As a recent M.A. filling out job applications, I constantly think about my unforgettable experience at JKSIS. I spent two blissful years with great people by my side learning so many new things I couldn’t even think of when I was holding my Bachelor’s diploma. This note is about why I cannot finally stop reading school readings months after the program’s done. When I first started grad school, I was literally at loss. There were so many courses on the list, almost any of which were available to take. While at first enjoying the courses on international politics, with time I began introducing myself to such things as social statistics, epistemology, quantitative and qualitative research designs, among many others. By the end of the program, I started asking myself about what exactly I got with my M.A. diploma? And I realized it is political methodology that became my focal interest in the world of political science, and even in the social sciences in general.
While contemplating about the word “polimetrics,” being more and more frequently used as a synonym for quantitative political science, and how it likens to “the dismal science”‘s econometrics I began to wonder what it could actually mean. Polimetrica: something about this word makes me uncomfortable; as a native Russian speaker I start to think whether it’s an attempt to define figurative or metaphorical use of words or, using the lingua franca, the modeling of a linear polymer. Should there be such a discipline as polimetrics? Is the term’s label warranted? While thinking about this strange word, I began to re-read Gary King’s seminal article “On Methodology,” which came out the year I was born. And the question I began to ponder was this one: Is what we do in quantitative political research is similar to what econometricians do? Does adopting mathematics and statistical theory to the world of politics make one a polimetrician? This is a difficult question, but King answered it, albeit with some nuances omitted. He decided that political methodology is the apposite term for quantitative political science (a dismal phrase in my view).
To understand why polimetrics is not such a bad word for the phenomenon we want to label, let us draw a parallel between econometrics and quantitative poli sci research. Econometrics builds on mathematical statistics which evolved into econometrics because of its scope and empirical studies of economic theory. Do we, students of politics, have an empirical, positivist tradition in our political studies — positive political theory? Do we apply mathematics and statistics in order to answer the political questions and consequently question the answers? Political methodology (more precisely, quantitative methodology based on political theory) is something we already have in our possession on a par with quantitative techniques from other mathematical social sciences. Yes, not every design is flawless, methodological errors are made, parameters appear biased, and not enough data are at hand time and time again. But who knows, maybe in the recent future we will see more people describing themselves as polimetricians. As the figure below shows (Google hits), for now, we are still quantitative political scientists with a lot of rigorous empirical work ahead of us. To summarize in King’s words:
“Finally, as the field of political methodology develops, we will continue to influence the numerous applied quantitative researchers in political science. Our biggest influence should probably always be in emphasizing to our colleagues (and ourselves) the limitations of all kinds of scientific analysis. Most of the rigorous statistical tools we use were developed to keep us from fooling ourselves into seeing patterns or relationships where none exist. This is one area where quantitative analysis most excels over other approaches, but, just like those other approaches, we still need to be cautious. Anyone can provide some evidence that he or she is right; a better approach is to try hard to show that you are wrong and to publish only if you fail to do so. Eventually we may have more of the latter than the former” (p. 25).
Reference: King, Gary. 1990. “On Methodology.” Political Analysis 2(1): 1-29.