August 27, 2005
Virtual worlds and real science
sort of inquiry is the only way I'll ever admit that political science can be considered a 'hard science.' This is economics, but it's experimental economics - and it takes place in a MMOG
, which is the only way I believe you'll ever get 'hard' results in political study. Still, personally, I find it quite and interesting question - I've certainly observed the trend described, and have idly wondered several times why it appears to be going in the direction it is. The discussion here introduced numerous ideas of factors I hadn't even begun to consider.
Posted by jbz at August 27, 2005 12:39 AM
Personally, I consider that straight psych. I also don't consider 'political psych' part of what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the international security level of interaction. When I say 'you can't experiment' I mean you can't experiment (at least, not legally/responsibly) at that level. I have seen a great deal of work extrapolating single-player psych experiments up to the national policy level, and frankly, I'd have to consider myself one of the world's most irresponsible policy advisors if I brought my principal recommendations for a sovereign state policy towards other international actors based on that extrapolation.
I'm not saying it can't be done. I'm just saying that in that case, you have two problems: one, the science itself, and two, the link between that science and the policy level.
Some political psych can be fairly hard; I'm currently reading Karen Stenner's 'The Authoritarian Dynamic', which uses some pretty interesting survey data and experimental manipulations to draw conclusions about the nature of the tendency to attack difference. I don't know if she has kept it in the book, but when I was taking classes from her, she was doing survey work that involved asking people how they felt about punishment of 'deviance' (gays, criminals, etc.) The manipulation was a fun one- she'd send out two interviewers. In some cases, both interviewers would be white, in others both interviewers would be black, and in some cases, one white and one black. All interviewers were instructed to be openly friendly, chatty, etc. Her hypotheses was that the reminder of 'difference'- i.e., one white and one black being friendly with each other- would produce the greatest punitiveness, at least in a specific subset of people she is interested in, even moreso than sending two black people in. And it worked, basically. Interesting, and pretty damn hard, stuff.