The defining values

From Flat Earth News:

You could argue that every profession has its defining value. For carpenters, it might be accuracy: a carpenter who isn’t accurate shouldn’t be a carpenter. For diplomats, it might be loyalty: they can lie and spy and cheat and pull all sorts of dirty tricks, and as long as they are loyal to their government, they are doing their job. For journalists, the defining value is honesty—the attempt to tell the truth. That is our primary purpose. All that we do—all that is said about us—must flow from the single source of truth-telling.

What is the defining value of political scientists?

8 Responses to The defining values

  1. Jim June 17, 2009 at 8:48 am #

    Does it have to be a single value? I could say objectivity and intellectual rigor, but I doubt I could narrow it down further.

  2. Daniel Habtemariam June 17, 2009 at 10:00 am #

    As a statistician with a casual interest in political science, I’d say the most likely defining values are (jointly) logic and independence.

    I’d agree with Jim that objectivity and intellectual rigor are also likely candidates, but they’re just a tad bit too nonspecific for my taste.

    Ideally, I suppose, we’d want values that’re both highly sensitive and highly specific, which is closer to what we have in the carpenter-accuracy example. One problem here is that political science is more of an interdisciplinary field than, say, carpentry or even journalism, producing a more heterogeneous population–a hodgepodge of sociologists, historians, statisticians, economists, social psychologists, journalists, and marketing/public relations professionals. The most virtuous among you are likely to be intellectual enough to be able to spot logical rules of fallacy as well as objective enough to report them, logically-minded so that you’re careful with your data and even more careful in your conclusions, but also independent enough so as not to give in to the influence from the power players that you theorize about. There’re too many snake-oil salesmen in your field, too many policy entrepreneurs (to borrow Krugman’s term), and not being one of them is what gets at the defining value in your field, I think.

  3. Paul Gowder June 17, 2009 at 2:15 pm #


  4. Emery June 17, 2009 at 7:37 pm #

    I am a little skeptical of these descriptions. Is ‘accuracy’ really the defining value of carpentry? I get the ‘measure twice, cut once’ thing, but I would say that if I hire a carpenter, I want something different–more, even–than accuracy. I want the ability to make real, in wood and such, a plan drawn on paper. That is not accuracy. It is . . . ?

    Diplomats’ defining value is ‘loyalty’? I thought that the defining value of a diplomat was cunning. I want cunning diplomats, even if they are, occasionally, less than 100% loyal.

    ‘Honesty’ and journalism? Give me a break. That’s self-serving, for one. Second, reporters are supposed to be objective, no? Doesn’t that mean that they report dishonest arguments made by one side or the other (or both), all the time–and report them straight? I guess stenography is a form of honesty. Maybe ‘accuracy’ in stenography is the defining value of journalists.

    I would say that, for me, the defining value of social science in general and poli sci specifically is skepticism. Lots of people–journalists, campaign consultants (nice post by Lee), armchair strategists–‘know a lot about politics.’ But a political scientist should always be skeptical of these ‘experts,’ interested above all else in the existence (or lack) of empirical support for their claims.

    This is kind of what Daniel said above. Certainly not inconsistent. “Snake-oil,” indeed.

  5. Andrew June 17, 2009 at 8:27 pm #

    I think the defining value of political scientists is either:

    (1) A blind faith that survey data really are saying what you think they’re saying, or

    (2) A blind faith in some theoretical model (whether it be game theory, Marxism, or whatever).

    (I fall in category 1, of course.)

  6. Jeff Lazarus June 18, 2009 at 9:01 am #

    I believe the defining value of all scientists — social and physical — is the desire to advance knowledge. This includes teaching old knowledge to new people (i.e., in the classroom) and discovering new knowledge to advance the discipline (research). Rigor and objectivity apply to both

  7. Emery June 18, 2009 at 6:26 pm #

    The ‘blind faith’ comment–ouch.

  8. Matt Jarvis June 18, 2009 at 7:23 pm #

    Blind faith? I would hope that, given Emery’s defining value of skepticism, would it more accurately be “willful ignorance?” We all KNOW that blind faith would be misplaced, so we admit that all these things are flawed in graduate school, then proceed to paper over those objections when it comes time to actually publish something.