In chapter 2 of the textbook, we describe the scientific method and argue that it underlies empirical political science research. We note that empiricism is not the only method of obtaining knowledge—there are others that lots of people fervently adhere to—and a case can be made against trying to study politics scientifically. (There are even disagreements about the definition and nature of the scientific method.) Nevertheless, this way of acquiring knowledge is so common that many social scientists take it for granted, as do many average citizens. The problem is that scientific claims are sometimes difficult to distinguish from other kinds of statements. Nor is it always clear whether and how empirical analysis can be applied to propositions stated in theoretical and practical terms. The following questions, problems, and assignments therefore offer opportunities for you to think about the application of the empirical approach. Note that not all of the questions have one “right” answer. Many, in fact, require a lot of careful thought. And it is often necessary to redefine or clarify words or phrases, to look for hidden assumptions, and to consider whether or not statements can be “translated” into scientific terms.
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