Nav: Home

Rethinking the science of politics - Multiple methods strengthen scientific inference

June 03, 2004

Arlington, VA--Why do political theories so often fail the test of common sense? And why do individual political studies often seem to stop short of providing general guidance about political matters?

James Granato and Frank Scioli, National Science Foundation (NSF), managers of the political science program, write in the newly published June issue of Perspectives on Politics that the separation of theory and real-world tests often sharply limit the usefulness of each. They identify three methods commonly used in political science studies - formal models, case studies, and applied statistical models - any of which, used alone, they say, may produce faulty results.

Theories need factual tests, Granato and Scioli say. Case studies need to inform theories. And statistical results need to be corrected by case study analyses and based on sound theory. Problems arise when researchers use only one method and do not compensate for its shortcomings, a challenge that plagues not only political science but the other social sciences as well.

What to do?

In a research program initiative called Empirical Implications of Theoretical Models (EITM), Granato and Scioli are managing new studies across all the social and behavioral sciences to give researchers who couple theoretical models and real-world tests of these models a chance to reveal findings that can provide help, for example, to new governments in developing constitutions, to economic policy makers in estimating the impacts of trade agreements, and to educators in facilitating learning in groups.

So far, 26 awards have been made through this NSF program.

"We think these awards will spark a new direction in political science - and in other social sciences as well," says Scioli. "These projects are not only good science, but they point toward a future in which an increasingly broad range of consequential policy decisions can be reliably informed by social science evidence."

In the EITM initiative, researchers are required to use or develop a formal model and to test that model with real data. The combined analysis leads to two desirable outcomes, say Granato and Scioli. First, using both theoretical models and empirical tests will result in research findings can lead to better-specified and more reliable understandings of what causes the political, economic, or social phenomena studied. Such understanding is crucial for the wise application of social science findings to public policy. Second, the robust results generated by this kind of analysis allow knowledge to cumulate. Scientists can discard theories that fail empirical tests and produce useful generalizations from real-world data.

For example, Carles Boix, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, is refining theoretical models with real-world data to predict how political institutions affect emerging democracies. Boix, through an EITM grant, will derive game-theory models that, first, characterize political agents with varying economic traits (i.e., amount and types of wealth) and organizational strengths; and, second, demonstrate how constitutional set-ups influence the strategies of these political agents in choosing political regimes. His empirical test comes from a survey of all sovereign nations over the past 200 years. These data allow him to assess the probability that a given democracy will collapse into a dictatorship. Early findings show that a mix of federalism and a parliamentary form of government is least likely to revert from democracy to dictatorship. The model, based on a plausible theory with real-world validation, could help in designing constitutions for new governments.

A subset of the EITM awards focuses on economic and policy questions such as:
  • the effect of tax increases and tax cuts
  • what effect financial structures have on economic growth and inequality
  • how people adapt to gains versus losses
  • how monetary policy can best respond to shocks (such as a credit crunch or technological innovation)
  • whether markets are overvalued
  • the effects of changes in international economic and trade policy such as those embodied in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Researchers are also examining social issues. One EITM project will link data on employers and employees to understand the workplace and human performance from both perspectives. Two other projects will investigate how residential communities form from the housing and neighborhood choices people make. Still others propose to increase understanding of how people learn in groups, how learners form generalizations from examples and how large social networks evolve.

The EITM initiative was part of NSF's new priority area in Human and Social Dynamics in which formal modeling is an area of emphasis.
-end-
NSF Program Officer: Frank Scioli, 703-292-8762, fscioli@nsf.gov

NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.58 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 40,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

Receive official National Science Foundation news electronically through the e-mail delivery system, NSFnews. To subscribe, send an e-mail message to join-nsfnews@lists.nsf.gov. In the body of the message, type "subscribe nsfnews" and then type your name. (Ex.: "subscribe nsfnews John Smith")

Useful National Science Foundation Web Sites
NSF Home Page: http://www.nsf.gov/
News Highlights: http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa
Newsroom: http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/media/start.htm
Science Statistics: http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/stats.htm
Awards Searches: http://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/a6/A6Start.htm


National Science Foundation

Related Data Articles:

Storing data in music
Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a technique for embedding data in music and transmitting it to a smartphone.
Life data economics: calling for new models to assess the value of human data
After the collapse of the blockchain bubble a number of research organisations are developing platforms to enable individual ownership of life data and establish the data valuation and pricing models.
Geoscience data group urges all scientific disciplines to make data open and accessible
Institutions, science funders, data repositories, publishers, researchers and scientific societies from all scientific disciplines must work together to ensure all scientific data are easy to find, access and use, according to a new commentary in Nature by members of the Enabling FAIR Data Steering Committee.
Democratizing data science
MIT researchers are hoping to advance the democratization of data science with a new tool for nonstatisticians that automatically generates models for analyzing raw data.
Getting the most out of atmospheric data analysis
An international team including researchers from Kanazawa University used a new approach to analyze an atmospheric data set spanning 18 years for the investigation of new-particle formation.
More Data News and Data Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Erasing The Stigma
Many of us either cope with mental illness or know someone who does. But we still have a hard time talking about it. This hour, TED speakers explore ways to push past — and even erase — the stigma. Guests include musician and comedian Jordan Raskopoulos, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, anxiety and depression researcher Olivia Remes, and entrepreneur Sangu Delle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...