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Psychologists run experiments, political scientists analyze existing data

- July 30, 2008

Seth’s statement here and his follow-up comment reminded me of a big difference between psychologists, who like to do experiments, and political scientists, who like to analyze existing data. I’m always impressed that when a psychologist wants to learn something, he or she will typically run an experiment. Whenever I’ve tried to run an experiment, it’s been a mess. Which makes sense: I’ve been analyzing data continuously for the past 25 years but I have very little experience with data collection (and that is mostly helping others with their data collection projects).

Yes, I realize that some political scientists do run experiments, but I’m not usually so impressed by them, certainly not in comparison to psychological experiments. Political science is a different sort of field, it doesn’t lend itself to experimentation so much. Small n and all that. (But Seth might disagree, since he’s a psychologist who does small-n nonrandomized experiments.) And, yes, I realize that political science data gets collected: certainly the people who run the National Elections Study, the Pew survey, Polimetrix, etc., do data collection. But I think I’m typical of most empirical political scientists in that I spend much much more time analyzing than collecting data.