Friday, February 4, 2011

Policy-Makers and Political Scientists

It is apparently time for the annual (semi-annual, bi-weekly, monthly?) "what has political science ever done for us" meme/thread/whatever to go around again.  Perhaps this particular bug is carried by the same processes as a chest cold, as we get it just about as frequently and it is almost as productive.

Dan Drezner has posted twice (here and here) on this of late, doing a good job of fending off those who come at political scientists with anecdotes and prejudices rather than arguments based on evidence.  But that is appropriate since they are anti-science--opposed to the development of generalized understandings of how politics works.

My point is simply this: I just spent the past two weeks talking to policy-makers in The Hague and with NATO people in Belgium and the Netherlands.  These folks gave up valuable time to talk to me and my co-author (Dave was with me for NATO HQ and SHAPE).  Why?  If they think that political science is a waste of time/money/paper, then why would they talk to me since my email and business card clearly identify me as part of that arcane guild of political sooth-sayers? 

Instead, these folks tended to think I was asking significant questions and when they asked about my preliminary (or not so preliminary since the project is now in the writing stage) results, they found them persuasive, or at least, reasonable and even useful. 

Indeed, the first product of this project has been accepted for publication, so we have been sending it out to folks in the policy world who inquire (I have tweeted about it, and I think I mentioned on a blog thread somewhere).  Thus far, these folks found it interesting even though it was a systematic comparison, focused on types of political systems.  Very, very political science-y. 

Anyhow, the point is--smart folks who make policy want as much info as possible, including evidence-based generalizations.  Dumb policy makers stick with their preconceptions.  Didn't we get enough of that for eight years?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Alternative explanation for why policy makers gave up their time to talk to you: You flattered them by requesting an interview. Even dour policy makers aren't immune to that impulse!