It must have happened to more than one young political science student when they try to explain to others what they are studying, the most immediate reaction is: “Oh, you want to be a politician!”. It is equally worrying that many people who graduate from political science programs and go on to work in different fields lament the fact that the knowledge they have acquired has been “of little use” to them. Both positions reflect a problem in this discipline. To engage in politics, it is not necessary to study political science; however, to understand it scientifically and try to influence it, it is.
Different national and international political science congresses were or will be held in 2023. The most important one is the World Congress of Political Science, which will be held in July in Buenos Aires. Others will be held in Colombia; also in October, in Mexico; and in December in both Uruguay and Chile. The main topics of these congresses are the democratic setbacks, the growing authoritarian drifts, the weakening of the rule of law, the increase in organized crime, corruption, impunity, migratory flows, etc. But which and how many current authoritarian leaders are concerned about what is discussed in these congresses? How many decision-makers at any governmental level are attentive to the analyses presented? How many political parties will modify their rules or propose new forms of organization based on the results shown in these forums? Chances are that none of the individuals and collectives that are the focus of attention at these congresses are interested in what is said about them, just as most people might not be interested in what is said about them.
The same is true of other congresses in other disciplines. However, this is not necessarily so. Science in essence is elitist and meritocratic, but, at least, mechanisms have been in place for decades to transfer scientific knowledge to society. This explains all the contemporary technological developments that affect practically all areas of life. For example, the scientific-medical community has many congresses, and they are not worried about the fact that most people do not understand them, but they are concerned about the discoveries of new conditions, the positive and negative results of experiments and treatments on those already known, and the integration of new technologies and new drugs in their medical practice. They are guided by a scientific attitude and are aware that pseudosciences, scientific errors, and medical failures proliferate in their profession. In how many of the political science congresses are anti-scientific positions, errors, and pseudosciences seriously discussed? To what extent are they concerned about the transfer of scientific knowledge from politics to the public sphere?
Political science is one of the youngest disciplines of the social sciences. It has the advantage of relying on a broad tradition of political thought; for decades it sought an identity as a science and first depended on law and philosophy; then on sociology and economics. At the end of the 20th century, it managed to assert itself as an autonomous science with its own objects of study and methodologies. Perhaps that is why it is a very academic science. Now, in order to transcend as a profession, it has the advantage of all the scientific knowledge accumulated in almost two centuries of existence. Then, how to ensure the consolidation of political science in a world that is in constant transformation?
The following recommendations are made:
1. It should (indeed) adopt the scientific mindset. In the words of Lee McIntyre, is the mindset that tells us that our ideology, beliefs, and desires have no relevance in the development of scientific knowledge.
2. Predictive explanations should be encouraged. Political science seems irrelevant to policymakers because 90% of their analyses are made post-policy. They point out what has already happened, how, when, and why, but, with some exceptions, such as electoral studies, there is a reluctance to formulate trends, especially in macro events.
3. Ideologies must be avoided. The social sciences have been infested with ideologies, and political science even more so. Ideologies should be the object of study, not models of interpretation. This has become a burden, for example, to understand why democracies are in crisis.
4. Medicine should be emulated as a profession: what does a political scientist do? As in medicine, and based on scientific assumptions, political science produces analysis of the past and research of the present. They can identify the causes of what politically does not work well or could work better, and offer alternatives. This dynamic has repercussions in the public, political, and governmental spheres that have not been widely explored in political science.
5. Key concepts must be agreed upon. Unlike other sciences in which basic concepts are uncontroversial because this allows them to move forward, in every political science congress there is a discussion about what is democracy, populism, political parties, or other key concepts. Adopting consensus on key concepts would allow for greater consolidation of the discipline.
6. Pseudo-scientific positions must be banished. For political science to be relevant, any pseudoscientific argumentation that is not subjected to evidence must be openly rejected, especially that type of research that selects ad hoc data to confirm its prejudices. To this end, it must be assumed that all knowledge can be refutable in scientific terms.
7. Replicability should be encouraged. Political science has tended to overlook research that is not very rigorous, or that appears to be rigorous but is not, and this is discovered when it cannot be replicated. For a study to be replicable, the data must be open, accessible, and the analysis techniques should be known by everyone. Replicability confirms findings and makes it possible to identify errors; this is how science advances.
8. Scientific responsibility should be fostered through democratic values. Freedom and equality are two values that have allowed the development of science. When there are sectors in the political science community that relativize these values, not only do they put the discipline at risk, but such attitudes are also those that indirectly degrade democracy.
9. It is necessary to be open to languages. English is the lingua franca of science, but it should not be the only one, nor should it be an impediment for those who work on political science to read and transmit knowledge in other languages, in which perhaps scientifically and probably more relevant results have already been expressed.
10. The dissemination of political science should be encouraged. It is likely that some political science personalities say that all the aforementioned recommendations have already been done or that even those have been overcome. But only they know this, not the rest of the world. The applicability of political science lies not only in its discovery of truth but also in its contribution to the betterment of society. And this can be done if political science knowledge is disseminated beyond scientific and academic channels.
As Hans Morgenthau highlighted, a self-absorbed political science, which is only concerned with itself, which is viewed with indifference, which focuses on the trivial and which has neither friends nor enemies, implicitly devalues the important problems that give it meaning. For that reason, it is time for a new science of politics.
*Translated from Spanish by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva