Point-Counterpoint: Is political science a science? 

1
65
Politics are one of the most watched and noted aspects of US society. Political science as a topic has become a subject of focus and important career for making informed analyses on politics. Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash.

Point: Nell 

Political science is a science; in fact, it’s an exemplar of what it means to practice science. The traditional “sciences” seek to answer the fundamental questions of our world and beyond through experimentation and study, and political science is no different. Biology ventures to uncover the mystery of life. Physics tackles the intricacies of space and time. Similarly, political science attempts to deconstruct how and why people organize themselves into political structures — how to maintain old ones and create new ones  — doing so through the same scientific method used by the traditional sciences.  

First, you form a hypothesis educated by existing observations about political structures and behavior. For example, big bureaucracies are less popular in countries with a more politically active population. Second, you conduct a study with multiple trials and record data to test the strength of that hypothesis. Finally, you analyze that data and form a conclusion. If the data supports your hypothesis, you can conduct another experiment with a different set of data to see how consistent it is; if not, scrap it and make a new one. 

Counterpoint: Sam 

Can political science be referred to us a science? Sure! However, if this is the case, all fields where an argument can be made and then proved should be referred to as “science.” There is an idea in modern-day society that all relevant, publishable content should fall under the umbrella of science, especially given that many institutions — UConn very much included — have been making a push for advancement in STEM fields. While considering political science to be science may certainly give it more opportunities to be more adequately funded and supported, pulling more fields from the humanities and relocating them to STEM will only invalidate the other humanities. 

History is not a science, but the work done within it is incredibly important to society — as is the work done that is related to political science. With both examples, sciences such as psychology and anthropology can be applied, but these are supplemental to humanities research and don’t turn the humanities into science. What needs to be stressed is that humanities work, alongside scientific work, both need to be taken seriously and elevated. 

With the constantly changing nature of politics in America, it’s easy to say that the topic is impossible to quantify. Despite this, politics has been tracked through statistics and data recording, making it a possible modern day science. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

Nell:  

While I agree that “science” does not and should not imply a superiority over fields that are traditionally considered as the humanities and that the two should be appreciated equally together, I would push back on the notion that expanding the reach of science invalidates other occupations. Although this may happen in practice due to the financial interests of universities, we should come to understand science as something we do every day, instead of as a definition controlled by an institution.  

Although history is not a natural science, the methods of unraveling and recording it certainly use the scientific method. This is the understanding at the core of all “social” sciences. Studying the French Revolution, then, is just as scientific as studying the parts of a cell or the laws of thermodynamics; these are recorded observations that can inform today’s experiments and tomorrow’s conclusions. Although the cold reality of science is that finances and strict categories reign supreme, recognizing the ties between the natural and the social is the biggest service to science we can do. 

Sam: 

One issue with applying the moniker of science to all studies that use something that resembles the scientific method is that there are fundamental differences between science and some studies within the humanities. With sciences like physics, biology and chemistry, there are provable truths that can be reached without room for debate. With disciplines like political science, the landscape of the field can change drastically, and the rules can be completely overhauled. With regard to topics that traditionally fall into the humanities category: While there are some truths that may appear 100% accurate, these may only be so according to today’s society. For example, if I drop a rock, the force that which gravity pulls it to the earth is and always has been 9.8 m/s^2. If one were to try to make a statement today about the political environment in America and examine it 100 years later, not only might the parties and other entities be completely different, but the parameters of the political spectrum may even be different as well. In short, humanities are best kept as a discussion informed by science and other truths of the time and not science itself, as this may only show part of the picture. 

1 COMMENT

  1. Next semester I’m taking “the philosophy of science” with Thomas Bontly, please join I’d like to have more friends in the class

Leave a Reply