Topic: Defining Politics and Political Science: Thinking Scientifically
Readings: Kalof, Chapters 1+2, Roskins, Chapter 1
Brief Outline of Lecture:
1) Politics and science: Are they compatible? (approx. 20 minutes)
2) Thinking scientifically as opposed to “just” thinking (approx. 25 minutes)
3) Six steps of scientific research (approx. 60 minutes)
1) What is politics and what is science? What is political science? (General class discussion based on the questions from AO #1)
a. Example: Freakonomics.com blog post “Why are killing rampages increasing?” (http://www.freakonomics.com/2008/09/17/why-are-killing-rampages-increasing-a-guest-post/) (Instructions: please read the brief blog entry and analyze the claims made by the author in terms of how well he is able to substantiate them with scientific evidence. In particular, pay attention to the data the author bases his arguments on and whether or not you find it to be reliable.)
b. For a researcher, the absolutely most important characteristic is to be unbiased. Emotions may play a role in politics for many people, but as a researcher, you have to be able to step back from your personal views and involvement, and instead objectively observe phenomena and behavior! Be passionate about your research, not about politics! (At least not while you’re researching :O)
c. Be careful, because bias often creeps in, even if you try to avoid it. That's why a good researcher checks and double-checks everything! At every step in the research process, you need to understand the rules, apply them, and then repeatedly check to make sure no bias has crept in.
d. Being objective may be more difficult than you anticipate. Oftentimes, we are not even aware of our own biases, which can come in the form of religious views, political beliefs, personal experiences, cultural and socio-economic biases, etc.
i. For instance, Western political scientists often have a difficult time studying non-Western political systems and cultures without having their own democratic bias (i.e. the belief that democracy is the best form of government) creep in. ii. In addition, there is the temptation for a researcher to want to verify his/her hypothesis about a phenomenon, which may lead him/her to select cases or collect data in such a way as to achieve the desired outcome. (Example: looking at Saudia Arabia, Syria, and Iran in an attempt to show that Islam and democracy are incompatible – a widely held belief among scholars – but leaving out more successful Muslim democracies such as Turkey and Lebanon.)
1. Statistics on compatibility: PEW survey and PPT
2) Limitations of “science” in political science?
a. Since we primarily study human behavior (as opposed to natural laws of physics or inanimate objects), a good question to ask is how scientific this study of humans can ever be? Humans are driven by emotions, which makes them inherently unpredictable … or does it?
i. As yourself this question: If you are a bar and someone provokes you by spilling a drink on you, what do you do? ii. You may have said: “I’ll punch that person,” or “I walk away,” or “I call the police,” or any number of options. If you put 50 people in that situation, how many different answers are you likely to get? This may lead you to believe that a scientific study of human behavior is difficult, if not impossible. iii. However, now ask yourself this: Do you think there are any patterns in the way certain TYPES of people react? For instance, would you expect women to react differently than men? Younger people differently than older people? Would personality play a role? Or whether or not that person has friends with him/her? THESE are the types of patterns we try to pick up on. Of course it may be impossible to always predict accurately how an individual person is going to act in a certain situation. But if we have enough data on enough variables, we might…