The failure of political science

Last week the American Senate supported with a clear bi-partisan majority a decision to stop funding for political science research from the National Science Foundation. Of all disciplines, only political science has been singled out for the cuts and the money will go for cancer research instead.

The decision is obviously wrong for so many reasons but my point is different. How could political scientists who are supposed to understand better than anyone else how politics works allow this to happen? What does it tell us about the state of the discipline that the academic experts in political analysis cannot prevent overt political action that hurts them directly and rather severely?

To me, this failure of American political scientists to protect their own turf in the political game is scandalous. It is as bad as Nobel-winning economists Robert Merton and Myron Scholes leading the hedge fund ‘Long Tern Capital Management‘ to bust and losing 4.6 billion dollars with the help of their Nobel-wining economic theories. As Myron & Scholes’ hedge fund story revels the true real-world value of (much) financial economics theories, so does the humiliation of political science by the Congress reveal the true real-world value of (much) political theories.

Think about it –  the world-leading academic specialists on collective action, interest representation and mobilization could not get themselves mobilized, organized and represented in Washington to protect their funding. The professors of the political process and legislative institutions could not find a way to work these same institutions to their own advantage. The experts on political preferences and incentives did not see the broad bi-partisan coalition against political science forming. That’s embarrassing

It is even more embarrassing because American political science is the most productive, innovative, and competitive in the world. There is no doubt that almost all of the best new ideas, methods, and theories in political science over the last 50 years have come from the US. (And a lot of these innovations have been made possible because of the funding received by the National Science Foundation). So it is not that individual American political scientists are not smart – of course they are, but for some reason as a collective body they have not been able to benefit from their own knowledge and insights. Or that knowledge and insights about US politics are deficient in important ways.The fact remains, political scientists were beaten in what should have been their own game. Hopefully some kind of lesson will emerge from all that…

P.S. No reason for public administration, sociology and other related disciplines to be smug about pol sci’s humiliation – they have been saved (for now) mostly by their own irrelevance. 

Satan in Academia

Republican Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum in 2008:

“Where did Satan start? The place where he was, in my mind, the most successful and first — first successful was in academia. He understood pride of smart people. He attacked them at their weakest. They were in fact smarter than everybody else and could come up with something new and different — pursue new truths, deny the existence of truth, play with it because they’re smart. And so academia a long time ago fell.”

Climate science wars: The Lysenko move

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has published a letter entitled ‘No need to panic about global warming’ which opines that “There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to “decarbonize” the world’s economy” and “Alarmism also offers an excuse for governments to raise taxes, taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses that understand how to work the political system, and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet.

The letter is signed by 2 meteorologists and 14 other scientists.

Here is another letter signed by 255 scientists making the case for human-induced global warming and published in Science in 2010. This letter allegedly has been submitted to, but rejected by the WSJ. Boing Boing claims that it has also been drafted in response to the WSJ piece but this is obviously wrong since the Science letter has been around since 2010.

The 16 scientists who got their letter published by the WSJ accuse the “international warming establishment ” of pushing science into ‘the frightening period when Trofim Lysenko hijacked biology in the Soviet Union’. Wow!

This rhetorical trick is so incredibly audacious that it deserves to be immortalized as the “Lysenko move” and included into the standard weaponry for academic spats, next to reductio ad absurdum and skeletons in the closet. Who is gonna be the next victim?

Texas vs. Science

This is from the Guardian:

Officials in Rick Perry’s home state of Texas have set off a scientists’ revolt after purging mentions of climate change and sea-level rise from what was supposed to be a landmark environmental report. The scientists said they were disowning the report on the state of Galveston Bay because of political interference and censorship from Perry appointees at the state’s environmental agency.

More details here. The public officials changed any reference to climate change, sea level rises, human influence and global warming form the draft report. In response, all scientists associated with the report withdrew their names from it. I guess that last bit is the good news. The bad news is that politicisation of science is no news anymore.