February 5, 2015

The unfairness of the WaPo headline "Scholars rank Kerry dead last in terms of effectiveness."

See the problems?
Foreign Policy magazine this week announced the results of its 2014 Ivory Tower survey of 1,615 international relations scholars from 1,375 U.S. colleges.

One question they were asked was: “Who was the most effective U.S. secretary of state of the past 50 years?... [D]ead last, is John Kerry. He also got a total of only five votes and tied Eagleburger’s 0.31 percent, but the magazine lists him at 13th.
The first problem is that he's only tied for last place. That's not dead last. Obviously, he's listed after Eagleburger because the convention is to use alphabetical order in the case of a tie.

The second problem is that it's only the last 50 years. 

The third problem — the one that bugs me — is that the scholars were only asked to cast a vote for first place. I'd say that last place only makes him the least likely to be regarded as the most effective. If the question were Who was the most average U.S. secretary of state of the past 50 years?, perhaps he'd have come in first. And if it had been Who was the least effective U.S. secretary of state of the past 50 years?, the most votes might very well have come to rest on someone who got a lot of first-place votes on the most effective question.
Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton tied for fourth at 8.70 percent.
I suspect that John Kerry got so few most effective votes, because the kind of scholars who might have voted for him chose Madeleine Albright or Hillary Clinton instead. If the question had been least effective, I suspect that Hillary Clinton would have been at least 4th on that list too.

60 comments:

Oso Negro said...

Says the Professor who ran a poll on Republican candidates which omitted Ted Cruz.

Terry said...

Obama chose Clinton and Kerry for the Secretary of State position despite his belief that their votes for the Iraq War were mistakes that could not be justified.

EDH said...

If the question were Who was the most average U.S. secretary of state of the past 50 years?, perhaps he'd have come in first.

Or more pointedly they could have asked "who was the biggest fucking goof-ball to be secretary of state of the past 50 years?"

dreams said...

Its obvious to me that he is a piss poor Secretary of State.

B said...

Journalist misunderstood survey questions. A tale as old as time. A song as old as rhyme.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

1,615 international relations scholars from 1,375 U.S. colleges.

There's the problem, right there.

BDNYC said...

I agree with Althouse. Each scholar should be forced to rank them all, with each ranking being assigned a numerical value, e.g., first place is one point, second place is two points and so on. Lowest score wins.

That would surely be a more accurate reflection of what the scholars actually think, and would remove distorted results like Albright and Clinton being ranked fourth. I think we all know why certain scholars rated them so highly.

MayBee said...

The story itself kind of mocks the headline. It's cheeky.

But seriously. Madeline "Dances With Kim Jung Il" Albright? Hillary "Reset/Overcharged Button" Clinton?

I don't think this word "effective" means what scholars thinks it means. Either that or our Secretaries of State are pathetic.

Ann Althouse said...

"Says the Professor who ran a poll on Republican candidates which omitted Ted Cruz."

I admit that was wrong. It was a flat-out mistake. Hard to re-do a poll though, because you've absorbed too much poll-taking energy with the first one.

JAORE said...

BDNYC, I agree. But then the headline, and the following story, would likely misreport those findings as well.
Every time I see statistics or surveys used to generate "news" I cringe and then decide whether to not read the story or to expend the effort to dig behind the presentation.

Drago said...

You have to be a very clever strategic thinker lest you "get stuk in teh Stat Duprtmarnt".

BDNYC said...

Really, how difficult would it have been for the scholars to rank all of the secretaries over the last 50 years. This is just sloppy research.

I do agree with the columnist about Baker's effectiveness. He presided over an incredible moment for US foreign policy, from the fall of communism in Europe to the first Iraq War. A steady hand was needed, and the Bush administration provided it. At the very least, Baker has been underrated.

I can't argue about Kissinger's impact, though. The man basically ran US foreign policy for nearly a decade. At one point he was simultaneously Secretary of State and National Security Advisor.

traditionalguy said...

