Years ago, I subscribed to Newsweek to get a source of lightweight magazine news that was relatively mainstream. I don’t expect in-depth coverage, but I still enjoy seeing how certain things are being framed. Plus, it’s fun to read Steven Levy, knowing that he’s making tech culture broadly accessible. Lately, I’ve also been enjoying columns by Fareed Zakaria. I don’t always agree with him, but I find his essays far more provocative than I’d expect from such a mainstream column. Thus, they always make me smile.
This week, in “The Only Thing We Have to Fear…”, Zakaria dissects different studies on the frequency of terrorism. He points out that the definition of “terrorism” varies by region such that what’s being measured is inconsistent and meant to return desired results rather than a real portrait of what’s happening. For example, civilian deaths at the hands of militia in Iraq is considered terrorism while the same practice in Sudan is not. This has significant policy implications. And, of course, it is part of the culture of fear.
I’m curious if any of you scholars/researchers out there know anything about these various studies and what the politics behind them are. I can certainly make my guesses, but as I spend more time analyzing quantitative studies, I’m really curious to know more about the politics behind controversial quantitative studies. Who’s involved in deciding how terms are defined? How do funders affect definitions and framing? What happens when researchers and funders disagree? Or when funders don’t like the results?
I feel very lucky to be backed by a Foundation who does not engage in pressure tactics and is infinitely supportive of hearing things that they don’t want to hear. I wonder… are there any ethnographic studies out there about social science scholarship/funder relations?