Tag Archives | lecture

India’s Grand Strategy

The K Subrahmanyam lecture

National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon delivered a lecture yesterday to honour K Subrahmanyam, India’s foremost strategic thinker, who passed away in February last year. Mr Menon rebutted the notion that India has never had, and doesn’t have a grand strategy.

The NSA said Subrahmanyam had made four key contributions to Indian strategic thinking: building a consensus that nuclear weapons were the cheapest and most effective way of guaranteeing national survival in an uncertain world; creating an understanding that defence could not be sidelined in the pursuit of development; developing a modern national security structure; and emphasising the need for India to seek autonomy in its strategic decision-making.

For Subrahmanyam, Mr. Menon said, India’s core constitutional values — secularism, democracy and the pursuit of the peoples’ welfare — constituted a road map that provided overall shape to decision-making.[Hindu]

The lecture is worth watching in full. Here it is in two parts, courtesy Ms. Smita Prakash of Asian News International.

If these 27 minutes leave you unsatisfied after whetting your appetite, spare an hour. Go to the IDSA website and listen to this talk by the master himself. In what was among one of his last talks at IDSA (here), recorded on 29 April 2010, Mr. Subrahmanyam gives a tour d’horizon of “India’s Grand Strategy” to probationer officers of the Indian Foreign Service undergoing their 10-day module at IDSA. (Link thanks Rohan Joshi)

My fellow blogger, Nitin Pai conducted an interview with K Subrahmanyam for Pragati. You should listen to the interview in his own voice. You can also download the published interview in PDF.

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Beware of Dr. Foxes

Be sceptical of the experts who are confident and cocksure.

Time’s Healthland Blog has an informative interview with Dan Gardner, the author of a new book, Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Are Next to Worthless and You Can Do Better.

Now, there’s a confusingly named professor in a study of experts that you write about.

‘Myron Fox’ is whom every person should model themselves after if they want to be media superstars. The name was invented by the researcher who created this stereotype. ‘Dr. Fox’ is an erudite, confident academic who gave a lecture specifically designed for the experiment. The researcher hired an actor to play the role and wrote a lecture for Dr. Fox to give, which was complete gibberish but was brilliantly delivered.

[The original lecture was given to an audience of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, and was about "mathematical game theory as applied to physician education." It was full of contradictory statements and non-sequiturs.]

Did the audience recognize that he was talking gibberish? The answer is no. Even educated audiences who witnessed the performance were very impressed. It is one of most depressing pieces of social science research ever conducted.[Link]

The fascinating story of the Myron Fox experiment of 1973 can be read in this extended chapter from The Mad Science Book by Reto U. Schneider.

For full technical details of the Dr. Myron Fox experiment, you can check Naftulin, D. H., Ware J.E., Jr. and Donnelly, F.A.  “The Doctor Fox Lecture: A paradigm of educational seduction,” Journal of Medical Education, 1973, No. 48.  pp.630-35.

But the more important insights from the Gardner interview, particularly because of the public policy expert views we consume every day, lie here.

And Dr. Fox helps explain why. It’s people who tell simple, clear compelling stories who are perfectly confident that they are right who become media superstars. Reporters turn to them, audiences turn to them, corporations pay huge money to them to give lectures.

…One reason is that the media don’t check accuracy rates of experts, so the consequences for making bad predictions are: Heads, I win; tails, I forget that we had a bet.

There’s also a psychological aversion to uncertainty that drives demand for expert forecasts. When a reporter wants to answer questions for the reader like, What will happen with the economy? An economist would say, ‘Well, I think there are nine key factors, maybe 10. Some point one direction. Others point in a different direction. It may be possible that…’ By that point, the reporter is pulling his hair out; it isn’t a satisfying response.

A hedgehog would have one big idea, a simple story, a final answer, and that satisfies the psychological craving for certainty. Harry Truman once said that he wanted to hear from a one-armed economist [so that the guy wouldn't say], ‘On the other hand…’

…We’re also deeply susceptible to confidence. We find it compelling, and think that they must know the answer. We have to learn to distinguish between the type of expert who is worthy of serious consideration and the blowhard who is trying to bowl us over.[Link]

We have a surfeit of hedgehogs amidst us, experts hailed by the media who are likely to use words like certain and impossible. Unlike the foxes, who are dismissed as being ‘fence-sitters’, the hedgehogs’ confidence is seductive not only for the lay-reader but also for other fellow experts.

Perhaps it is time we followed Gardner’s tip:

Frankly, when I hear somebody making grand pronouncements with perfect certainty, I write them off.[Link]

Now, there’s a confusingly named professor in a study of experts that you write about. 

‘Myron Fox’ is whom every person should model themselves after if they want to be media superstars. The name was invented by the researcher who created this stereotype. ‘Dr. Fox’ is an erudite, confident academic who gave a lecture specifically designed for the experiment. The researcher hired an actor to play the role and wrote a lecture for Dr. Fox to give, which was complete gibberish but was brilliantly delivered.

[The original lecture was given to an audience of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, and was about "mathematical game theory as applied to physician education." It was full of contradictory statements and non-sequiturs.]

Did the audience recognize that he was talking gibberish? The answer is no. Even educated audiences who witnessed the performance were very impressed. It is one of most depressing pieces of social science research ever conducted.

Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2011/08/05/mind-reading-why-expert-predictions-in-the-media-are-so-often-wrong/#ixzz1UB1jQgl6

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Leadership in the information era

Like being at the centre of a circle.

From Joseph Nye’s lecture at Chatham House on The Future of Power:

In an information age, what you find is that hierarchical patterns of deference are greatly devalued, and you have to then appeal as a leader in a different way. In an industrial era, leadership was like being king of the mountain and your orders cascaded down to those below you. In an information age, leadership is more like being at the centre of a circle. And you have to attract others to you. That reinforces the importance of soft power and narrative. And the really skilled leader, is the leader who can develop a narrative in a democracy which attracts people to him, or her, obviously for votes, but also for support. But a narrative which simultaneously attracts an outside, or multiple audience. And that’s difficult.

…But it is not easy, because any leader who speaks at any time in this information age has to realise that there are not one or two audiences, or one or two channels. There’s now in the blogosphere a multitude of audiences and interpreters and channels. So it is much harder.

How many leaders in India — political, administrative, military, business and intellectual — have imbibed this basic requirement of the information era?

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Look who is coming to India

He is welcome, but do not guarantee his security.

Who else, but that darling of the Indian media, the Mr. rent-a-quote, former President, former Chief Executive and retired army chief of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf.

“…And I am enjoying my lecture tours. Next month I am going to India for the same purpose. Let’s counter the Indians on their own home ground”, said the former general.[Dawn]

With typical bluster, he has made his intentions amply clear — to unleash his rabid Pakistani propaganda on Indian soil. In military parlance, the former commando would probably put it as “taking the battle to the enemy”.

Remember Agra summit and the infamous Musharraf meeting with the Indian editors then. Well, they will not need the PTV to sell the rights of an “off the record” discussion to Indian networks this time around. Going by the Indian media’s performance during the recent Mumbai terror attacks, trust the Indian media to lap up the former dictator and broadcast his anti-India tirade without any compunction even now.

Incidentally, Pakistani government has found the security situation in India not fit to allow its cricketers to travel to India. How can it then allow Musharraf, whose life is so threatened that he still resides in the Army House in Rawalpindi, to come to India. Indian government should simply decline to take any responsibility for the security of General Musharraf. That would be the end of story.

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