Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Scholars on the Sidelines, Indeed

Joseph Nye has a useful op-ed in today’s WaPo on the self-marginalization of political scientists. Money quote:

Scholars are paying less attention to questions about how their work relates to the policy world, and in many departments a focus on policy can hurt one’s career. Advancement comes faster for those who develop mathematical models, new methodologies or theories expressed in jargon that is unintelligible to policymakers. A survey of articles published over the lifetime of the American Political Science Review found that about one in five dealt with policy prescription or criticism in the first half of the century, while only a handful did so after 1967. Editor Lee Sigelman observed in the journal’s centennial issue that "if ’speaking truth to power’ and contributing directly to public dialogue about the merits and demerits of various courses of action were still numbered among the functions of the profession, one would not have known it from leafing through its leading journal."

I think it was E.J. Dionne who some years ago took the program book of an APSA annual meeting being held in Washington and showed it to Capitol Hill staffers and political operators in DC to see if there was anything they might find useful or interesting in the program. Nope.

My own contribution to this debunking is to take an APSR article at random, put the basic equation of an article on the blackboard, and ask students if they can suggest modifications to the equation that would solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This usually gets the point across quite effectively.

Discussions - 9 Comments

This is why Perspectives on Political Science , edited by Peter Lawler, is truly the profession's "leading journal"! No other journal, other than sporadically, makes the statesman's virtue of prudence a major concern.

Reminds me of the old Claremonster joke about being stranded on a desert island with only 10 years worth of the American Political Science Review to read. Would you die first of boredom . . .

or self-inflicted wounds?!

Nye's a tool. "Policy relevance" is just another term for being a bought-and-paid-for hack. Political science is better now than it's ever been, and the sooner dinosaurs like Nye are off the scene, the better.

Lucas, you'd get so angry stuck with the APSR that you'd figure a way to get off that island and switch places with the APSR editors.

The articles and papers delivered at history conferences are no less irrelevant and incomprehensible except to a few grad students and assistant profs clawing to get jobs and tenure. Then, they wonder why everyone reads and loves David McCullough and Joseph Ellis ~ all those (gasp!) popularizers. (Say it with as much haughty disdain - and barely hidden jealousy - as you can muster.)

Do our politicians listen to the people writing this triva?

Have politicians ever listened, mabye that is why the intellectual just gives up. I think they have selective hearing and they only hear ideas if they are preceded by the opening of a briefcase full of cash or come across as a way to glorify themselves or increase their power.

At a certain house of grad students in Claremont, it was discovered that copies of the APSR placed underneath the legs of the outdoor patio table made it perfectly that books and magazines that taught something about politics (as well as adult beverages) could be better placed on top of said table.

Yes, Richard, they listen quite a bit I think. Progressive intellectuals very much shaped the Progressive Era reforms, the "Brains Trust" FDR, the "best and the brightest" JFK, and again progressives at Harvard with Obama. The modern conservative movement, as much as leftists might even doubt that it is possible, was shaped in large part by the wave of conservative intellectuals like Buckley, et al. I wonder if the correct question is not whether they influence policymakers (because I believe they do, and the intellectuals secretly love to do so, whatever their claims of objectivity and being above that sort of thing), but what impact having the intellectuals and powerful in bureaucratic organizations across the board and their influence over public policy has done to the popular voice of the people in this country over the past 100 years as we've become increasingly dependent upon "experts" in public life.

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL:

Warning: include(/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2009/04/scholars-on-the-sidelines-indeed.php on line 628

Warning: include(): Failed opening '/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:/opt/sp/php7.2/lib/php') in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2009/04/scholars-on-the-sidelines-indeed.php on line 628