An interview with Valerie Hudson
Q: Within Genesis and Philippians there is a phrase “for I have learned”—how would you complete that sentence?
A: One of the things I have learned is, although you might not know it from some of the events on planet earth, God deeply cares about what is going on with the women of the world, and in God’s sight, men and women are equal.
Q: Political science professor hardly seems to cover the diversity of your professional career. How would you describe your professional scope?
A: As an undergraduate at BYU, my reflection paper in the honors program was on the virtues of eclecticism, so I suppose it is no surprise my work has spanned everything from biochemistry to artificial intelligence techniques and from understanding social events to national security and foreign policy, demography, women, and international affairs. . . . It has been a wonderful career in that sense, because I got to see how it is that all truth may be circumscribed into one great whole.
Q: What is this new social science project you are involved with?
A: The “New Kind of Social Science Project” (nkss.byu.edu/about.html) is an attempt to move beyond what’s referred to as the “quantitative-qualitative divide” in the social sciences that has been a distraction for way too long. Quantitative researchers see qualitative research as soft and nonrigorous. Qualitative researchers suggest those who do quantitative research have no real idea of the nuances of their subject matter. My co-principal investigator on the project, Philip A. Schrodt, who is now at Penn State University, and I had been doing what is called computational modeling for over twenty years. We took artificial intelligence techniques and used them to eliminate the false divide between quantitative and qualitative social science methods. Information, such as that encoded in events data, can be combined or recognized in patterns by using those tools. The project is an attempt to make a working online tool that will search for patterns and strategies and learning within the time stream of events data.
Q: Describe the events data put it in terms of the Israeli research on the site. What have you gotten out of it?
A: Events data is a type of data used in international relations. Each day there are events happening between the nations of the world. What Phil has done is create a way to machine read and machine code each event. His computers capture and code literally millions of lines of data representing these events. We used the Israeli and Palestine data set with the pattern recognition tool on those events and compared the types of strategies used by Israeli prime ministers since the 1970s. We distinguished the types of strategies each prime minister used. We are also moving forward to determine the popularity or lack of popularity of the prime ministers at certain periods of time and how it affected the strategies they used.
Q: What has most surprised you since Bare Branches was published?
A: The first thing is that it was published at all. We started with lower-ranked journals, where it was rejected out of hand. I was discouraged, and I re-read the article one night to see how bad it was. I concluded it was actually pretty darn good. After talking to my co-author, Andrea M. den Boer, I suggested we send it to the top journal in our field and work our way down. The top journal, International Security, took it immediately and without hardly any alteration—then the flood gates of press coverage opened. Our argument that having a deficit of females in the population was not good for national security really caught on. We had requests for interviews, and the research appeared all over the world. I never thought I would find myself being interviewed for 60 Minutes. We even made it into China’s People’s Daily. The most recent request was from Al Jazeera.
Q: How do you balance the personal (i.e., husband, children, church) versus the professional (teaching, writing, researching, WomanSTATS, social science project) parts of your life?
A: . . . and cystic fibrosis research . . .
Q: Exactly. As long as you mentioned it, how are the boys doing?
A: They are doing great. Healthy as horses.
Q: They are still taking the glutathione. Has it completely ameliorated all the symptoms?
A: Not completely. We have to be diligent, and we take them in for testing periodically to make sure all is well. Currently, all is well.
Q: Have others followed your lead?
A: There have been some who have been motivated by our research. A doctor in Italy is starting a multicenter clinical trial on the use of oral glutathione to increase weight gain in kids with cystic fibrosis, and there is another clinical trial of inhaled glutathione in cystic fibrosis patients ongoing in Germany.
I TELL THEM I AM NOT SURE THERE IS ANYBODY WHO FEELS 100 PERCENT HAPPY WITH THE BALANCE OF WORK AND FAMILY IN THEIR LIFE. OBTAINING A PERFECT SENSE OF CONTENTMENT AND BALANCE IS NOT THE NATURE OF THIS WORLD.
Q: In one interview you referred to having ten balls in the air—how do you manage it?
A: I think it is an important question. I often have female students talk with me about these issues when they are considering a post-graduate degree. I tell them I am not sure there is anybody who feels 100 percent happy with the balance of work and family in their life. Obtaining a perfect sense of contentment and balance is not the nature of this world. Once you accept that you are always going to feel somewhat uncomfortable and unhappy with whatever it is you have taken on, even if you are a stay-at-home mother, the second step is to ask, “What do I feel called to do?” I felt called to have my children—I love them. I felt called to certain research projects, especially WomanStats. I felt called to help my children with cystic fibrosis. I felt called to resolve this qualitative/quantitative tension in the social sciences. I have followed all of these calls. I think God must have smiled on that determination, because I have wonderful children and a great husband. We are true, faithful partners. One of us has always been home when the other is not. More and more of the students I teach say that both of them, husband and wife, have a presence in the home as well as being engaged in magnifying their talents. If you’re called to do it, you will have assistance from on high.
Q: What was the gist of your presentation “The Two Trees” at the Fair Conference in August 2010?
A: I’ve come to this deep, deep realization that God values women. One of the most important stories we all have to understand correctly is the story of Adam and Eve. If you don’t get the story of Adam and Eve right, you’re not going to get an understanding of the equality between men and women.
Q: How would you describe the impact Bare Branches has had on raising awareness of the security issues from the viewpoint that once a country is in a cycle of imbalance between genders (i.e., China, India), and what can be done?
