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Does It Matter If Political Scientists Publish Great Blogs?

October 23, 2012 9 comments
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Two things happened yesterday that have me thinking about the multifaceted relationship between Political Scientists, our students, colleagues, and larger audiences, and the world of politics, government, and public affairs that we study.

The first is that Time Magazine’s Technologizer blog published its annual list of 25 best blogs. Technologizer recognized two blogs written and published by political scientists among its “25 Best Blogs 2012.”  There among blogs devoted to Bookshelf Porn and What Kate Wore you will find The Monkey Cage and Daniel W. Drezner, two of the most prominent blogs produced by members of the political science profession. Technologizer heaped great praise on The Monkey Cage:

 Sharply written and often well illustrated, The Monkey Cage provides a valuable service that’s remarkably rare even in the age of information saturation. It flags publicly available social-science research that’s relevant to the news of the day, presenting theory and data in easily digestible bites. Launched by George Washington University political scientist John Sides in 2007 to publicize his field, the blog has evolved into a hub for academic myth busting of overhyped campaign coverage and is a useful resource for anyone who wants to understand the cogs of democracy.

As far as Drezner, who teaches at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and blogs at the Foreign Policy website, is concerned, Technologizer is just as laudatory:

You don’t need to be an expert on the subject to find his work rewarding. He’s adept at explaining tricky matters in a clear, concise and engaging fashion. He also links to worthwhile posts elsewhere, whether he agrees with them or not. And his far-flung approach to his topic even lets him review bad prime-time TV shows.

The Monkey Cage and Daniel W. Drezner are just two excellent political science blogs. You can find others in the list of links on this blog’s sidebar.

The other reason I have been thinking about the importance of blogging for political scientists was a comment that I saw on Twitter after last night’s foreign policy debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. (By the way I was live tweeting the debate @ProfessorBly.) It’s now common for journalists, including journalists like Andrew Sullivan who are primarily bloggers, and the campaigns to tweet instant reactions to the debate, do on-the-fly fact-checking, and spin the results when the debate is over. During the post-debate spinning, which is now a ritual at these events, one journalist tweeted that he didn’t know why the campaigns bothered having surrogates spinning the results in person when everybody was watching their Twitter feeds to see how the debate was being spun! In fact, that’s just what I was doing, partly so I could turn the TV to the top of the 9th inning in the NLCS, but mostly because Twitter allowed me to sample more reactions, points of view, and spin arguments faster than I could possibly have done by channel surfing between FoxNews, CNN, MSNBC, and the rest. Plus, being able to avoid Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews must be counted a plus.

So here’s where I make my pitch that, yes indeed, it does matter if political scientists are producing great blogs.  I’m indebted for much of what follows to an article that Charli Carpenter of University of Massachusetts Amherst and the unavoidable Drezner (that’s right, the zombie guy) published two years ago in International Studies Perspectives. The article is called “International Relations 2.0: The Implications of New Media for an Old Profession.”

Social media like blogs and podcasts are increasingly becoming a way for political science scholars to share and test their ideas before presenting them as conference papers or publishing them in professional journals. Not only does this mean that scholars will have to develop new skills in developing and sharing their research, it can also open opportunities for a wider spectrum of scholarship in political science to get into public circulation. See for example the provocative blog The Disorder of Things, which is devoted to critical inquiry of global politics, and Front Porch Republic, a blog of communitarian political theorists who are devoted to recapturing civic space for the “overlapping local and regional groups, communities, and associations that provide a matrix for human flourishing.” Both of these blogs carry on interesting, serious conversation that enrich political science.

And as Technologizer points out, blogs like The Monkey Cage, Daniel W. Drezner, and others are particularly good at showing how what political scientists have learned can help everyone better understand politics, government, and public affairs.

Social media are also changing the ways instructors and students work with one another. As blogs become a more established part of political science literature, students will have to learn both how to read blogs and other social media formats and how to write for them. Outlets like PolicyMic have been established to give students a platform for producing blog content, YouTube style videos and other social media output about public affairs. To be relevant to their students’ lives and careers, college professors will need to be nimble in learning how to evaluate, use, and teach others how to use blogs, Twitter, YouTube, and platforms that have not even emerged yet.

Finally, social media are becoming an increasingly important part of the world of politics and government that we study. One of the most contentious foreign policy questions during the current presidential campaign is the hypothetical relationship between an inflammatory anti-Islam video posted on YouTube and the terrorist attack on U.S. diplomats in Libya. Did the video provide a pretext for a carefully planned attack? Did it lead to a fairly spontaneous reaction that provided terrorists an opportunity to attack? Did the video have any significance at all? Questions like this are becoming important for political scientists to study.

Or to bring things closer to home, watch The Digital Campaign, an online documentary from the PBS Frontline series that explores how political campaigns use information about voters mined from Facebook and other online sources to precisely target their messages to individual voters.

Blogging and other social media production will be more and more important in Political Science, a fact recognized by the International Studies Association (mostly political scientists who study IR). ISA has decided to give an annual prize for the best blog in the International Relations subfield. Now that’s serious.

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