Should Political Science be Held to the Same Standards as Hard Sciences?

By Michael Baker

Here’s a well-written argument that political science programs ought to be defunded, in part because political scientists tend to yield incorrect predictions about government and world affairs.

That seems compelling at first; after all, shouldn’t a “science” produce testable predictions that we can rely upon in the future?  But ultimately that position  just leans too heavily on semantics.  If we call it “political studies,” the argument almost evaporates.

Even more to the point, to evaluate social sciences based on their ability to produce accurate predictions  misses a fundamental distinction between social sciences and hard sciences.  Political science and sociology, unlike biology or chemistry, have the potential to affect their subjects with the predictions that they make about them.  The more prevalent a particular political theory or prediction is, the more likely it is to impact the way that major political players conduct themselves, and thus the more likely to alter the very outcomes that it aims to predict.  When we all know – or think that we know – what will happen, we act based on that knowledge and it becomes increasingly likely that it will not be so.  Let’s call that the Back to the Future Effect.

It’s hard to argue with the point that within academic institutions the social sciences are tainted by a left-leaning bias.  Maybe that’s a reason to reduce their funding, but it’s undeniable that the ones who shout the loudest in favor of defunding are acting on their own political whims, so you’ll likely never strike a true balance.  Besides, if we defund any academic field that indoctrinates its graduates with leftist ideology, who will pour my coffee at Starbucks?