines (deteriorating market) over specific time periods; (2) tests of if positive market reaction is sustainable (possible mean reversion); (3) company news that is ambiguous or less-than-spectacular information that will trigger a decline; and (4) rapid stock appreciation that creates high expectations and the probability of a price decline.

 

The Steve A. Cohen white paper illustrates how to potentially reverse engineer a hedge fund’s trading strategy – as a strategic foresight example – and to not be a Muppet-like naive retail trader.

U2′s Songs of Innocence

U2 released its thirteenth album Songs of Innocence for free on Apple’s iTunes service today.

 

U2′s decision echoes the free digital download strategy used previously by Nine Inch Nails (The Slip) and Radiohead (In Rainbows). My 2008 conference paper and presentation slides found that each band adopted the strategy during a period of heightened conflict with their labels, and leveraged their audiences to negotiate better contracts.

 

U2′s espoused reason for the strategy is to raise global awareness of specific charities. Other reasons may emerge . . . (One of them being a surge in back catalogue sales.)

Monash SPS Symposium: Aum Shinrikyo’s Failed Strategic Subculture

Each year I do a 20-minute presentation to the SPS Symposium in Monash University’s School of Political and Social Inquiry on my in-progress PhD research. Below is the outline for this year’s proposed presentation due to occur in October:

 

Aum Shinrikyo’s Failed Strategic Subculture

Alex Burns (alex@alexburns.net)

 

Key Words: Aum Shinrikyo; strategic culture; terrorist groups

 

In 1977, RAND’s Jack Snyder proposed strategic subcultures as a unit of analysis to understand distinct beliefs, analytical traditions, institutions, and socialisation norms in a strategic community. Recently, the so-called fourth generation of strategic culture scholarship has – via Alan Bloomfield, David Haglund, Jeffrey Lantis, and others – applied Snyder’s unit of analysis to examine new foreign policy actors. This presentation applies Snyder’s strategic subcultures to advance a new understanding of the militant Japanese religious sect Aum Shinrikyo, and its 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subway system. I use narrative analysis and qualitative thematic coding to re-examine two theory-building explanations about Aum Shinrikyo’s decision-making: Robert Jay Lifton’s psychohistory (Destroying the World to Save It) and Haruki Murakami’s oral history interviews (Underground). I also develop a new strategic subculture explanation of Aum Shinrikyo’s failure that builds on Frederick M. Smith’s research into South Asian deity and spirit possession experiences (The Self Possessed).

 

Paper Type: Full Paper

Working Title: Terrorist Groups as Strategic Subcultures

Degree: PhD

Supervisor: Luke Howie

Recent Advances in PTSD Treatment

I’m working on integrating some different streams in my personal research program. One deals with the clinical treatment of complex PTSD. Today, I looked at 15 years of published books on PTSD treatment. What I found:

 

  • In the past five years there is much greater integration with neuroscience models and research, particularly for comorbid disorders.
  • There are now evidence-based, lifespan targeted interventions for children and adolescents who have PTSD symptoms.
  • Complex trauma, post-traumatic growth, and resilience are new specialist niches of PTSD research.
  • There is a heavy emphasis on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy models for the clinical treatment of PTSD.
  • Bereavement, grieving, culture, memory, empathy, and body/sensorimotor-oriented therapies are specialist topics in the recent literature, notably as guidance for new therapists and for trans-cultural researchers.
  • There appears to be a convergence to Trauma-Focused CBT and EMDR as evidence-based treatments in which meta-analysis and randomised controlled trials have been done.

 

There are specialist publishers including Guilford Press for therapist training and the Routledge Psychosocial Stress series (Routledge appears to have published a lot of overview books for clinical researchers).

 

I’m looking forward to adding academic books like The Oxford Handbook of Traumatic Stress Disorders (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012) to my long-term research library. There are also interesting specialist titles like The Alchemy of Wolves and Sheep: A Relational Approach to Internalized Perpetration in Complex Trauma Survivors (New York: Routledge, 2013), on child soldiers.

New Books on Al Qaeda’s Strategic Culture

In 2011, my PhD supervisors asked me about a planned case study on Al Qaeda’s strategic culture. Now, there are two books out that address this issue:

 

  • Michael W.S. Ryan’s Decoding Al Qaeda’s Strategy: The Deep Battle Against America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013).
  • Donald Holbrook’s The Al-Qaeda Doctrine: The Framing and Evolution of the Leadership’s Public Discourse (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2014).

