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The Methodical Study of Politics by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita NYU and Hoover Institution October 30 2002 1 The Methodical Study of Politics Bruce Bueno de Mesquita Ecclesiastes teaches that To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under the heaven Although methodological seasons come and go I believe most students of politics are united in their purpose We want to understand how the world of politics works Some may be motivated in this purpose by a desire to improve or at least influence the world others to satisfy intellectual curiosity and still others by mixes of these and other considerations Within the generally agreed purpose for studying politics however there are important differences in emphasis that lead to variations in methodological choices For instance those concerned to establish the verisimilitude and precision of specific conjectures about particular political events are likely to choose the case study method and archival analysis as the best means to evaluate the link between specific events and particular explanations Those concerned to establish the general applicability or predictive potential of specific conjectures are likely to choose large N statistical analysis as the best means to evaluate the link between independent and dependent variables Those concerned to probe normative arguments or to engage in social commentary will find other methods such as post structuralism and some forms of constructivism more fruitful Whatever the explanatory goal and whatever the substantive concern research benefits from efforts to establish the rigorous logical foundation of propositions as it is exceedingly difficult to interpret and build upon commentary or analysis that is internally inconsistent The concern for logical rigor to accompany empirical rigor encourages some to apply mathematics to the exploration of politics Mathematical models whether they are structural rational choice 2 cognitive or other forms provide an especially



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