Political Science Predictions

Dan Drezner points to an article in the 100th anniversary edition of the American Political Science Review looking back at international relations essays in said publication. It seems its scholars failed to predict the Russian Revolution, World War I, the failure of the League of Nations, the limits of Idealism, the factors that would lead to World War II, and the Cold War.

Social science, generally, is much better at explaining the past than predicting the future. There is, after all, much less data available on the latter. Or, as my major professor Don Snow used to say, “The future is a lot harder to predict than the past because it hasn’t happened yet.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    Somewhere, I saw Gide making the same point:

    “Prediction is difficult, especially about the future.”

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    The quote has been attributed to many (including Yogi Berra) but the earliest attribution I’ve been able to find is to physicist Niels Bohr.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    It does bring up a gripe of mine, though: shouldn’t science be predictive? Or, said another way, if it isn’t predictive, is it science? Or is it what another physicist, Ernest Rutherford called “button collecting”.

  4. Science is only predictive when it well-explains ordered phenomena. I think that it is a popular misconception that the role of theory and science is to predict.

    The theory of gravity predicts that if you let go of something within a gravitational field it will fall.

    However, that isn’t really predicting the future, it is explaining how gravity works.

  5. Kent G. Budge says:

    Dave already nailed it: If it isn’t predictive, it isn’t science.

    Social “science” isn’t and never has been. The use of the word “science” is meant, in the words of a famous cartoonist, “to lend verisimilitude to an otherwise unconvincing narrative.”

    I’m not saying that social studies are a complete waste of time. I personally find history and politics fascinating. I am not, however, buying the “science” line, except perhaps for the better-developed and -verified parts of economics.

  6. DL says:

    I’ll bet the poly sci people use the same worthless computer models as Al Gore does for global warm…er…global cool…er climate change.

    Do the weather people real factor in cow flatulance into their predictions?