Head-to-Head: Political science IS a real science


Laken Kincaid

Managing Editor, Laken Kincaid, discusses why political science IS a real science.

Laken Kincaid, Managing Editor

This column is part of a “Head-to-Head” series. Read the counterargument by TJ Lindstrom.

Between observing crying chemistry students as a meager communications tutor in the library to watching the slew of study TikToks with highlighted phrases about the mitochondria, I am fully aware of how difficult it can be to be a STEM student in college. This especially rings true because I have not taken a single science course since my senior year of high school. Nevertheless, I would have to be absolutely daft to not recognize the time and effort that goes into pursuing one of the over ten separate science or mathematics rooted majors at JCU.

Yet, because of the high status that society holds these collegiates at, I cannot help but want to be a part of their elite class. Do I want to spend hours staring at numbers and letters that read like an ancient Mesopotamian language? Absolutely not. However, the reputational gain is still something I strive for. After all, no one looks at political science or communication and says “wow, you must be smart because I could never do that!” Well, at least not until someone gets to law school.

However, perhaps the former area of study mentioned does indeed fall under a doctrine led by a revered STEM principle. After all, science is defined by the Oxford Language dictionary as “the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation, experimentation, and the testing of theories against the evidence obtained.” As long as human behavior (even if it is expressed through elections and government) is under the umbrella of the natural world, it is not hard to believe that poll analysis and various political conjectures could be equivalent to that of cellular data comprehension and the big bang theory. 

In fact, most studies in political science are rooted in facts and research (unless they are based on disinformation which is a whole other can of worms that can impact any field in academia). Yes, political theories are not scientific at their core but neither are things like Freud’s unconscious mind ideology. 

Just as sociologists and psychologists may attempt to predict human behavior on a more personal level via probing, political science does the same and actually puts the idea of behavioral analysis on the pedestal of public office. If anything, it makes the scrutiny of how people interact easier to observe because we see the impacts of interpersonal decisions play out in real time on news channels and Twitter feeds.

Some may argue that political science is far too young or far too volatile of an area of study to be considered a science. Yes, many modern governments are young and we see new members of Congress at least once every two years (nevermind the deaths and resignations of politicians). However, compared to many recent subjects that squarely fall under the science ideology, there are hundreds of years of past data to work with when it comes to political analysis ranging all the way back to the first traces of society with kings, queens, pharaohs and the like. If anything, younger eruditions like paleontology should face more criticism; the first dinosaur bones were discovered 43 years after George Washington died and thousands of centuries after the Greeks kicked off the first democracy in Athens. 

Political science is also still rooted in well established scientific processes. Colin Swearingen, a political science professor at John Carroll, says that the field “in [a] way, is scientific in its approach.” 

“Political science research often uses the scientific method; we use our findings to accumulate knowledge about political phenomena,” Swearingen stated. “However, it is a probabilistic discipline and we cannot be 100% confident in generalizing about our findings. We have no political science equivalent to Newtonian physics.”

This latter idea that Swearingen mentions may seem damning for those with strict definitions of what is and what is not a science. Albeit, many things in this field cannot be proven by dropping an apple or calculating a derivative. In this vein, I agree. However, political science may still be what The School of Political Science calls a “dynamic science” on the basis that “comparative analysis and analysis of the history of the state” is used by political scientists to make decisions “on the nature of the state [and] the system of governance.”

Overall, data can be collected, hypotheses can be tested and experiments can be conducted not ruling political science out as a potential STEM field. If anything, political science is comparable to fields like psychology which was introduced as a science in 1879. 

“It is important to add that even though we are not the same type of science as a lab science, I tend to think we’re not too different from the medical disciplines, which also have humans as their subjects,” Swearingen continued.

There is also no harm in putting political science into this branch of scholarship. It does not delegitimize other sciences at all. If anything, it allows students to feel confident with their work and helps them feel like they fit the typical “intelligent STEM student” stereotype. If calling a field a science gives those in that field a new sense of pride in their work, why not toss a bone? Just like in the world of LinkedIn, titles are free but still have substantial benefits.

While it may be natural to dismiss political science as a law student’s springboard or the manifestations of a high school debate kid’s dream, this classification may increase self assurance for collegiates struggling to find motivation. Comprehensively, there is no reason to berate their intelligence by saying their studies are not consistent or ancient enough to be considered a legitimate STEM manifestation. Honestly, this argument should not just stay within the confines of this subject but it should spill over to any field within this reasoning. If anything, it just makes the subject more fascinating and proves there is a need for more studies within its realm, something that drives the idea behind science altogether. 

Bunsen burner, on!