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Month: September 2012

In defense of description

John Gerring has a new article in the British Journal of Political Science [ungated here]which attempts to restore description to its rightful place as a respectful occupation for political scientists. Description has indeed been relegated to the sidelines at the expense of causal inference during the last 50 years, and Gerring does a great job in explaining why this is wrong. But he also points out why description is inherently more difficult than causal analysis:  ‘Descriptive inference, by contrast, is centred on a judgment about what is important, substantively speaking, and how to describe it. To describe something is to assert its ultimate value. Not surprisingly, judgments about matters of substantive rationality are usually more contested than judgments about matters of instrumental rationality, and this offers an important clue to the predicament of descriptive inference.’ (p.740) Required reading.

Taking stock of Institutionalism

This year’s Nobel Symposium has been on the topic of Growth and Development. Several of the presentations (available here) deal with the impact of institutions on economic growth and development. The contributions by Daron Acemoglu and Andrei Shleifer in particular do a great job in taking stock of what we know about the role institutions play in society and the economy. And the discussion is useful in understanding the methodological challenges in demonstrating the importance of institutions as well. Highly recommended.


It’s been a while since the last post but I am slowly getting back on track after the triple shock from the arrival of a new family member, a new house and a new office (which all happened within a week during the summer). For a starter, a selection of interesting links from the last two months: Animals have morals. Brought to you by one of my academic heroes. Abuses of public budgeting for election purposes. 1) Find a black hole item in the budget. 2) Put all budget cuts there. 3) Brag that you have solved the budget deficit problem. Statistics bring emotions. Probably faked, but still nice to see. When do academic do their work?  At night, at during weekends, too. Watercolor your scatterplots. Yammy. Here as well. Fractals in nature (as seen from Google Earth). By Paul Bourke