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How To Think. Todays puzzle World is complicated Lots of potential interrelations between phenomena How do we explain politics?

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Presentation on theme: "How To Think. Todays puzzle World is complicated Lots of potential interrelations between phenomena How do we explain politics?"— Presentation transcript:

1 How To Think

2 Todays puzzle World is complicated Lots of potential interrelations between phenomena How do we explain politics?

3 Our goal Arguments –Link between cause and effect –Shows that one thing follows from another –X Y (or more complicated versions) Can always draw arrow diagrams Also called causal inference Some arguments better than others –More truthful, correspond to way world actually works

4 Types of Arguments Normative Argument –Ethical or moral argument – values –What should or ought to be Positive Argument –About actual state of world –Shows the way things are –Answers question Why? or How?

5 Which are positive and normative? Incumbents win when the economy is growing We should reduce the amount of money in politics America needs to spend more on foreign aid Lobbying doesnt change legislative votes Educating women will lead to more democracy An Obama victory is better for America The US needs to intervene in Syria because the Syrians have used poison gas.

6 One key normative argument Normal standards of ethics dont apply to politics Because politicians are responsible for peoples lives, they need to weigh expected consequences of their actions Cant act just morally and let chips fall where they may To achieve best outcomes may need to compromise, double-deal, lie, etc. Ethic of responsibility versus ethic of ultimate ends

7 Positive argument has two parts Dependent variable –Phenomenon we want to explain –Effect Independent variable(s) –Phenomenon that explains it –Cause –Systematically affects dependent variable

8 Types of Positive Arguments Deductive –from general theory to specific case –but only as good as your assumptions Empirical/Inductive –from specific facts to general theory –search for patterns in the world –but world is complex


10 Where to start? A good question –What causes countries to become democratic? An interesting puzzle –Why is India democratic? –Seems unexpected b/c so poor and so diverse

11 Causality = counterfactual To say that X causes Y means that if we take away X, we dont get Y Not X is the counterfactual The problem is that we cant observe both X and not X at the same time –You either get the drug or you dont

12 Gold standard Ideally an experiment –Assign subjects randomly to two groups –One groups receives treatment, other doesnt –The control group is the counterfactual But how to do in comparative politics? –Give democracy drug to some undemocratic countries but not others –Ethical & practical issues

13 Inductive approach Look at countries and see what they have in common and where they differ: search for patterns Which countries? Might start with democracies Why also look at non-democracies? Which independent variables? Is this correlation enough?

14 Correlations Positive: as one variable rises, second rises Negative: as one variable rises, second falls Significant: unlikely to be result of random chance Insignificant: likely to be result of random chance

15 Inductivist approach CountryDemocracyWealthEthnic divisions Parliamen- tary USYes No UKYes NoYes BelgiumYes Saudi Arabia NoYesNo

16 Inductivist turkey Too many potential causes –Which ones are important? Never enough cases We cant isolate the counterfactual

17 Deductive approach Start with theory Assumptions about human nature plus set of constraints – then logically reason to outcome What would lead political elites to allow democracy or citizens to demand it? If this is true, what implications should we see in the world?

18 Usually go together Need a theory to prevent inductivist turkey Need data to keep theory tied to reality Often go back and forth

19 Not as easy as it looks Say we find a correlation, a pattern –Richer countries tend to be democratic How do we know if it is a truthful argument? Does the pattern indicate genuine causation or is it spurious

20 Does wealth distinguish democracies and non-democracies?

21 Pitfalls in causal inference (1) Case selection – how did you choose your examples? –Selecting on the dependent variable –i.e., choosing only successes or only failures


23 Pitfalls in causal inference (2) Confounding factors, omitted variables –Does another factor cause both X & Y –Correlation is not causation

24 Obesity and friends

25 Pitfalls in causal inference (3) Endogeneity (reverse causality) Does Y cause X Going to Harvard and getting rich

26 Pitfalls in causal inference (4) Causal mechanism –Can I tell a reasonable story connecting cause and effect including all the intermediate steps? –Helps to have evidence for these steps –Correlation between distance from Berlin and postcommunist democracy/economic reform

27 Pitfalls in causal inference (5) Falsifiability –How would I know if it was false

28 Conspiracy theories

29 Pitfalls in causal inference (6) Measurement –Have I measured everything well?

30 Does wealth cause democracy? Correlation: Yes, but not perfect Omitted variables: Possibilities? Case selection: Middle East? India? Population? Time period Endogeneity: democracy => wealth Causal mechanism Measurement: How have we defined democracy? Wealth?

31 How to read a political science article What is the author trying to explain? (dependent variable) What is the cause? (independent variable) What mechanism connects cause and effect?

32 How to critique an article How were cases selected? Omitted variables Endogeneity Shows all the connections Measurement of concepts What evidence might disprove

33 Being a good political thinker Are you becoming angry at politics? Do you have strong opinions before you look at the evidence? Do your opinions change as you gather evidence? Do you seek info only from sources you agree with? Do you think those who disagree with you are evil?

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