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Political analysis

June 15, 2011

* Albert Einstein believed that science creates concepts for elucidating reality. Scientists search for ways to identify, define, analyze, clarify, and understand the world. Religion, art, and philosophy also seek to produce languages and models to make the universe comprehensible. Each of these pursuits—science, spirituality, religion, art, and philosophy—may be conceptualized as ways of coming up with names and categories for what is considered to be real. Spirituality may name as real what is known by faith; some philosophies may name as real what is known through reason. Science differs from these two endeavors in terms of what and how it goes about naming phenomena as real, but, like spirituality and philosophy, science can be thought of as a type of naming system connecting what we think of as mind and world.
… science uses names to point to what it sees as truth. science tells us that its names truly correspond to reality. However, science by its very nature is a process of continuously renaming and improving on older naming schema. Science is therefore premised on the understanding that truth, at any particular time, is incompletely named (and incompletely known). Source: ELLEN GRIGSBY, Analyzing Politics: An Introduction to Political Science, 4th ed., (Cengage Learning: Belmont, CA, 2009) at 17.

Science names reality by means of a scientific method, a set of procedures (for gathering information) resting on certain epistemological assumptions. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that examines evaluations of what constitutes truth; thus, epistemological assumptions are assumptions about the essence of truth. Scientific method is characterized by epistemological empiricism (insofar as it is based on the assumption that what is true is what is observable). Its procedures reflect this epistemological assumption, for pursuing truth by means of the scientific method entails the collection of data. The data selected for collection are the set of data observed (not what is assumed, intuited, revealed by faith, or judged to be good or bad on normative grounds). In this manner, scientific method’s epistemological empiricism is reflected in its methodological (procedural) empiricism. Once collected, the sets of data are analyzed, and when the analysis leads to assertions concerning the nature of the data, these assertions are subject to testing. The testing of assertions provides verification (acceptance of the assertions) or falsification (rejection of the assertions). Through these steps of data collection, analysis, testing, verification, and falsification, the scientific method offers explanations of reality. Science’s explanations are necessarily incomplete and tentative, insofar as they are always subject to falsification at a later time. Political scientists use science’s methods to study questions as diverse as the causes of war and the origins of public opinions. Studying political questions in a scientific manner often involves the following:
– Formulating hypotheses
– Operationalizing concepts
– Identifying independent and dependent variables
– Clarifying measurement criteria
– Distinguishing between causation and correlation
– Developing scientific theories” (ibid at 18).
“Formulating a hypothesis can be a key step in the application of the scientific method to the study of politics. A hypothesis is a statement proposing a specific relationship between phenomena. A hypothesis puts forward an idea that X and Y are connected in a certain, identifiable way. An example can help illustrate the different dimensions of hypothesis formulation. A political scientistmay be intrigued by the following question: Is voting in U.S. elections related to age? The political scientist may suspect that younger adults are less likely to vote than are middle-aged adults. This suspicion may be articulated as a hypothetical statement such as, ‘‘U.S. citizens 18–24 years of age will vote in lower numbers than will U.S. citizens 45–55 years of age.’’ This hypothesis exemplifies the definition just noted—two phenomena (age and voting) are posited as having a specific relationship. Once formulated, hypotheses are tested. Data collection proceeds according
to the logic of the operational definitions contained in the hypothesis. An operational definition is a definition so precise that it allows for empirical testing. Unless a hypothesis defines the phenomenon in question precisely enough” (at 18)
“to measure that phenomenon, the hypothesis cannot be tested empirically. We cannot confirm/verify or falsify if we cannot measure degrees of correspondence between what a hypothesis states as a relationship and what we observe as actual facts. This is very important because verification often involves multiple tests of a
hypothesis. For example, ‘‘youth’’ is a general concept. We turn the concept into an operational definition when we define youth as ‘‘those who are 18–24 years of age.’’ Once we have thus operationalized ‘‘youth,’’ youth is something that we can observe with clarity and specificity. We can measure the correspondence between what we expect to see this group doing (as stated in our hypothesis) and what we actually see it doing.
Scientists often refer to the phenomena linked together in a hypothesis as variables. In our example, age is one variable and voting is a second variable. A variable is something that varies, changes, or manifests itself differently from one case to another. Independent variables are presented as those that act on or affect something. Dependent variables are what the hypothesis presents as being acted on by the independent variable. Which is the independent variable and which is the dependent in our example? Age is put forth as having an impact on voting. Age, therefore, is the independent variable, which has an effect on levels of voting (the dependent variable).
