OMFG exogenous variation!

Cornell prof Tom Pepinsky nails it.

The implication of all this is that when we do find an independent variable that is clearly exogenous to the outcome we want to study, it’s very exciting. OMFG exogenous variation! But the fact that variation is exogenous has nothing to do with whether that variation is useful or interesting for the study of the outcomes that political scientists care about. Even less so for those of us who have a reason to care about a particular country.

…The problem, in other words, is that the search for exogenous variation has superseded the study of causal relations that cannot be cleanly identified. One of my colleagues relates the story of his grad school colleagues who instead of learning languages or reading history, “sat around in [BUILDING NAME REDACTED] trying to think up instruments.” Again, I am more than guilty of doing this myself, but when this trend dies down, we may be left with a discipline of political scientists who are unable to say anything about politics.

Read in full.

3 thoughts on “OMFG exogenous variation!

  1. “…when this trend dies down, we may be left with a discipline of political scientists who are unable to say anything about politics.”
    Word. By the way, you are assuming that this trend WILL die down. Somewhat optimistic, IMO. Cheers!

  2. I don’t think this is a serious problem in political science yet–this trend has not gone nearly as far as in microeconomics. I think we’re still on the positive upside of the “credibility revolution,” i.e. we’re gaining more from it than we’re losing.

    I don’t understand the distinction between those who focus on newfangled methods and those who “know something about politics.” I took just as many substantive courses as my classmates, but I also paid attention in the methods courses and took an extra one or two–I don’t see how that precludes me from knowing anything about real politics, at least any more so than them.