The political science of blogs

David Adesnik has a marathon-length post on moderating a Harvard panel with a Boston Globe journalist and discussing what he’s learned via blogging. He concludes: The question I was left asking myself after the debate was what questions I might have asked if I had been in the audience but hadn’t been a blogger. Probably ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and the author of The Ideas Industry.

David Adesnik has a marathon-length post on moderating a Harvard panel with a Boston Globe journalist and discussing what he's learned via blogging. He concludes:

David Adesnik has a marathon-length post on moderating a Harvard panel with a Boston Globe journalist and discussing what he’s learned via blogging. He concludes:

The question I was left asking myself after the debate was what questions I might have asked if I had been in the audience but hadn’t been a blogger. Probably exactly the same ones that the actual audience asked. They were intelligent. They solicited important information from the guest. But from the perspective of a blogger-slash-backseat journalist, they seemed so elementary. And that made me realize just how much I had learned by spending a couple of hours a day on this website for the last eighteen months It also made me realize how specialized and pedantic bloggers’ media criticism is. Even the most intelligent “normal” people out there have only the vaguest sense of how bloggers read the newspaper. Much like scholars, bloggers tend to think of their analytical methods as being a secret treasure, while critics think of them as the product of some kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Yet in contrast to scholars, bloggers are rapidly winning bigger and bigger audiences. Bloggers are also getting the attention of those they criticize. In contrast, politicians ignore what political scientists write (while obsessing about the media)…. The final thought I had about today’s discussion was that if I can look back on myself from two years and say “Oh my God, I can’t believe how ignorant I was!”, who might look at me now and say “Oh my God, I can’t believe how ignorant he is!”

Oh my God, I can’t believe how ignorant Davi— just kidding. More seriously, David has hit on one of the reasons I’ve given for blogging — it can command immediate attention in a way that an article in either International Organization or the American Journal of Political Science cannot. Score one for blogging. And yet — there are two important caveats to David’s thesis that blogging is more influential than political science. The first is that it may be that either activity is a necessary but not sufficient condition for influencing the body politic. Using myself as an example — I got my gig at TNR Online because they liked the style and content of the blog. But, they also liked the fact that I was a professor of political science. My academic credentials probably opened a few doors that have been more difficult to open for a Kevin Drum or a Steven Den Beste. The second caveat is that, while many political scientists yearn for “policy relevance,” it comes in different forms. One way is to become a public intellectual/media whore and directly address one’s fellow citizens. There are other, more permanent ways, however. John Maynard Keynes once observed that, “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” A good political scientist can have that kind of long-run influence as well. I doubt that politicians ever listened to what E.E. Schattschneider, David Mayhew, Hans Morgenthau, or Graham Allison said on a day-to-day basis — but the political world they live in was partily constructed by their ideas.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and the author of The Ideas Industry. Twitter: @dandrezner

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