 

There are now some case studies and further analysis to answer this initial query.

 

Alastair Iain Johnston’s third generation of strategic culture focused on organisational studies. A relevant book that may link this third generation to the study of terrorist organisations is Vahid Brown and Don Rassler’s Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973-2012 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

 

I’m also looking at Peter Bergen’s reportage on Al Qaeda – so his forthcoming book United States of Jihad: The Untold Story of Al-Qaeda in America (New York: Crown, 2015) may also be relevant.

Australia’s Strategic Culture

Deakin University’s Ben Eltham and I have a new paper out in Contemporary Security Policy journal that draws on my PhD research. Taylor & Francis has the electronic copy available online now to journal and institutional subscribers; the print version is due out 23rd July.

 

Here’s the article’s abstract:

 

This article draws on fourth generation strategic culture debates to show the gap between the rhetoric of Australian defence and the more modest reality. Our analysis shows that these limits derive from tensions between national strategic culture and organizational strategic subcultures. There are serious debates in the nation regarding the preferred course of the Australian military and security policy. This article frames these debates by examining the ‘keepers’ of Australia’s national strategic culture, the existence of several competing strategic subcultures, and the importance of norm entrepreneurs in changing defence and national security thinking. Strategic subcultures foster compartmentalization, constraints, and bureaucratic silos that narrow national conceptions of security threats and opportunities, and impinge on the formation of coherent foreign and defence policy in relation to the Asia-Pacific region. This analysis shows that a distinct national strategic culture and organizational strategic subcultures endure beyond individual governments, placing potential limits on Australia’s interface with other Asia-Pacific strategic cultures in the future.

 

My thanks to Wooster College’s Jeffrey Lantis for organising the CSP special issue on strategic culture; the three anonymous and extremely helpful reviewers; and CSP‘s editorial and production staff.

A PhD Write-Up Update

From an email to my PhD Supervisor about what I’m working on:

 

  • A revised Chapter 1 on strategic culture will now include a new conceptual framework that examines and integrates the SC literature on two dimensions: theory-building and foreign policy analysis. For now, I have dubbed this a ‘spectrum framework’. It incorporates feedback from the ISA panelists, and from Jeffrey Lantis on recent theory-building / research design debates in the so-called fourth generation (post-2000) of strategic culture. I will contrast the proposed new framework with Alastair Iain Johnston’s generations framework (from his PhD and book Cultural Realism, and from the 1995 International Security article ‘Thinking About Strategic Culture’).

 

  • A revised Chapter 2 will include a formal model of strategic culture / subcultures in terrorist organisations. Jacob Shapiro’s recent book The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013) is directly relevant, and may answer some of the concerns you initially raised about how to study terrorist organisations from an organisational perspective. For the chapter format I am using as a ‘writing model’ example Chapter 2 from Michael C. Horowitz’s PhD and subsequent book The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010) in which Horowitz presents his Adoption-Capacity Theory.

 

  • Rather than a separate methodology chapter I am thinking of integrating this into methodology sections in the two case study chapters. The methods to be used are: causal / decision / process tracing of the Peter Bergen / Steve Coll / Michael Scheuer / Lawrence Wright investigative journalism  (Al Qaeda chapter), and interpretivist / qualitative / thematic text coding of Robert Jay Lifton / Haruki Marukami interviews (Aum Shinrikyo chapter). Two of the key methods books I am using are Derek Beach and Rasmus Brun Pedersen’s Process-Tracing: Foundations and Guidelines (University of Michigan Press, 2013), which I picked up at ISA, and Greg Guest, Kathleen MacQueen, and Emily E. Namey’s Applied Thematic Analysis (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2012). I attended a couple of ISA panels with Patrick Thaddeus Jackson (The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations) that were helpful to think through methodological issues.

 

  • I have some material for Chapter 5 on Conclusions / Further Research.

 

  • I have started to scope some material that might inform future journal articles beyond the PhD, such as the use of knowledge representation / microfoundations for the underlying logics, and computational cultural psychology as one of several new methodologies for future case studies. I also found this week a parallel approach to my case studies in the new book Global Shell Games: Experiments in Transnational Relations, Crime, and Terrorism (Cambridge University Press, 2014) which uses an experimental political science approach to study organisations, and which has Jason Sharman (Griffith University) as a book co-author. So, more for post-PhD work, I am also considering experimental research methods as a possible avenue.

