Reforming Political Science

Rogers Smith writes, "…we need to show that social scientists, especially those at leading
universities, are doing better at teaching—something that, I fear, we
are in danger of doing less and worse."

Also, "But much of the scholarship that many “professional” political
scientist value most highly is written using specialized terminology,
equations and data sets that render the work impenetrable to many
non-quantitative political scientists, much less to the general public."


8 thoughts on “Reforming Political Science

  1. I thought we were supposed to be in the post, post, post-behaviorist phase now where just because one had a 36 in yardstick that’s the only lengths that got measured. But one glance at the pages of the current APSR journal shows it still looks like a statistical course textbook or abstract from the Society for Applied Mathematics… la plus ca change…


  2. My main gripe with political science isn’t the reliance on quant methods. It’s the failure to clearly state why the research matters. Too much research fails the “who gives a shit?” test.
    The other problem, which Smith sort of touches on, is the need to translate good studies to the general public. APSR isn’t meant for the general public and that’s fine. I would like to see more people get rewarded for connecting the dots between existing research and for writing compelling, readable essays about the latest research.


  3. Too much research fails the “who gives a shit?” test.
    That isn’t completely independent of quantitative methods. Most things that matter are either hard to assess with the specificity needed for quantitative methods or have more independent variables than cases.


  4. Thanks for the link! I’m back teaching international relations after a stint in the foreign service — and people always tell me how great it is that I can bring real world experience to the classroom, and comment on how useful it must have been in the foreign service to have a Ph.d. in IR — but the ugly truth is that one has absolutely nothing to do with the other. I, too, think it is sad that we conducted academic discussions on topics like “what is nationalism?” while the war raged in Bosnia, and that currently we discuss things like “Is there more than one Islam?” while the war eats people in Iraq. I taught at a military university for awhile, and was amazed at how smart these folks were and how they were routinely ignored by the poli sci professors because they used different words, different grammar and different types of charts. I think part of the problem is that people who work in politics don’t know enough about methodology and part of the fault lies with academics who can’t translate their ideas in meaningful ways that make sense to the layman. And some of it is that we prefer to indulge ourselves in asking questions like “Is there more than one Islam” while Rome burns. Thanks for starting this discussion. It’s one we need to be having.


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