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Lecture 1

POLSCI 1AB3 Lecture 1: Lecture 1.1 Science of Politics

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McMaster University
Political Science
Todd Alway

Monday, January 9, 2017 Lecture 1.1-Science of Politics - Is there such a thing as a scientific analysis of the political world? - Can Political Science be scientific? - How? - The type of experimental method used in the natural sciences simply cannot be replicated for many of the questions that we have in the social sciences - We can develop a hypothesis - A statement that one or more variable(s) (independent variable(s)) will cause a particular outcome (dependent variable) - x + y = z - However, there is a problem with testing the hypothesis - We cannot simply isolate and combine social variables (unlike the case for chemistry or physics) - The variables we are interested in always exist in a larger social context that contains many many other simultaneously coexisting variables - How can you be certain that x produced y when variables a-w are also simultaneously present? - Any one of the alternative variables, or perhaps some combination of the alternative variables, could be responsible for the outcome you are interested in understanding - So if we are interested in developing a science of politics: - How do we test our hypotheses? • Some Options using single cases: • a) Most likely • b) Least likely case - One model for conducting a scientific Political Science: - Step one – Hypothesis generation - You need to start with an informed guess about what is causing the phenomenon/event you are interested in - Where does this informed guess (hypothesis) come from? - A) Existing expert literature - There is likely to be existing literature on your topic of interest - There may, in fact, be several different and competing explanations - Identify the existing hypotheses: Which of those explanations seems most persuasive 1 Monday, January 9, 2017 - Perhaps your research study can be organized to test which hypothesis is best supported by the evidence - B) Exploratory Case study - Find a society (a state, province, city, organization) where the phenomenon (e.g. economic development) that you want to understand is present - Why did the phenomenon develop in that society? - Note that a single case study is not sufficient for proving a general social law (i.e. a law that is true for all states/societies) - But
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