Daniel W. Drezner

How not to take political scientists seriously

How not to take political scientists seriously

Your humble blogger has not been shy in decrying those in Congress, the mainstream media, and the academy who believe that the answer to all of America’s problems starts with defunding National Science Foundation research grants for political scientists.  As I’ve blogged about repeatedly, political science research provides significant bang for the buck, and even the jargon serves a purpose. 

However, a good social scientist must also acknowledge contradictory data points against his or her hypotheses.  And so I must concede that this week the American Political Science Association has highlighted a decision-making process that suggests political scientists shouldn’t be trusted with either money or power.   

Readers might be aware that Tropical Storm Isaac appears to be bypassing the Republican National Convention in Tampa and is instead headed…. right for New Orleans.  It’s scheduled to his the NOLA area on Wednesday.  This is a wee problem for political scientists because, well, the American Political Science Association annual meeting is scheduled to be held in – wait for it — New Orleans from Thursday to Sunday.  APSA has already cancelled all Wednesday pre-meeting activities, and based on the storm path, I’d place a 50/50 bet on the whole convention being scrubbed (the other possibility is APSA Hunger Games, which would end badly for all the post-materialists). 

This gives rise to a very simple question of mine:  why, in the name of all that is holy, did any political scientist think it was a good idea to have the annual meeting in a hurricane zone… DURING HURRICANE SEASON??!! 

Now, you might think that this decision was made post-Katrina to express solidarity with the city of New Orleans — it wasn’t.  According to this timeline, the decision was made in 2003.  Still, it’s not like hurricanes devastating New Orleans is a recent phenomenon — there’s a long and storied history of tropical storms hitting New Orleans right around Labor Day weekend.  Indeed, there’s even a history of hurricanes affecting past APSA conferences in New Orleans — second-hand sources have informed me that a hurricane nearly hit the 1985 APSA meetings held in the Big Easy.  Since that’s the weekend APSA takes place, maybe places like New Orleans and Miami are bad hosting locales, right?  Right? 

[So you’re saying you don’t like these cities?–ed.  No, I love both cities.  Hell, I’m half convinced New Orleans exists merely to give writers an excuse to use the phrase "seedy charm."  I’m saying if the conference is going to be held in late August/early September, avoiding hurricane zones seems like a prudent course of action.] 

Now, since Katrina devastated New Orleans, there has been a huge controversy about whther it’s a bright idea to hold the meeting there.  However, if you look at that timeline, you’ll see that the controversy has to do with Louisiana’s "Defense of Marriage" constitutional amendment and the effect it would have on same-sex couples.  This is a fair issue to raise, but I’m thinking that the whole "possibility of being in a hurricane zone" thing should have come up as well. 

Looking over APSA’s written guidelines for convention siting, I see that APSA has included criteria about regional diversity, local treatment of same-sex unions and partnerships, labor union strength, carbon neutrality, and ethnic and racial diversity.  Might I humbly suggest that if political scientists want to be taken seriously by Congress and the general public, if would be a good idea to add "no city located in a hurricane zone during hurricane season" to the list of criteria?