Tuesday, October 20, 2009

NSF, Coburn and Poli Sci continued (updated)

The New York Times has a short piece looking at Political Science and its internal debate about its relevance. Having such a debate should not be seen as evidence that Poli Sci is not relevant, but rather it takes the issue of relevance seriously. I do like Arthur (Skip) Lupia's best quote:
After the fall of Communism, “when Eastern European governments were writing their constitutions, I can guarantee you they weren’t calling George Stephanopoulos,” Mr. Lupia said.
Aside from Skip's ill-fated loyalty to the Buffalo Bills, he is, as always, on target here. Not just Eastern Europe, but also South Africa and the rest of the late democratizers called upon the expertise of political scientists, including UCSD's Arend Lijphart, to help advise them as they wrote their constitutions.

Political Science does have lots of conflict within about what is good and appropriate work, how much should our stuff speak directly to policy, how do we know what we know, etc. These debates are healthy, as they force us to consider our assumptions and improve our arguments. To use such debates to say that Poli Sci is irrelevant is just as ill-informed to use debates within biology about the theories of evolution to deny the fact that there has been evolution.

As another Lupia quote in the NY piece suggests, our work is complicated by the fact that our subjects "can argue back." Not only that, but they know they are being observed so they may disguise their motives. Rats in a maze will not do that much.

Perhaps Coburn is doing us a favor by making us justify our existence. He is unlikely to win the day in the Senate although his hectoring about the tiniest portion of federal spending may win a few votes back home. Of course, those folks back home, if properly educated by political scientists, can see this for what it is--pandering to the ignorant and not a sincere effort to fight deficits.

[update: see Drezner for his take]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


This is about the best post on the whole Coburn thing I've read. Very nicely put.