Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Political Scientists and Their Love Affair with Statistics

From Chris Lawrence, I found this post on how political scientists often miss the big picture by relying too heavily on statistics. David Adesnik writes,

The secret to success in America's political science departments is to invent statistics. If you can talk about regressions and r-squared and chi-squared and probit and logit, then you can persuade your colleagues that your work is as rigorous as that of a chemist, a physicist, or (at worst) an economist.


As I see it, the cause of this unsubtle approach is political scientists' obsession with statistics, a pursuit that dulls their sensitivity to the compexity of real-world political events. If numbers are your thing, you're going to have a hard time explaining why Israelis and Palestinians have spent five decades fighting over narrow tracts of land.

So then, what is to be done? As you might of heard, many political science programs require training in statistics but not foreign languages. That trend has to be sharply reversed. Learning foreign languages promotes immersion in foreign cultures and ideas, which in turn make it hard to ignore the role of those cultures and ideas in the realm of politics. Given that politics is an art rather than a science, there is no substitute for getting inside the minds of those we study.

I don't have a problem with the use of quantitative methods. Numbers have their place. But I do think that the discipline has to do a better job of promoting qualitative research. Its is through a blend of methodology that we can get the big picture. When was the last time that APSR published a paper based on elite interviews or focus groups?

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