Barry O’Neill responds to Joe Nye
This week’s response to Joe Nye — the last in a long series — comes from Barry O’Neill: Joseph Nye’s claim is that the Obama administration is appointing lawyers and economists but not political scientists since our field has given itself to irrelevant quantification, inaccessible mathematics and unintelligible jargon. The fact that many political scientists ...
This week's response to Joe Nye -- the last in a long series -- comes from Barry O'Neill:
This week’s response to Joe Nye — the last in a long series — comes from Barry O’Neill:
Joseph Nye’s claim is that the Obama administration is appointing lawyers and economists but not political scientists since our field has given itself to irrelevant quantification, inaccessible mathematics and unintelligible jargon. The fact that many political scientists use quantification and formalism can’t explain this, since plenty of other political scientists are available who do qualitative research. The TRIP survey, the one Nye cites, states "The field of IR-including in the United States-is populated overwhelmingly by scholars who employ qualitative methods as their primary empirical tool," and it gives supporting tables (p.39).
Nye notes that Obama has recruited many economists. If the wide use of inaccessible jargon excludes a field, wouldn’t they be on the sidelines?
Nye claims that our field is becoming even more irrelevant to policy, citing a survey of articles published over the lifetime of the American Political Science Review, which looked at whether an article’s primary purpose was policy prescription. The real question is not whether an article is primarily given to explicit advocacy but whether it is relevant to policy decisions. The articles in this February’s APSR were on: why new democracies experience electoral fraud; whether electoral quotas for women have succeeded in India; whether the US electoral system disadvantages African-Americans; whether staying ambiguous on issues works for candidates; whether the Indian party system encourages pork barrel politics; why countries provide technical information to nuclear weapons seekers, plus two others, one on scaling methodology and one on the history of political thought. The bulk of the issue is focused on policies for human betterment. Nye writes, "Journals could place greater weight on relevance in evaluating submissions," but what more could they do? He might argue that the authors should have used a different methodology, but that’s another issue. Depicting their work as irrelevant is off the mark.
Is it only our fault that few of us have joined the government? Nye looks at the TRIP survey’s list of 25 scholars producing the most interesting work over the last five years, and notes that only 3 have worked in government. However, many of these 25 are fairly young and would have had to make their name in academia in the last five years, then get drafted by the Bush administration. And is it reasonable to expect someone to both innovate in a field and be the one to apply it? In the circumstances of the last eight years, 3 out of 25 is pretty good.
Finally, Nye writes, "More than 1,200 think tanks in the United States provide not only ideas but also experts ready to comment or consult at a moment’s notice." This figure has appeared on the internet and media over the years – "1,200 think tanks dot the American political landscape," etc. One writer reported it as the number of think tanks in Europe. When its appearance included a reference, I went back to found either a further reference or none at all. No one said just who came up with the number, when and how. An author in the early 1990s claimed that it was from the late 1980s, but the book he cited was out from my library, so I can’t say how far the trail would have continued back. Perhaps there really were 1,200 think tanks at some time by some definition, or perhaps the statistic belongs with the 10% of brain capacity that we all use. If it lacks a reference and is at least two decades old, it shouldn’t be repeated as a current fact.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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