I have read with great interest over the last few days posts by Jeffrey Stacey and now Sean Kay on the gap between scholarship and policy. I agree with much of what they said – seriously – and I want to raise a more positive spin on some of these issues. I the gap between policy and scholarship in Washington DC as *mildly* improving when it comes to political science, at least from the political science side of the question. This is not to say things are perfect. Far from it. But rather than thinking about political science in general, and international relations in particular, as a “cult of the irrelevant”, I think there are some green shoots, so to speak, or at least reasons to think that the glass is half full, rather than half empty. In what follows, I will lay out just a few of my reasons for optimism.
Some of the big news out of Europe this week surrounded Mario Monti’s upcoming resignation from his current post as Prime Minister of Italy. Recall that Monti became prime minister on November 11, 2011 as the leader of a technocratic government. Monti’s government was charged with beginning to dig Italy out from significant economic turmoil, including record bond spreads and fear that Italy could be the next Greece.
Well, as we learned on Monday morning, Monti is resigning as soon as he passes his budget through the Italian parliament. Why did this occur? Due to the withdrawal of support from Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party. Financial markets were clearly surprised – and that’s rarely a good thing. The key question from the perspective of my ongoing work is whether or not this was predictable.
Since this is my first post, I want to thank Charli, Dan, and everyone else for giving me this opportunity to, well, spout off about whatever I want. They may regret it. To start, as someone of you might remember from a guest post that I did over the summer, one of the projects I am currently working on involves looking at the best ways to accurately forecast international political events such as whether Iran will test a nuclear weapon before 1 January 2014 or who will win the upcoming election in Sierra Leone.
In the wake of the stunningly accurate election models designed by many over the last several months (for a roundup on those that nailed it – and those that didn’t – go here), Jay Ulfelder just wrote a fascinating piece for ForeignPolicy.com titled “Why The World Can’t Have A Nate Silver.” I want to highlight it first and foremost because it is a good piece of work. In it, Jay outlines why it is so difficult to forecast international political events: we often lack excellent, or even above average, or even minimally acceptable data on the necessary “plausible predictors” (Jay’s phrase) to accurately forecast important events such as revolutions or wars. For those interested in Jay’s writing in general, he runs a great blog called Dart-Throwing Chimp.