Understanding Political Science Research Methods
The Challenge of Inference
To Be Published December 31st 2013 by Routledge – 288 pages
This text starts by explaining the fundamental goal of good political science research—the ability to answer interesting and important questions by generating valid inferences about political phenomena. Before the text even discusses the process of developing a research question, the authors introduce the reader to what it means to make an inference and the different challenges that social scientists face when confronting this task. Only with this ultimate goal in mind will students be able to ask appropriate questions, conduct fruitful literature reviews, select and execute the proper research design, and critically evaluate the work of others.
The authors' primary goal is to teach students to critically evaluate their own research designs and others’ and analyze the extent to which they overcome the classic challenges to making inference: internal and external validity concerns, omitted variable bias, endogeneity, measurement, sampling, and case selection errors, and poor research questions or theory. As such, students will not only be better able to conduct political science research, but they will also be more savvy consumers of the constant flow of causal assertions that they confront in scholarship, in the media, and in conversations with others.
Three themes run through Barakso, Sabet, and Schaffner’s text: minimizing classic research problems to making valid inferences, effective presentation of research results, and the nonlinear nature of the research process. Throughout their academic years and later in their professional careers, students will need to effectively convey various bits of information. Presentation skills gleaned from this text will benefit students for a lifetime, whether they continue in academia or in a professional career.
Several distinctive features make this book noteworthy:
1. Where Social Science Research Often Goes Wrong: The Challenge of Inference PART I: Asking a Question and Proposing an Answer 2. The Making of a Good Research Question 3. How Good Theory Means Good Research PART II: A Menu of Approaches 4. Experiments 5. Small N Observational Studies 6. Large N Observational Studies 7. Conclusion
Maryann Barakso is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her research and publications explore the factors influencing the strategic and tactical choices of interest groups and the political and civic implications of those choices. She is president-elect of the Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association.
Daniel M. Sabet is a visiting professor at Georgetown University where he teaches quantitative methods in the School of Foreign Service. His research focuses on comparative politics, specifically Mexican and Latin American politics, and public policy
Brian Schaffner is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He teaches courses on survey research, quantitative analysis, public opinion, parties and elections. Schaffner served for three years as editor of the journal Congress & the Presidency and was a program officer at the National Science Foundation from 2008-2009.