These eminent scholars playing at teaching "The Profession of International Relations" touting their great insider knowledge surveyed from an Ivory Tower will never appreciate the three stooges clown act of Kerry even if he solves World Peace forever and ever.

A Secretary of State is a messenger job that requires a gentleman who can heap polite cordiality on their counterparts to keep lines of communication open for truce deals to buy time.

But at the end of the day the world of International Relations turns on Joe Stalin's calculation. "How many Divisions does the other side have?"

mccullough said...

That Jim Baker, the man who headed the United States foreign policy during the start of German reunification, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Gulf War I, didn't finish overwhelmingly first shows these "scholars" are a joke.

Bob Boyd said...

Also from the Ivory Tower Survey:


What are the three most important foreign-policy issues facing the United States today?

1.Global climate change 40.96%

What are the three most important foreign-policy issues the United States will face over the next 10 years?

1.Global climate change 45.90%

Michael McClain said...

Guess he must've lost his magic boonie hat.

mccullough said...

What did Madeleine Albright and Hillary actually accomplish?

Scholars need to quit awarding participation trophies.

James Pawlak said...

And only second/third in TREASON.

machine said...

so mebbe he should have lied the nation into war?

The Cracker Emcee said...

". 1,615 international relations scholars from 1,375 U.S. colleges.

There's the problem, right there."

Yeah, may as well have polled them about their ideological biases. Albright was a freakin' disaster.

David said...

So why is Kerry, who got some votes for "most effective," not higher ranked than Rogers and Eagleburger, who got no votes whatsoever?

Because the article is written by MSM journalists, that's why.

Forty percent of these scholars thought "global warming" was the biggest foreign policy issue facing the United States.

David said...

Rogers but not Eagleburger.

Anonymous said...

What did Hillary do?

Got a US ambassador slaughtered and conveniently sent a paroled Youtube video maker to jail.

Reset relation with Russia and let Putin loose to invade his neighbors.

Killed Gadhafi, doomed Libya to chaos, same in Egypt, Iraq, can't list them all.

Most of all, Hillary and her Dear Leader let ISIS have free rein killing innocent people without a response.

Yeah, a top diplomat.
Kerry's effectiveness is built on Hillary's.

When they boast Hillary's accomplishments in the presidential run, counter with: name one.

Terry said...

Obama specialized in international relations at Columbia.
The only "grand theory of Obama" that makes sense is that he is an idiot whose abilities best matched the office that he held when he was a state senator representing a corrupt district in Illinois.

madAsHell said...

The biggest problem...What's a scholar? Do you have card carrying scholars?

On the other hand, I do find Mr. Kerry to be one sorry son-of-a-bitch.

Unknown said...

Bigger problems:

1. "Ivory Tower survey" -- the name says it all

2. Hilary Clinton not near the bottom

Drago said...

machine: "so mebbe he should have lied the nation into war"

Ah. Another victim of "Garage Mahal Re-set Syndrome".

There is no known cure.

I recommend palliative care.

Unknown said...

What issue that Kerry is supposedly mismanaging did not occur because of Clinton's tenure?

Unknown said...

If the stats on global warming are not a joke, why is that a problem in international relations? I suppose you could argue that it is a technical or real problem, but what specifically is the relation to international relations?

Drago said...

What problems in the Middle East?

Didn't obama just remind us today that those darn Christians still have alot to answer for from the Crusades and the Inquisition.

So there.

Perspective.

Terry said...

"When they boast Hillary's accomplishments in the presidential run, counter with: name one."
Transgender Recognition Day picnic at Foggy Bottom.

Drago said...

Unknown: "If the stats on global warming are not a joke, why is that a problem in international relations? I suppose you could argue that it is a technical or real problem, but what specifically is the relation to international relations?"

The transparent use of the AGW mechanism on an international treaty/agreement level to further bind activities of those recalcitrant Americans (of the US, just to be clear) outside of what could be accomplished legislatively in the US.

Fen said...

"Hillary Clinton tied for fourth"

On what criteria? Frequent flyer miles? Even her supporters can't name any of Hillary's accomplishments as SecState.