The Fissured Workplace

The Fissured Workplace

Contemporary workplaces are changing. Private equity models inform stretch targets and strategic plans. Operational restructures and financially engineered turnarounds now occur in mid-market firms and government departments. Contractors and outsourcing mean a more diverse workforce. Boston University professor David Weil – now the Obama Administration’s first Wage and Hour Administrator – offers a well-researched and at times confronting analysis in The Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be Done to Improve It (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014) of the impact on wages and workers’ standard of living. Weil’s book will give you some of the labor economics context for the firm and industry restructures that now occur in finance, higher education, logistics, and service industries.

Price Signals and Publishing

Today, I received notification that Contemporary Security Policy has accepted an academic article on Australian defence and national security policy I coauthored with Deakin University’s Ben Eltham.

 

Eltham also wrote for Australia’s New Matilda on the late economist Gary Becker and price signals:

 

Becker’s idea of “human capital” has been among his most influential. This is the notion that getting an education is, in a very real sense, investing in yourself. “If you’re in an environment where knowledge counts for so much, then if you don’t have much knowledge, you’re gonna be a loser,” he once said.

Attitudes like this make Becker the patron saint of neoliberalism. As no less a thinker than Michel Foucault observed, Becker saw the rational individual as an “entrepreneur of himself, being for himself his own capital, being for himself his own producer, being for himself the source of his earnings.

 

Juxtaposing what we wrote with Eltham’s analysis offers insights about academic publishing.

 

Research managers have adopted Becker’s advocacy of human capital. This means that academic publishing is often judged on three output measures: (1) journal rankings; (2) academic citations; and (3) the government income a university receives for each academic’s publication.

 

This has some subtle effects on academic publishing. Fields like anthropology or political science — which require fieldwork or extensive modelling — have different publication rates than some laboratory-based science. The latter enables researchers to publish more papers. This creates a Matthew Effect or Winner-Takes-All dynamic: more income is generated and hopefully more academic citations will occur. These outcomes are examples of Becker’s pricing signals: each publication becomes an output of workload activities (for cost and business process management) and a monetisable income stream (for J-curve patterns in entrepreneurial venture capital: an academic will generate more value as their career unfolds).

 

These price signals have anchoring, disposition, and representativeness biases that can lead some research managers to potentially misjudge the effort involved in getting a paper published. This is where Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s heuristic of having ‘skin in the game’ as a published academic author can be important to facilitate judgments. In our case, Eltham and I spent 18 months writing at least three drafts. We had to rewrite sections for two changes in Australia’s federal government. We had to address new literature. Our special issue editor also edited the paper. I edited the endnotes twice. We got extensive, critical, and helpful comments from three knowledgeable reviewers. I also got feedback during an international conference panel — where I met the journal editor — and from seeing other panels on parallel research programs.

 

This also involved a lot of effort and coordination that formal workload models often do not capture.

 

Narrow interpretations of these price signals can also ignore cumulative learning effects. Eltham and I learned several things in writing our just accepted paper. We self-funded the research as academic entrepreneurs. An earlier article draft had a comparison of United States, United Kingdom, and Australian defence and national security exercises that might become a separate article. We started to co-develop a microfoundations model of strategic culture that first arose when Eltham recommended I read Dan Little’s Microfoundations, Methods, and Causation: On the Philosophy of the Social Sciences (Transaction Publishers, 1998). I learned a lot about national security and recent Australian policymaking innovations: a socialisation process.  These are just some examples of what occurred over an 18 month period.

 

Often, research managers bring up price signals in terms of value creation. However, can be in the narrow sense above of a journal ranking; citation metric; or a dollar value for income generated. Whilst these are important they are only part of the full spectrum of potential value creation that can occur when academic coauthors collaborate on a research article or a project. Yet the conversation is often as if tools like Real Options valuation or Balanced Scorecard reporting (which acknowledges learning) were never created. The problem isn’t the use of managerial frameworks: it’s that they can be used in a shallow and superficial way for less-optimal outcomes.

 

Collectively, these challenges mean that academics and institutions alike never realise the full spectrum of potential value creation from an academic publication. Becker saw investment. Foucault saw entrepreneurship. I see the potential for knowledge commons arbitrage. Perhaps that’s why academics enjoy the international conference circuit so much. Sometimes the potential value creation can be more like work-life balance: Taleb wrote Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder (New York: Penguin Press, 2012) in solitude, to distill his life experience as an options trader and his love of classical philosophy. Read it on your next study leave period.