Skip to content
Archive of posts filed under the Political Science category.

(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Evidence, Policy, and Understanding

[link] Kevin Lewis asked me what I thought of this article by Oren Cass, “Policy-Based Evidence Making.” That title sounds wrong at first—shouldn’t it be “evidence-based policy making”?—but when you read the article you get the point, which is that Cass argues that so-called evidence-based policy isn’t so evidence-based at all, that what is considered […]

“The following needs to be an immutable law of journalism: when someone with no track record comes into a field claiming to be able to do a job many times better for a fraction of the cost, the burden of proof needs to shift quickly and decisively onto the one making the claim. The reporter simply has to assume the claim is false until substantial evidence is presented to the contrary.”

Mark Palko writes: The following needs to be an immutable law of journalism: when someone with no track record comes into a field claiming to be able to do a job many times better for a fraction of the cost, the burden of proof needs to shift quickly and decisively onto the one making the […]

Statistical behavior at the end of the world: the effect of the publication crisis on U.S. research productivity

Under the heading, “I’m suspicious,” Kevin Lewis points us to this article with abstract: We exploit the timing of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the geographical variation in mortality risks individuals faced across states to analyse reproduction decisions during the crisis. The results of a difference-in-differences approach show evidence that fertility decreased in states that […]

Dear Thomas Frank

It’s a funny thing: academics are all easily reachable by email, but non-academics can be harder to track down. Someone pointed me today to a newspaper article by political analyst Thomas Frank that briefly mentioned my work. I had a question for Frank, but the only correspondence I had with him was from ten years […]

Why are these explanations so popular?

David Weakliem writes: According to exit polls, Donald Trump got 67% of the vote among whites without a college degree in 2016, which may be the best-ever performance by a Republican (Reagan got 66% of that group in 1984). Weakliem first rejects one possibility that’s been going around: One popular idea is that he cared […]

A Python program for multivariate missing-data imputation that works on large datasets!?

Alex Stenlake and Ranjit Lall write about a program they wrote for imputing missing data: Strategies for analyzing missing data have become increasingly sophisticated in recent years, most notably with the growing popularity of the best-practice technique of multiple imputation. However, existing algorithms for implementing multiple imputation suffer from limited computational efficiency, scalability, and capacity […]

Incentive to cheat

Joseph Delaney quotes Matthew Yglesias writing this: But it is entirely emblematic of America’s post-Reagan treatment of business regulation. What a wealthy and powerful person faced with a legal impediment to moneymaking is supposed to do is work with a lawyer to devise clever means of subverting the purpose of the law. If you end […]

Benefits and limitations of randomized controlled trials: I agree with Deaton and Cartwright

My discussion of “Understanding and misunderstanding randomized controlled trials,” by Angus Deaton and Nancy Cartwright, for Social Science & Medicine: I agree with Deaton and Cartwright that randomized trials are often overrated. There is a strange form of reasoning we often see in science, which is the idea that a chain of reasoning is as […]

Nudge nudge, say no more

Alan Finlayson puts it well when he writes of “the tiresome business of informing and persuading people replaced by psychological techniques designed to ‘nudge’ us in the right direction.” I think that’s about right. Nudging makes sense as part of a package that already includes information and persuasion. For example, tell us that smoking causes […]


Ethan Bolker points to this news item and writes: A couple more clicks after that, and we’re looking at a summarized version of a bill tackling cybersecurity that the software has considered and rendered a judgment on, when it comes to the probability that it will become law. We’re not talking a rough estimate. There’s […]

How is science like the military? They are politically extreme yet vital to the nation

I was thinking recently about two subcultures in the United States, public or quasi-public institutions that are central to our country’s power, and which politically and socially are distant both from each other and from much of the mainstream of American society. The two institutions I’m thinking of are science and the military, both of […]

Forking paths plus lack of theory = No reason to believe any of this.

[image of a cat with a fork] Kevin Lewis points us to this paper which begins: We use a regression discontinuity design to estimate the causal effect of election to political office on natural lifespan. In contrast to previous findings of shortened lifespan among US presidents and other heads of state, we find that US […]

A debate about robust standard errors: Perspective from an outsider

A colleague pointed me to a debate among some political science methodologists about robust standard errors, and I told him that the topic didn’t really interest me because I haven’t found a use for robust standard errors in my own work. My colleague urged me to look at the debate more carefully, though, so I […]

Can’t keep up with the flood of gobbledygook

Jonathan Falk points me to a paper published in one of the tabloids; he had skepticism about its broad claims. I took a look at the paper, noticed a few goofy things about it (for example, “Our data also indicate a shift toward more complex societies over time in a manner that lends support to […]

19 things we learned from the 2016 election

So. A year ago I wrote a Slate article and a blog post (with follow-up here), “19 Things We Learned from the 2016 Election.” Then Julia Azari wrote “Women Also Know Stuff about the 2016 election,” pointing out that I’d missed a lot of work that was relevant to these questions. Azari wrote: I’m sure […]

The problem of media concentration/deregulation “is usually treated as a series of unrelated problems, much like a cocaine addict who complains about his drug problem, bankruptcy, divorce, and encounters with loan sharks, but who never makes a causal connection between the items on the list”

Palko writes: There’s a huge problem that people aren’t talking about nearly enough. . . . Think about all of the recent news stories that are about or are a result of concentration/deregulation of media power and the inevitable consequences. Obviously, net neutrality falls under this category. So does the role that Facebook, and, to […]

Yes, Virginia, it can be rational to vote!

Carl Shulman correctly thought I’d be interested in this news item, “A single vote leads to a rare tie for control of the Virginia legislature”: A Republican seat flipped Democratic in a wild recount Tuesday – with the Democrat winning by a single vote – creating a rare 50-50 tie between the parties in the […]

Red doc, blue doc, rich doc, rich doc

Monica Cuddy points us to a news article by Margot Sanger-Katz, “Your Surgeon Is Probably a Republican, Your Psychiatrist Probably a Democrat,” which reports a data analysis by political scientist Eitan Hersh and psychiatrist Matthew Goldenberg performed by mashing up “two large public data sets, one listing every doctor in the United States and another […]

Ready Money

Richard Reeves writes: Most of the people on the highest rung [which he elsewhere defines as the highest fifth of the income distribution] in America are in denial about their privilege. The American myth of meritocracy allows them to attribute their position to their brilliance and diligence, rather than to luck or a rigged system. […]

Loss of confidence

This fascinating post by David Weakliem documents declining confidence in political institutions: and the news media: and some other institutions: As Weakliem writes: So far, confidence in everything has declined. You could offer specific explanations for each one, but the fact that it’s so widespread suggests that the declines reflect a general mood of dissatisfaction. […]