Polling Hillary at 4th really destroys their credibility.

Fen said...

Anyone want to take a stab at what Hillary accomplished as Sec of State? Just for fun?

Hagar said...

The Secretary of State's job is - or is supposed to be - to carry out the President's foreign policy. There is not supposed to be any place in our system for a Secretary of State - secretary of anything else for that matter - to have a policy of his or her own.
So this "poll" is BS to start with.

Hagar said...

Actually, I have a strong suspicion that Hillary's main accomplishment at the State Dept. was to go along with a State Dept. clicque that conspired to "solve" the Middle East crisis by backing the "agrarian reformers" of the Moslem Brotherhood and fomenting "the Arab Spring."
But this was an extra-curricular activity and not what she was supposed to be doing at all.

glenn said...

Can't say you weren't warned.

JAORE said...

Funny to read the comments that single out Sec. State for Clinton or Kerry re: accomplishments. Try to find one for their years as senators.

Has ANY senator served longer than Kerry without a legislative success to highlight?

richardsson said...

Polls of this kind are based on the foolish assumption that scholars will put their partisan preferences aside and rank them objectively. The commentary in the Post about the poll was also silly. Secretaries of State serve at the pleasure of the President, and their performance in office never stands alone or apart from their President.

Beldar said...

You want a SecState -- a public servant, a mensch for the ages -- to admire, consider John Hay, whose WH career started as he slept on the floor outside Abraham Lincoln's door, and who ended as Teddy Roosevelt's secretary of state, originator of the memorable diplomatic phrase "Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead."

We could use more of that today, but instead we have the likes of Billary and Lurch, walking and talk-talk-talking confirmation of the rest of the world's worst fears about Americans.

Revenant said...

Has ANY senator served longer than Kerry without a legislative success to highlight?

Countless ones have. It is the norm for senators, really.

What I want to know is: who the heck are the five people who picked Kerry as the most effective Secretary of State of the last five years? All I can think is that they must have been five visiting scholars from China or something.

traditionalguy said...

The best Secretary of State for all ages was a Democrat named George Catlett Marshall, Jr.

HRT had to sneak the Israel Creating Partition Resolution in the UN past him. But he did not resign over it as he threatened he would.

JohnGalt said...

Actually, George Marshall was probably neither Democrat or Republican. He didn't vote in any election while he was on active duty.

CWJ said...

I agree with Althouse's analysis based on the question asked, but she missed what I thought was unfair from the headline alone. Unlike the others, Kerry has yet to complete his tenure in the office. I have no expectation that the rest of his service will be any better, but rating him now precludes even the possibility of improvement. That on its face is unfair.

Bob R said...

Kissinger is the most polarizing. Bet he would have placed very high in a "least effective" poll as well.

Drago said...

JAORE: "Funny to read the comments that single out Sec. State for Clinton or Kerry re: accomplishments."

Oh, they have "accomplishments" all right.

They are just working off a very different page than most Americans in terms of goals and objectives.

You might look at Libya and see a chaotic mess where everything has gone to hell.

Obama sees radical islamists consolidating power.

That's a win in the obama playbook boys and girls.

Brando said...

An effective SoS is one who carries out the president's foreign policy. But if the president's foreign policy is misguided or incompetently handled at the top, even a very capable SoS will be ineffective.

Revenant said...

Actually, given that the actual job of the Secretary of State is to carry out the desired policies of the President, it might be unfair to call Kerry or Clinton "ineffective". Garbage in, garbage out, after all.

Revenant said...

... now that is just freaky, Brando.

Steve said...

"Eagleburger was only secretary of state for six weeks." When you are tied with a guy that had the job for less than two months then you are dead last.

Steve said...

All time I would have to put Thomas Jefferson above Marshal.

hombre said...

It is a remarkable confirmation of the lack of integrity of academicians that Hillary Clinton finished fourth.

Oh, I know I'm generalizing. After all, only 1500, or so, voted. Those who didn't vote for her were merely facilitators. LOL.

Marty Keller said...

