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Cult of the IrrelevantThe Waning Influence of Social Science on National Security$
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Michael Desch

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691181219

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691181219.001.0001

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The Relevance Question

The Relevance Question

Professional Social Science and the Fate of Security Studies

(p.1) 1 The Relevance Question
Cult of the Irrelevant

Michael C. Desch

Princeton University Press

This introductory chapter provides an overview of the growing scholarly/policy gap, which is the result of the professionalization of the discipline of political science. While the professionalization of a discipline and its increasing irrelevance to concrete policy issues is not inevitable, there nonetheless seems to be an elective affinity between these two trends. Rigor and relevance are not necessarily incompatible, but they are often in tension, which is why social science's relevance question endures. As the number of scholarly articles using sophisticated quantitative or formal methods increased since 1980, the percentage of them offering concrete policy recommendations—the core of policy relevance—has declined. Many proponents of the scientific study of politics now eschew advocacy of particular policies on the grounds that doing so is incompatible with scientific objectivity. Moreover, many pressing policy questions are not readily amenable to the preferred methodological tools of social scientists.

Keywords:   political science, professionalization, policy issues, policy relevance, social science, scientific objectivity, social scientists

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