Saturday, May 14, 2011

Are political scientists under-engaged?

Via Henry Farrell and Archon Fung, here's a notable quote from the late great Lee Sigelman:
If "speaking truth to power" and contributing directly to public dialogue about the merits and demerits of various courses of action were still numbered among the functions of the [political science] profession, one would not have known it from leafing through its leading journal.
I touched on this a bit in my article in the Forum last year. We actually have some evidence of of under-engagement by political scientists, provided by a 1969 survey of academics performed by Everett Ladd, Seymour Lipset, and Martin Trow. Here are responses among academics to the question of whether they have ever been active in a student group or club:
This, to me, suggests that the people who become political scientists are disproportionately inclined to join groups and get involved in politics. This shouldn't be terribly surprising -- political scientists took to their line of work because they actually care about politics. That they would have been involved politically in the past doesn't seem like a real stretch.

But note the next chart, for which academics were asked whether they are currently involved in consulting local businesses or governments, nonprofits, or national businesses or governments:
Suddenly political scientists don't look so special. Indeed, they seem to be underperforming relative to other social scientists, despite a disproportionate penchant for political participation. 

It's regrettable that political scientists are not sharing (or do not feel welcome sharing) their knowledge with the political world. It's also regrettable that we are ceding this role to other fields.

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