A: I want to emphasize our book was only one of many factors involved in bringing this awareness, but I think our book did play a role. The fact that there were fewer women than normal in China and India had been known for a long time; it was a “so-what” issue. It had never occurred to the Chinese or Indian governments that there would be ramifications for national security. To the Chinese government’s credit, they have taken this problem very seriously.
Shortly after our book was published, they announced plans to normalize the population balance. They’re now shooting for 2016 to normalize the birth-sex ratio. When I was in Beijing in 2009 conducting interviews, every person I talked to had read the argument. The State Family Planning Commission said they were pointing a lot more resources at studying the effects of the sex-ratio imbalance. For example, one research group received the equivalent of a $5 million grant to study the problem. My interviewees stated that although China would not officially change the one-child policy, they expected that soon the government would drop all punishments and fines for a second—I thought that was stunning.
India took longer to get in gear on this. The Indian government has taken some new initiatives to act as the parent of unwanted daughters. Now if you have a girl in states where the sex ratio is bad, you are paid several hundred dollars to keep her and not kill her. Every time you bring her to get vaccinated or when you enroll her in school, you get cash. If she reaches age eighteen, is unmarried, and has completed her education, the government will give her several thousand dollars for wedding costs, which is, in effect, a dowry. In a sense, the government has adopted the girls; we’ll see what happens. The problem with China and India is that even if they change everything today, they still have twenty years to face this problem. You can’t fix what is in the past, and the market for girls in the Asian region is now growing tremendously. People tell me the top exporter of young women to China is North Korea; Laos, Vietnam, and Burma are close behind. There’s no fix for the sex-ratio imbalance that already exists, but policy measures can address the future.
Q: A figure I read from one of your interviews said that 160 million women had gone missing in 2005?
A: Yes, the UN’s best estimate in 2005 was that there were at least 163 million missing women from Asia. Because of what’s happening in Asia, the entire world’s population is skewed.
Q: WomanSTATS (www.womanstats.org) began in 2001. What have you learned from that project that you hoped you’d learn, and what have you not yet discovered?
A: What we learned is that through huge effort it was possible to put together the finest online, interactive database concerning women. We code for over 300 variables for 174 countries—all countries with at least 200,000 population. We are now the number one, go-to source for international women, according to our Google ranking. We also learned funding for databases is difficult. People assume databases just happen. Why would they fund students to gather data on women? It’s one thing to say I want money to go to Brazil or Nigeria to do a microfinance program to help people out. It’s another thing to say I need money to pay undergraduate students in order to keep this amazing resource—valuable not just to scholars but also to policy makers and journalists. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee used our data in a briefing, the UN has used our data, and I did a presentation for the Department of Defense. One of our most important findings is that the best overall predictor of a nation’s peacefulness is not their level of democracy, or their level of wealth, nor whether Islam is prevalent or not—it’s the level of violence against women that is the best predictor of state security and peacefulness. That is a pretty astounding finding, especially since it is not based on anecdotes; it is based on large and statistic analytical testings of samples of 140 or more countries.
Q: Would you say fund-raising has been your most difficult challenge?
A: Yes, but I think more generally speaking, another great challenge is that the world needs the voices of more women. It is time for us to step up to the plate and to make our contribution to society, whether it be civically, academically, in business—whatever it takes so the voice of women is equally significant in the conduct of community in both national and international affairs. It is time for balance. The world that we have created by listening only to men (or primarily to men) is a pretty dysfunctional world. It is time for women’s values, perspectives, and skills to equally shape the world we live in. We just sent off our completed book manuscript to Columbia University Press, our first WomanSTATS book: Sex and World Peace: Roots and Wings of International Relations. The final chapter is devoted to how we get from here to there on a personal level, and the second to the last chapter is on what states can do.
Q: In addition to all this, you’ve begun an online journal, Square Two (squaretwo.org). What is the motivation behind it?
A: One of the things missing from our faith community is an outlet for Mormon writers to discuss the important issues of the world today from a faithful perspective. BYU Studies is an excellent publication that focuses on Mormon history, but what I wanted to see was a publication for the Mormon thinkers to address contemporary issues. We put out our first issue in fall 2008. We have several thousand subscribers, and some of our issues have received 50,000 page hits, so I think there was room and need for this type of outlet.
Q: Would you like to discuss your relationship with the Kennedy Center?
A: I love the Kennedy Center. The fact that the David M. Kennedy Center exists is one of the biggest reasons I am here at BYU. I love its vision of the interdisciplinary gathering, not just an interdisciplinary gathering of scholars, but reaching out to ambassadors, professionals, and journalists around the world and giving our students a true education. I would also like to mention the LDS National Security Society. We don’t have annual meetings, but we do have a listserv and two volumes of symposium proceedings, and our next symposium will be in Washington, D.C., at the Barlow Center in April 2013. People can contact me if they are interested.
Brigham Young University Political Science Professor Valerie M. Hudson was included as one of Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers in 2009. Her groundbreaking book with co-author Andrea M. den Boer, Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population, explored the impact unequal sex ratios have on national security. In addition to teaching responsibilities, she served as the director of graduate studies for the Kennedy Center for eight years, and the center helps to support the WomanSTATS Project. Winner of numerous teaching awards and recipient of a National Science Foundation Research Grant, her research foci include foreign policy analysis, security studies, gender and international relations, and methodology, and her articles have appeared in such journals as International Security, Journal of Peace Research, Political Psychology, and Foreign Policy Analysis. Hudson previously taught at Northwestern and Rutgers Universities. She received a BA in political science from BYU and an MA and a PhD in political science from The Ohio State University. Beginning 1 January 2012, Hudson will leave BYU to take up the George H.W. Bush Chair in the Bush School of Government at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.