There's an invisible category of junk that permeates our media that could be categorized as "useless trivia that gets you to buy our paper/tune in to our station/click through our web site so we can get money." These mostly appeal to our prejudices without arousing our suspicions that we are being cavalierly manipulated for purely commercial purposes. So inured to this have most of us become that we think nothing of paying for the privilege of providing free advertising for our favorite products by buying promotional items like T-shirts, coffee mugs, jewelry, etc. In the instant case it matters nothing whether Kerry was ranked first or last because the purpose of running the "story" was to generate sales, not raise or lower the general tenor of political discourse.

OTOH, it may be I'm just miffed that they didn't ask me or the rest of the Althouse commentariat to participate.

Me, I prefer those mindless Facebook "which bacterium are you?" surveys.

Jay Vogt said...

Anne said . . . .

The first problem is that he's only tied for last place. That's not dead last.

Not a problem at all. He’s dead last and tied for dead last. Even if you choose to be persnickety about what constitutes “dead” last, it’s kind of a moot point don’t you think?

The second problem is that it's only the last 50 years.

Not a problem at all. It’s an arbitrary proscription, and a pretty common one at that. I’m not sure why you’d even mention this.

The third problem — the one that bugs me — is that the scholars were only asked to cast a vote for first place. I'd say that last place only makes him the least likely to be regarded as the most effective.

Not a problem at all. As a matter of fact it’s a pretty common way to design and administer a poll – casting one vote and all. I’ll bet you’ve resorted to it a time or two yourself. Furthermore, and I’m going out on a limb here, for all intents and purposes, there is no practical difference between being the lowest ranked “most effective” and being the highest ranked “least effective” SOS.

The real stunner here is that George Schultz is regarded as only middling by these academicians. Really, who are these people and just what were they doing through the ‘80s? The man completely bent the curve on the most intractable and potentially dangerous geopolitical dynamic of the 20th century in a completely measured and peaceful process to the benefit of his country and indeed the whole planet. Jeesh, what’s a guy got to do to get noticed?

If you took a poll of the living Secretaries of State they would have to rate him as the most effective. They may not like him. They may not agree with him, but there’s no way he wasn’t the most effective.

David said...

The people who are last are the ones who got no votes for being the most effective. Those are Rogers, Muskie and Haig. Kerry got two votes of the 660 persons who responded to the survey.

Hillary got only 8.7%, or slightly less than 60 votes. Henry Kissinger got 32.17%, or about 220 our of the 660 votes.

Jim Baker and Kissinger combined got half of all the votes. Therefore, unless these "scholars" have suddenly turned Republican in large numbers, it does not seem that political "bias" was much of a factor. Indeed, the "Most Effective" came from administrations which emphasized aggressive engagement, reliance on (though not always use of) military and economic superiority and a vigorous exceptionalist view of the role of the United States.

Revenant said...

It is a remarkable confirmation of the lack of integrity of academicians that Hillary Clinton finished fourth.

She *did* only get 9% of the vote, though.

Overall, around 90% of the academics seem to have picked a defensible choice.

furious_a said...

The Secretary of State is the person who repeats "Nice Doggy" while the Secretary of Defense reaches for a rock.

furious_a said...

The second problem is that it's only the last 50 years.

Which would take us back to end of what would have been Kennedy's first term. A better reach would have been 80 years or so from the end of WWI, to consider Stimson, Hull, Marshall, Acheson, BF'in'D Secretaries of State. Not the errand-boys-sent-by-grocers like Hillary and Kerry.

But then these professors either wouldn't have been alive at the time or else old enough to remember them.

furious_a said...

Kerry has yet to complete his tenure in the office. I have no expectation that the rest of his service will be any better, but rating him now precludes even the possibility of improvement. That on its face is unfair.

All those years as a Senator from a one-party state, Kerry was as pompous and callow the day he left as the day he entered.

Kyzernick said...

furious_a said: "The Secretary of State is the person who repeats "Nice Doggy" while the Secretary of Defense reaches for a rock."

I love this. Good appropriation of that classic quote.