Progressive Information Project: Political Science

The purpose of the Progressive Information Project is to more widely share resources and information created to advance progressive causes. A lot of good work is being done, but the average progressive often doesn't learn about it or know what is

The purpose of the Progressive Information Project is to more widely share resources and information created to advance progressive causes. A lot of good work is being done, but the average progressive often doesn't learn about it or know what is available. This series is designed to help alleviate that problem.

I first started blogging back in 1998 before the word even existed and while I was enrolled as a political science major -- I went on to earn my bachelor's and master's in the subject. As a blogger and political activist after that, one of the things that I was often struck by was the fact that there was this mountain of political science research that I had studied and nobody, it seems, in the actual realm of politics had read any of that research and little of it was incorporated into what people were thinking or doing in campaigns or activism. And it seems that people on my side lost a lot. These two things seem deeply connected to me.

Fourteen years later, little has changed. We still lose most of the time, people still have the same basic conclusions about those losses, with little connection to science, few people read the research, and very little changes. This isn't the way it needs to be and isn't the way that it should be.

As an example, if we wanted to make an argument about the reality of global warming and we wanted to make a valid plan for how to deal with it, we wouldn't get together people who have "thought" about the topic and maybe worked in an environmental organization as a staffer, have them come up with the best ideas they have and then make the plan based on that. It would be quite ignorant to approach such an important issue so flippantly. And yet that's often what we do with campaigns, elections and activism.

And frequently we replace "experience" on previous campaigns for scientific method and put all our weight on those who have won elections without any scientific look at why they won those campaigns. This means that often people who have hurt the chances of winning a campaign, but somehow managed to win anyway, are given the title of expert, even though they will cost us future elections.

Some would argue that political science is different and that the things that are done in politics aren't knowable the way things in the physical sciences are. Those people are likely not scientists. Most things in politics can be known and can be studied scientifically. It is true that the data that comes from human beings is less reliable than from say, chemicals, but that isn't to say that the data is unreliable.

Having studied it for years, I can say that not only can you come up with legitimate scientific answers by studying campaigns, elections, issues, public opinion and activism, they are almost universally going to be better than the answers that people come up without scientific evidence and study. And it's clear that after the last decade, it's hardly possible for the left and/or Democrats to do worse, in general, than they have been doing. So why not try a more scientific approach?

One thing I did back in my early days of blogging before I started focusing on state politics, is a regular roundup and summary of the latest articles from the political science journals. I'm going to start doing that again as part of the Progressive Information Project, particularly since most people don't actually have access to the journals that publish the latest research. The most common way to access it is through educational institutions. But I'd like to go beyond the basic journals, so if you know of other organizations that publish original scientific research, let me know in comments or via e-mail at quinnelk@gmail.com and I'll include it in our resources going forward...

For more entries, go to the series index. If you have tips, e-mail me at quinnelk@gmail.com

About Kenneth Quinnell

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