Why Don't We Brief Empirical Studies?
Friday, June 2, 2006 at 5:49PM
Sean Wilson in Quantitative Methods, The Club, composition

Why don’t political science departments encourage their graduate students to “brief” studies the way that law students do cases? You could easily come up with a one-page format. Instead of extracting a factual scenario and a rule of law, you would extract methodological information and an empirical conclusion. You could indicate potential problems with the study just as law students do when accounting for “dissents.” When a new study comes along that shows something else, you can note that the prior study is “overruled.” Hence, you could facilitate the systematic extraction of empirical findings the same way that the systematic extraction of legal rules occurs. (Wouldn’t it be great to require graduate students to hand in their briefs at the end of the semester?)

On a theoretical level, the only apparent difference in the logic of the two is that one involves “deductive” reasoning (as that word is used by English professors, not philosophers), the other inductive. This is because rules of law purport to provide the answer for how legal participants are to behave; whereas the conclusions of empirical science attempt to unlock the mystery of behavior one piece at a time. But going from the specific to the general or visa versa should make no difference in how authority is organized and collected.  So why doesn’t political science do it?

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