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Kevin Drennan. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Opinion: The Need for Political Scientists in a Post Truth World

By Kevin Drennan, March 10 2020 3:37 pm

OPINION

Nearly 20 years after receiving a bachelor’s degree in political science, I have never been more thankful for making the decision to choose political science as my major. And I need to get my biggest pet peeve about being a political science degree out of the way it is not a degree in the study of government. I like this definition from Britinnaca.com,

Political science, the systematic study of governance by the application of empirical and generally scientific methods of analysis. As traditionally defined and studied, political science examines the state and its organs and institutions. The contemporary discipline, however, is considerably broader than this, encompassing studies of all the societal, cultural, and psychological factors that mutually influence the operation of government and the body politic.”

This definition is important because as a political science major, we are taught to analyze issues based on multiple perspectives and evaluation of valid sources with empirical evidence. Political Science majors are taught not to hand pick evidence to back up their claim. Rather these majors are taught to be mindful of biased information and identify holes in the information being provided. In addition to biased information, there are many articles written with hand-picked “scientific” information to prove their point. For anyone who has ever been in an argument with me, when this tactic is used, my response always is, “it is more complicated than that.”

Unfortunately, with the Internet and now social media, too many people believe they have access to information that makes them experts. The reality is that most people are over-confident in their ability to decide the validity of the information presented to them. This is where being a political scientist becomes extremely important because political scientists are taught to be skeptical, to dive deeper into information, to evaluate the sources, to evaluate the current science as opposed to previous science on a subject.

While I like to debate, I do not like to waste time debating people who believe they know an issue when in reality they have only filled themselves with information to support their already established views. However, debating someone with a different view based on valid credible information on the same topic is a learning experience. I am a diehard Democrat and I have been all of my life but that does not mean that I believe all Republicans are wrong.  As a political scientist and a reader of American History what I have learned is that good people can have different, even if very passionate, views on a subject even given the same set of facts. My experience has taught me that progress is generally made by this valuable tension and that government run by the people is strengthened by this.

Today, the foundation of democracy is under a grave threat and not because of what political talking heads call the polarization of political parties but because too many people rely on a false sense of what are now know as “alternative facts.”  To me “alternative facts” are simply lies people believe because it supports their point of view.  Before social media, this overconfidence in self-superiority was not a major issue.  It has now become a grave societal issue and a detriment to public health.  When people lacked access to information/misinformation and had limited access to people who supported their bias, they were less likely to spread false information and more likely to trust experts. Now in a post-truth world, people connect with others who are like them, they build greater confidence that their beliefs are actually scientific law. The growth of “post-truth” is a Democratic and Republican problem, but more importantly it effects the well-being of society as a whole.

I don’t expect everyone to become a political scientist, but I hope that people learn that spreading information that is false because it fits their “facts” is hurting democracy as we know it.

Kevin Drennan holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science from The College of New Jersey, a Masters in City and Regional Planning from Rutgers University and is currently Executive Director of the New Jersey State Senate Democratic Office.

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