As scientists proceed to test hypotheses (with the operationalized variables), they must clarify their means of testing, or measuring, the correspondence between hypothetical relationships and what is observable empirically. This clarification involves specifying what is taken as an indicator of the variable. An indicator is evidence. How could we obtain evidence regarding our variable of voting? We could poll individuals and ask about their voting behavior. Their responses would provide evidence. As noted, operationalizing concepts and determining measurement (indicator) criteria are closely related. In our example, we could change our dependent variable from voting to political participation; our operationalizations and indicators would also change. How could we operationalize and identify indicators for political participation? We could poll individuals and inquire about not only such activities as voting, but also joining interest groups, identifying with a political party, writing petitions, attending demonstrations, debating political issues, and the like. In addition to testing hypothetical relationships, political science also points to the importance of understanding the difference between correlation and causation. Correlation is a relationship in which changes in one variable appear when there are changes in another variable (for example, lower voting appears with younger age groups). Correlation is not the same as ultimate, indisputable causation (one variable absolutely causing or creating the other). Were we to confirm our hypothesis on age and voting, for instance, we could not say that we have proven that being age 20 absolutely determines whether someone will vote. Perhaps additional variables (income, educational level, or mobility) are associated with this person’s voting behavior. As political scientist Duncan MacRae,
Jr., has noted, there is often an alternative explanation for what we think we have confirmed. MacRae’s insight points back to the usefulness of Converse’s” (ibid at 19).
“assertion—that science can name reality, but only in an incomplete, conditional, partial, and tentative manner.
Scientific research often involves the construction of scientific theories based on empirically verified hypotheses. Although based on observable data, scientific theory attempts to transcend the limits of the observable. Scientific theories seek to offer explanations about why and how correlations occur. In this manner,
scientific theory also seeks to predict. For example, after having found a relationship between age and voting, the political scientist might theorize that this relationship is related to different mobility patterns among groups. Perhaps younger people move more often than other groups and do not always register to
vote after moving to new cities. Theory building can be one of the most interesting aspects of science because
it takes the political scientist beyond the task of merely describing and observing. Descriptions alone may offer little in the way of meaningful additions to our understanding of politics. Explanations delving into the why and how of politics seek a more profound level of understanding. In fact, the search for such explanations can be one of the most productive sources for generating new hypotheses.
The processes associated with different usages of the scientific method—hypothesis formulation, operationalization, and so on—can be fascinating. Political scientist James Rosenau has described his own experience with the excitement of scientific research by noting the intense anticipation, curiosity, and expectation one feels while testing hypotheses and seeking out correlations. Moreover, although the method of science is orderly, often the actual practice of science is not. The lack of regimentation can be part of the fun. Political scientist Thomas Dye has described the scientific method as something of an adventure.33 Science is not so boring as to be thoroughly predictable because scientists often encounter the unexpected and the unusual. Rosenau and Dye are not alone in being surprised by the direction in which science sometimes takes them. Indeed, one offering of science is the promise of seeing the world differently, of coming to name and interpret perceptions in ways that may depart radically from our commonplace assumptions. In the 1600s,
Francis Bacon pointed to this dimension of science by arguing that science can free us from various ‘‘idols’’ (errors, misconceptions, and distorted views). Bacon categorized these misconceptions:
– Idols of the marketplace: Errors based on misunderstanding and faulty communications; errors related to our inexact use of language.
– Idols of the tribe: Errors related to the flaws of human nature; errors caused by the human tendency to be quick to judge and to be superficial in our assessments.
– Idols of the den: Errors caused by our inability to see beyond our own particular surroundings; errors related to our nearsightedness and proclivity for viewing our particular way of life as the standard for judging all others.” (ibid at 20).
“Idols of the theater: Errors based on our beliefs in dogmatic teachings; errors caused by believing in systems of thought characterized by inflexibility and closed off to questioning and critical analysis. Bacon’s insights have remained relevant over the centuries. Consider the following examples of misconceptions assumed by many at the time to be ‘‘facts.’’ In the 1800s, U.S. women who demanded the right to vote were not infrequently described as abnormal. In short, such women were likely to be seen as freaks. For example, opponents of women’s suffrage sometimes charged that because such women were acting like men in terms of wanting to vote, they must be like men in other ways; they must be, the argument continued, hermaphroditic (half female and half male). In the same century, a number of scholars misused Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution to claim that some races were superior to others. Ernst Haeckel, for one, argued that white Europeans were superior to other peoples.
These examples illustrate the significance of Bacon’s teachings. Idols can be powerful—seductive to those who use them in a self-justifying manner and oppressive to those whose lives are circumscribed by their claims. Idols can form the basis of a society’s discriminatory treatment of groups deemed unworthy of equal rights. Idols come in many forms—stereotypes, prejudices, and biases among them. In contrast, science, with its empiricism and logical methods of data analysis, can offer an alternative to such distortions.” (at 21).

