Suzanne Mettler’s article on the submerged welfare state arguably provides another example of the Monkey Cage effect. After this post, her findings were discussed by Bruce Bartlett at the Fiscal Times Catherine Rampell the New York Times’ Economix blog, Jesse Singal at the Boston Globe, David Wessel at The Wall Street Journal, Gregory Rodriguez at the Los Angeles Times and David Sirota in his column syndicated at the San Francisco Chronicle, Denver Post and many other publications.
To be clear: while the timing strongly suggests that the Monkey Cage post played some role in getting some attention for the post, its role was limited. The article’s intrinsic merits were crucial in getting sustained attention – if its findings had not been so interesting, and so easily comprehensible, they would probably not have gotten the attention they did. Furthermore, most of the people who wrote about the article were likely reading each other rather than reading the Monkey Cage directly – while the post may have started the snowball effect, the snowball soon took on a life of its own. Finally, even when articles are excellent, and have attention drawn to them, they may not take off – attention cascades are almost certainly going to be somewhat stochastic. That this happened for this piece does not mean that it will happen for all pieces of similar quality that get initial attention in the blogosphere.
Even so, this should encourage other political scientists to try to get their findings out into the broader public debate, whether through blogging these findings themselves, telling political science bloggers about them, or other means. There is genuine demand for interesting, compelling political science findings that can be communicated straightforwardly to a wider audience. Political scientists often do not have the ready skills to communicate their findings to non-specialists – but these skills can be learnt, or at the least found via outsourcing to bloggers or others.