Is political science a science or not?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Political science is not very scientific, so it is better to refer to this field as either politics, government, or political studies. The scientific method is suitable for physical sciences, life sciences, and Earth sciences. Political scientists have tried to replicate natural scientists, and they have failed.

Meteorology, one of...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Political science is not very scientific, so it is better to refer to this field as either politics, government, or political studies. The scientific method is suitable for physical sciences, life sciences, and Earth sciences. Political scientists have tried to replicate natural scientists, and they have failed.

Meteorology, one of the Earth sciences, involves analysis of data to understand and predict weather patterns. For example, global warming and its possible future consequences are comprehensible through logical analysis of the data. Most global leaders listen to these reports and use the information to shape policy.

Governments are run by people, and people are not rational, inanimate, or predictable. Specifically, using only statistics hinders rather than enhances one's understanding of government. Political scientists' analyses do not help world leaders. Political scientists failed to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991; British political scientists ignored the disastrous consequences that UN sanctions had on Iraq in the 1990s.

In summary, political science is not a science.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Science is defined by the scientific method, which essentially states that you use observation to make hypotheses, and then you test those hypotheses in a methodical, logical, and (most importantly) documented and repeatable way. Most people assume science has to do exclusively with chemistry, atoms, biology, or the like, but that’s not true. Any subject can be studied scientifically.

Because of this, while political science may not necessarily seem like a hard science, it is undertaken using the scientific method. People study human instincts and reactions to political situations and try to understand how groups will behave in certain situations. It is an extension of sociology, which means it is definitely a science in that respect. The behaviors and actions have been rigorously studied to the point where relatively accurate predictions can be made.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Political Science is classified as a social science, to differentiate it from the hard sciences, such as biology, chemistry, engineering, etc. However, one can say that indeed, political science is a science because it uses the scientific method as a method of investigation and inquiry. 

The scientific method is process of investigation that is based on empirical or measurable evidence. The scientific method involves several steps:

  1. Formulate a research question
  2. Do some initial research on the subject
  3. Construct a hypothesis (a "best guess"/prediction about what your results will be)
  4. Test the hypothesis by conducting an experiment
  5. Analyze the results of the experiment (data) and draw conclusions. Do your results support the hypothesis?
  6. Report your results

The scientific method is altered slightly in political science in the experiment stage. Obviously, not all political problems can be analyzed by conducting experiments. Thus, political scientists translate this stage into quantitative or qualitative studies. They set up a study in a manner very similar to a scientific experiment. A study will have a dependent variable (the phenomenon under study, the thing with a change or variation they want to explain) and one or more independent variables (things that the political scientist believes causes the change in the dependent variable). Despite these minor variations, political science always follows the scientific method, and is thus a science.

Note: In other areas of the world, such as Europe, this does not hold true. Europe has a more normative view of the study of politics, and many scholars working in politics in Europe believe that political phenomena can be analyzed without the use of the scientific method. The emphasis on a scientific approach in political science exists mostly in the U.S., although the view is spreading to other areas around the globe.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team