Thursday, 30 June 2005

Why political scientists try to be irrelevant

Today’s Washington Post carries a front-page article that (inadvertently) explains why empirically-oriented political scientists* like myself for the most part avoid doing anything that has anything close to real-world implications. And, it’s a no-win situation unless you’re a raging lefty “new politics” type (i.e., the sort who wouldn’t be hired by Democrats or Republicans to do this sort of work in the first place): somehow I doubt those in our discipline who want our discipline to be more “relevant” will be cheering the efforts of my future colleagues Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi to reinforce public support for the Iraq war and the War on Terror.

James Joyner’s comments further underscore the reasons for this reluctance:

Peter Baker and Dan Balz have a front page editorial, er “analysis,” at the Washington Post pointing out that President Bush is a politician who crafts his public speeches with his audience in mind. Even more damning is the suggestion that he hires experts to advise him.

Another data point: a few weeks ago, I made the mistake of trying to explain 50 years of empirical public opinion research to a reporter for the Jackson Free Press (for this article) who was asking why nobody voted in Jackson’s mayoral race, and all I got for it was being accused of being a “cynic.” Talk about shooting the messenger.

* Yes, this phrase is redundant.

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It’s worth pointing out, having heard Gelpi talk a lot about this, that he and Feaver went to both the Democrats and Republicans early last fall to discuss their research and its implications. The Democrats stole their “Pottery Barn” line and ignored the rest of what they had to say; obviously, the Administration has done a bit more with it.

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