Science vs. knowing something

This is a Twitter thread from last year about why so many international relations academics have gotten nearly everything wrong about Ukraine and Russia.

Some highlights:

A short thread here about why so some scholars including in intl relations are saying useless things about the Ukraine war.

Nearly thirty years ago, political science as a field became obsessed with being “scientific.” That is, one of the human sciences got tired of humans.

This was the great wave of quantification, when meaningless… equations and graphs and “broadly comparable studies” became the fashion.

Add to this the dominance of “realism” in international relations, the idea that states (and I am simplifying here) are basically alike and act based on how many of them there are and how much power they have. It’s a theory that’s never explained much, but entrances scholars.

Why are these two emphases - math over on one side, realism on the other - so powerful and destructive? They are seductive because they relieve scholars of knowing anything about the areas they’re talking about. No need to learn languages or master cultural knowledge.

So you have studies like “Let’s examine sectarian violence! I’ll compare Bosnia and Ireland - never having been to either of them - and I shall code ‘incidents of violence’ to create neat spreadsheets.” Many articles published; not much knowledge gained.

It matters because people who study the world lost touch with culture and ideology. Everything was sacrificed to the pretense of universality. You could either explain it with math, or you could say “realism tells us…” and then pontificate.