Sunday, September 26, 2010

On academic political science

Stephen Hayward writes what is in part a very standard sort of piece making fun of the lower tail of paper names from academic conferences. That's all good fun but not very deep and not very original.

The other part of Hayward's piece laments the attempts of political scientists to actually act like scientists, by developing theories and testing them against empirical data. This, he argues, makes them irrelevant, which apparently means that it reduces their chances of showing up on a Sunday morning spin show, or on the sale table at an airport book store, and thus gaining the attention of beltway insiders of the more intellectual sort.

My problem with Hayward's plea is that he seems to confuse political science departments with schools and departments of public policy. They have different names because, within the academic division of labor, they do different things. I would have thought, indeed, that it is also in part the task of institutions such as Hayward's employer, the American Enterprise Institute, to translate academic output into formats that beltway types can digest and use. Such translation is a very useful activity, just not one that is necessarily the best use of time for most academic political scientists.

Asking for "political insights" - does that mean things like "senator so-and-so's mistress is ready to go public for $200K"? - from political science is a bit like asking for tips on how to economize at the grocery story from academic economics. It misses the point.

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