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10 things we think we know, but really don't

Towards the end of Hans Noel's paper on “Ten Things Political Scientists Know That You Don't,” he offers a list of 10 things that the public thinks it knows but political scientists haven't been able to prove. They are:

1. Money buys the votes of the general public. (Maybe savvy donors just donate to candidates who will win in the hopes of influencing them.)

2. Money buys the votes of elected legislators. (Maybe savvy donors just donate to candidates who will vote the way they would like, and not to those who would not.)

3. Parties influence the votes of elected legislators. (Maybe politicians just sort themselves into the parties they agree with in the first place.)

4. Some candidates are just better campaigners than others.

5. Democracy leads to economic growth. (Maybe economic growth enables democracy. Or maybe they are spuriously related.)

6. Autocracy leads to economic growth. (Maybe economic performance enables dictators to hold onto power.)

7. The media is biased. (Maybe they are just trying to tell us what they think we want to hear.)

8. Voters make choices based on their own self-interest. (Maybe they rationalize their choices in this way.)

9. Voters choose the candidate that is closer to their own preferences.

10. People are more likely to vote when they think the election will be close.

To be sure, the fact that political scientists haven't been able to prove any of these things doesn't mean they aren't true. They haven't disproved them, either. But it does mean that the evidence isn't as strong and the case isn't as clear as we commonly assume.

By Ezra Klein  | October 19, 2010; 12:49 PM ET
Categories:  Political Science  
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Comments

7. The media is biased. (Maybe they are just trying to tell us what they think we want to hear.)

This is, in fact, a bias.

Posted by: stonedone | October 19, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

--*To be sure, the fact that political scientists haven't been able to prove any of these things doesn't mean they aren't true.*--

You do realize, don't you, Klein, that "political science" isn't really a science.

Your little list is nonsense. It's couched in nonsense. It's bereft of anything useful. It's you.

Posted by: msoja | October 19, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Something led to economic growth in West Germany and not in East Germany. Something also led to economic growth in South Korea and not in North Korea. If not democracy, then it must have been capitalism. Or maybe both. But just because political scientists can't "prove" it doesn't mean that the public isn't correct in thinking it.

Posted by: bgmma50 | October 19, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Sigh.

Noel's article completely ignores Daniel Kahneman's work. Nice ancestor worship, though, of the academic variety.

Posted by: vorkosigan1 | October 19, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Bryan Caplan has a good book with regards to #8 - Myth of the Rational Voter.

By the way, what the do political scientists actually know?

Posted by: justin84 | October 19, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Little silly, as above, what can political science PROVE anyway? If an opinion serves as knowledge (as in the public knows), then one can just conduct a yes/no poll among political scientists, and political science will know some answer as well.

Expert consensus versus non-expert consensus, I guess is what is being gotten at, but it's really annoying to see the opinions of political science dressed up as concrete knowledge.

Posted by: sullivanmatthewr | October 19, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, it's frustrating when you provide links to things we can't access.

Posted by: KathrynBaer1 | October 19, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

--*[T]he fact that political scientists haven't been able to prove any of these things doesn't mean they aren't true.*--

Maybe you could, um, pretend that there's some sort of political science consensus, you know, Klein?

Posted by: msoja | October 19, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

*8. Voters make choices based on their own self-interest. (Maybe they rationalize their choices in this way.)... They haven't disproved them, either.*

Actually, there is a body of work on voter psychology (political science is it bottom a behavoural science) which shows that voting is not based on self-interests. We like to think of ourselves and others as rationally self-interested, but as David Hume said: “Reason, being cool and disengaged, is no motive to action, and directs only the impulse received from appetite or inclination, by showing us the means of attaining happiness or avoiding misery.” Drew Westen’s "The Political Brain"; George Lakoff’s work; Frank Luntz’s work on language; and Geoffrey Nunberg’s work on language as well all point to this conclusion. Some one else mentioned Caplan's work, which I don't think is as thorough, but it also points to this conclusion.

Posted by: ZekeV | October 20, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

There is MANY things that we think we know but don't

As someone who deals with tax law, it makes me laugh seeing so many ANGRY and ANNOYED at an issue they haven't the faintest clue about

Posted by: Bious | October 20, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

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