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Bed, Bath, and . . . huh??

- March 12, 2009

John and a whole bunch of commenters discuss this weird article by Matt Bai, who defends political journalism (as compared to political science) by saying:

My dinnertime conversation with three Iowans may not add up to a reliable portrait of the national consensus, but it’s often more illuminating than the dissertations of academics whose idea of seeing America is a trip to the local Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Would it be ok if the local Bed, Bath & Beyond were in Iowa? Would Nebraska be ok or is that not so helpful, Nebraska not being an early caucus state? Or is the key difference that Bai’s conversation is over dinner rather than in a shopping center?

Setting aside all other aspects of this discussion, my question is: What kind of political scientist studies America via a trip to the local Bed, Bath & Beyond??? Or is there a particular study that Bai is criticizing, that I haven’t heard of? I can imagine a Baudrillard-style social critic trying to learn about America by walking around the local mall, but if you really want to criticize political scientists, woudn’t it make more sense by doing it in the other direction, hammering us for being dry academics obsessed with fancy-pants regression models and p-values and not looking at what’s really happening out there?

I’d have no problem with someone attacking me for focusing on public opinion and ignoring the real world of political deals, arm-twisting in Washington, etc. But to criticize political scientists for doing their research at Bed, Bath & Beyond–that’s just silly.

I gotta say, though, I went to Bed, Bath & Beyond not long ago and they had excellent selection and service. I highly recommend it. I bought a mop and a bunch of other things.

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