Via JeffZ, a description of the mind-numbing ignorance inculcated by grad school in the United States:

If ever there were a monument to tragedy, it is … The Department of Politics at Princeton[. P]erhaps the finest in the nation, which makes it even more representative of the scandal that American political science has become. Teaching here is dominated by the fetishizing of certain methods, a cold shoulder to theory and the abandonment of reality. The result is a combination of model-made abstraction and number-numbing specificity that has made political science irrelevant to politicians, policy makers and, lest we forget, the general public.

How do political science departments manage to pull off this scam? How do they seduce thoughtful graduate students into a world pathetically at odds with the reality they claim to represent?

This is how: Take a very bright, young graduate student. If someone that fresh has spent the first two years of the Ph.D. program in politics taking six classes in quantitative and formal methods as well as compulsory seminar classes on the “canon,” she has little time for substantive classes that give her a theoretical background on the questions she will ultimately answer in her dissertation. The results are devastating. Not only does the post-generals dissertation-ready student have little sense of the “reality” she wishes to study, she is woefully short of a theoretical framework.

What she will have is a strong understanding of this animal called “methods.” But it’s only some parts of this animal that she will know well. If we were actually exposed to the entire range of methods that understanding politics involves, we would learn archival research, ethnography and interview techniques in addition to the undeniably useful methods of game theory and statistics. What we learn instead are six classes of this quantitative stuff, and one class, if at all, on an all-encompassing beast named “qualitative methods.”

Added to the department’s preference for certain quantitative and formal methods is the unsaid belief that empirical political science must be divorced from normative concerns. In this view, the study of politics is a purely descriptive exercise. Questions of “good” and “bad” are parceled into “political theory,” a subfield hermetically sealed from the rest of the discipline.

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