Empirical Political Analysis

Before you start working in my order please read my course overview carefully.

COURSE OVERVIEW

Empirical Political Analysis is an introduction to the fundamental concepts and research methods that form the foundation of the social science discipline. The main goal of the course is to provide an understanding of the methods, concepts, and approaches social scientists use to conduct research and generate knowledge. Understanding these tools will make you a better consumer of information, allowing you to critically evaluate other people’s arguments and research to determine whether their conclusions are valid. Thus, the primary focus of this class is on research design: the methodical steps that are necessary to build and execute a plan to test an idea or hypothesis in political science.

The course is roughly divided into two parts. The first part spends time understanding the ways logic is used to make strong, valid arguments. We will dissect examples in the mass media and political science, focusing on their structure, to understand what makes a good and bad argument. Part of the goal here is to make you “conversationally literate” in political science so you can understand the arguments scholars are making and if they were successful in convincing you of that argument. The second part of the course focuses on becoming “statistically literate”. We will use basic statistics and explore how numbers are used to support arguments and what they are really telling us. Both parts of the course will help you become better consumers of information and prepare you to critically engage the world around you.

In addition to becoming a better consumer of information, this course will help you develop your writing skills. Writing is the primary medium professionals communicate with. It is important that you are able to clearly and concisely articulate your thoughts and ideas on paper if you want to succeed. Writing is a process and takes hard work. This course is designed to help manage that hard work by assigning multiple assignments that culminate in a final paper. Similarly, part of the writing process is editing. You will be able to revise and resubmit assignments that are considered essential building blocks for your final paper.

Specifically, these are the “learning goals” I have adopted for the course:

Part I. Be able to think like a political scientist.
1. Critical/Suspicious
2. What is the theory (what are they trying to get me to believe?)
3. What is the evidence?
4. Is the theory logical (arguments)
5. Is the evidence valid? (Valid versus invalid numbers; how not to be afraid of numbers)

Part II. Be able to read an academic article/book.
1. Pick out the theory(ies) being tested.
2. Be able to understand how the article/book links to other parts of the literature.
3. Be able to understand the philosophical and scientific basis for statistics (and how it fits into political science).
4. Understanding the research process (scientific processes).
5. The difference between academic research (and results) and mass-media research (and results).
6. The limits of research (where it goes wrong; operationalization).

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