* The foundations of politcal analysis lie in the concepts, approaches and methods through which we understand the subject:
– Core ideas that are central to the study of politics: politics, government, power, and authority.
– The classification of governments: liberal democracy, illiberal democracy and authoritarian rule (including totalitarian rule).
– Major approaches: the study of institutions (institutional approach), political behaviors, structures, rational choices and ideas.
– Specific research strategies and methods: case studies, comparisons, statistical methods, and historical analysis.
* Two competing conceptions of politics (ideal view vs realist view): the multi-faceted nature of politics:
Politics (should be) as a community-serving activity: (Aristotle) “man is by nature a political animal”. Aristotle: a political system would be more stable and effective when its rulers governed in the long-term interests of the community rather than in the narrow interests of their own social group.
Politics is, in truth, the use of the public arena to advance private interests. (Problem of interest conflicts: principal-agent problem). Politics is a competition between groups – ideological as well as material – either for power itself or for influence over those who wield it. Marx & Engels (1848): the executive of the modern state as “a committee for managing the whole affairs of the common bourgeoisie”. Lasswell (1936): politics as “who gets what, when, how”.
– A “reconciled” view: Laver (1983): “Pure conflict is war. Pure cooperation is true love. Politics is a mixture of both.”

* Government: the arena for resolving political issues: “a government consistss of institutions responsible for making collective decisions for society. More narrowly, government refers to the top political level within such institutions.” It is “the entire tarrain of institutions endowed with public authority”.
* Benefits and dangers of government: transforming anarchy into order, securing not only peace but also the opportunity for cooperation (Thomas Hobbes). A government offers “security and predictability”. “In a well-governed society, citizens and firms can plan for the long-term, knowing that laws will be stableand applied consistently” (Hayke). Coase (1960): governments provide efficiency gains in collective decision-making.
Government may abuse its own authority, creating more problems than it solves (John Locke, 1690).
A key aim in studying politics must therefore be to discover how to secure the undoubted benefits of government while also controlling its inherent dangers. Plato’s question: “who is to guard the guards themselves?”
5 components of a political communication model: a sender (who?), a receiver (to whom?), a message (what?), a presumed impact (with what effect?), and a channel (how?).
Sender —> message —-> channel —-> receiver —-> impact.
Harold Lasswell (1902-1978): He is well known for his comment on communications:
Who (says) What (to) Whom (in) What Channel (with) What Effect
and on politics: Politics is who gets what, when, and how.

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