PerspectiveSocial Science

Experimenting with Politics

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Science  09 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6073, pp. 1177-1179
DOI: 10.1126/science.1207808

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In his 1909 presidential address to the American Political Science Association, A. Lawrence Lowell (1) advised the then-fledgling discipline against following the natural scientists into greater use of experimental designs. This attitude toward experiments was still dominant at the end of the World War II, when political scientists were using increasingly intricate statistical methods to characterize relationships, but still ran few experiments. The tide began to turn in the 1980s, when scholars started to integrate the accumulated knowledge of traditional political science with the theoretical approaches of psychology and economics. This trend generated more acute causal predictions, which, along with technological developments, led political scientists to increasingly turn to experiments. Today, experiments are often the preferred method to explain the causes and consequences of political behaviors (2).