Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Overdue Blogs

Been busy with a large and long overdue project, plus travel, so I'm behind in keeping up with NLT.

Over on the AEI company blog I've got an article up this morning about the lamosity of political science, as seen every year at the American Political Science Association meeting.

And a few days ago I lobbed a little grenade at what I call "Eeyore Environmentalism."  Enjoy!

Discussions - 6 Comments

Sorry to disagree, Steven, but I think you are off the mark here. The social sciences should do what they can to be truly scientific; if that requires math, then so be it. Perhaps the real problem (among the lay public and also among policy makers) is innumeracy. Isn't it important to know if economic growth affects democratization, or how unemployment influences voting behavior? The only legitimate way to find this out is through statistics (just reading the historical record can't take all the other influences into account, but statistics can).

It's been a while since I picked up a polisci journal, so perhaps they've gotten absurdly statistical (e.g., articles that only a few people in the country could understand). If so, your complaint is certainly valid. But I don't think you should sweepingly condemn the whole approach.

In this morning's freshman pol sci class, we are still talking about why human beings are so hard to govern, issues having to do with moderation and justice and habit have crept into the conversation; so have food and sex and taste (and why Cyrus does not taste food, why he does not want to see the most beautiful woman in Asia); the "soft" Median education, and the "Hard" Persian one. In short, no one is bored and everyone sees the practical value of it all. Alas, Steve is right.

Come on, Peter, ignorance should never be the measure of utility. These freshman know very little, and probably nothing about statistics. It's a mathematical language -- would you instruct your freshmen in Hungarian and expect them not to be "bored?" It takes long, arduous education for students to appreciate statistics and the science that underlies its use.

If this is the way people at Ashland really feel, you need to take the "science" our of political science (the ONLY social science that dared to use the term in its disciplinary name).

I might also add that Steve's indictment of math and policy goes double for the hard sciences. Your typical legislator just takes the hard scientists' word for it. The problem is, EVERYONE thinks they know ALL about politics and the human universe. Instead of viewing the math as a necessary tool, most people just view it as the obfuscation of a well-known topic (which isn't the case most of the time).

People on the Right have to stop simply delegitimating these intellectual tools (which, admittedly, have been appropriated by the academic Left). LEARN the methods and take those people on!

What is this word: "lamosity"?

I was still gurgling over that when I got to APSA article and the titles of papers and panels. They all strike a note of desperation -- the grope for the original that afflicts academia and pushes creativity into the realm of the absurd.

I don't know, Redwald. Reducing politics to a science; what of humanity really works like that? Take polling data: if you ask people why they answer this way or that on a poll you don't get the same answer to your "why?". Justifications or reasons for picking a., b., or c. from the list are rarely the same from person to person. Sometimes they even have no reason they can articulate. You can use the polling data, but the "why?" is the interesting part and that is not readily quantifiable. And there is only so much political scientists can chew over with election results. Twice, thrice, twenty times chewed it is not charming and the results are the same. Six months later just about everyone knows if the results were good news or bad news on human terms and that part is something to talk about. The re-chewed data looks about as you'd expect, pretty darn..... tiresome.

I was going to say something here in Steve's defense . . . but that was before I read his fine piece. After doing that (which I highly recommend to all) I see no reason to try adding anything to this:

"The real problem with academic political science is its insistence on attempting to emulate the empiricism of economics and other social sciences, such that the multiple regression analysis is considered about the only legitimate tool of the trade. Some regressions surely illuminate, or more often confound, a popular perception of the political world, and it is these findings Klein rightly points out. But, on the other hand, I have often taken a random article from the American Political Science Review, which resembles a mathematical journal on most of its pages, and asked students if they can envision this method providing the mathematical formula that will deliver peace in the Middle East. Even the dullest students usually grasp the point without difficulty."

A fine answer to Redwald's point. Tools are fine and sometimes necessary . . . but they are still only tools. A man who knows all there is to know about a hammer may also be a carpenter . . . but it is NOT because of what he knows about hammers. And many fine carpenters know nothing about what it takes to make a fine hammer. Still . . . we need tool and die makers. But it is better for everyone if they don't call themselves carpenters (unless, of course, they also are carpenters).

Julie and Kate...what? I'm not sure I follow your points about chewing and hammering.

Could historical analysis (i.e., yada yada yada) bring "peace to the Middle East?" So far, it hasn't. How about political philosophy? Nope. Can Plato or the Persians come back from the dead and restore political virtue? Don't think so. The fact is, without a scientific protocol (of which mathematical precision is part), you simply have opinions and no tools to adjudicate the truth/falseness of claims. The oft-vaunted "logic" mostly doesn't do the job (generally because being "logical" depends on which initial premise you take). How do we know if a public policy works or not? You have to know its goals, and then you have to have statistics on its outcomes. Numbers are necessary.

Such a reactionary response to the natural progression of science...tut tut. It's been my experience that people who strongly object to the quantification of social science don't understand that quantification. If they did they'd sing a different tune, methinks.

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