Tom Ricks is on a roll – first complaining that the most recent issue of International Security is “boring,” and then arguing that political scientists are irrelevant. I have no idea what he’s talking about.
Ricks’s attack on the new issue of IS is embarrassing. Calling a careful comparison between contemporary East Asia and pre-World War I Europe dull or purely academic makes zero sense. The rise of China and alliance politics in East Asia are top-tier policy issues, and the authors have precisely the language skills, fieldwork experience and historical perspective Ricks claims to want. If he doesn’t like this article, there will never be an article that he does. Ricks also dismisses an article on ethnofederalism solely because he doesn’t like the title (yes, the title). Ethnofederalism is obviously relevant to Iraq, Libya and Syria, and so is Anderson’s finding that “ethnofederalism has succeeded more often than it has failed.“ Dismissing these articles as irrelevant to contemporary policy is just being lazy.
Looking around, I see articles on rebel governance in Colombia in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, decapitation strikes on insurgent groups in Iraq and Afghanistan in Security Studies, and the effects of rocket strikes from Gaza on Israeli voting in the American Political Science Review. All of these are both in mainstream political science journals and on important policy issues.
If Ricks prefers his policy-relevant research in book form, he’s in luck. Here are some books published so far in 2014 alone by political scientists or informed by political science. These aren’t idiosyncratic outliers; they’re published by the top university presses.
Civil War: Mukhopadhyay, Warlord Governors in Afghanistan; my own book, Networks of Rebellion; Boone, Property and Political Order in Africa; Tajima, Institutional Roots of Communal Violence; Cunningham, Inside the Politics of Self-Determination.
Policy relevance is a two-way street. If policymakers, journalists and analysts aren’t willing to read the relevant work out there (or to at least skim article abstracts), it’s not the fault of political scientists. All Ricks, and other Beltway insta-pundits, need to do is check out Google or the local library.