William Sjostrom detects a hint of bias in the speaker selection for the upcoming APSA conference. Dan Drezner, while acknowledging the potential bias, also points out that the speakers’ appearances will be lightly attended, largely because political scientists have better things to do. He also manages to summarize part of my research methods class last night:
[T]here’s a difference between political science and politics. Most of the presentations and papers given at APSA do not address normative debates about the way politics should be. Instead, they are more detatched analyses of why things are the way they are. Sometimes the answers can be ideological, but most political scientists just care about whether their answer is correct—or more precisely, whether someone else can demonstrate that their preferred answer is wrong.
That said, something I didn’t mention last night is that many scholars’ normative beliefs drive their scholastic inquiry; witness the cottage industry of campaign finance scholarship, the whole “peace science” coterie, or most inquiry into racial and ethnic politics in America. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
Update: Meanwhile, Nick Troester notes that people disagree what “political theory” means. Most often, I see it used as a synonym for normative theory, rather than formal theory, which I gather is Nick’s conception of the term—the latter is sometimes referred to as “formal modeling” to reduce potential confusion, and occassionally (erroneously, in my opinion) as “positive” theory.