Message from the Department Head
Welcome to Texas A&M’s Political Science Department!
In political science, we explain the sources and consequences of the use of power. The journalist Jonathan Rauch has argued that a commitment to science requires a commitment to two rules. First, no one gets the final say on any issue – all knowledge claims are tentative and open to criticism. Second, no individual has a personal claim of authority about the veracity of scientific statements. Instead, scientific communities decide through the successive martialling of reason and evidence (and with varying degrees of consensus), which statements are true and which are false.
Scholars, however, are not reason and evidence machines. We all have histories, hopes, and values that drive our lives as citizens and as researchers. They shape the questions we ask and influence the way we interpret the reasoning and evidence of others. Our histories, hopes, and values can result in biases in individual researchers and while the scientific method aims to cast a light on these biases, the existence of these biases can lead to the misuse of the scientific method.
One of the many reasons why diversity is important to a scientific community is that it makes it less likely that the community will uncritically internalize one set of biases. But, as political scientists, we understand that throughout history, powerful actors have found it useful to institutionalize their biases and have used knowledge claims to protect themselves and control others. Furthermore, we live in a society where some people have found it easier than others to translate their histories, hopes, and values into institutional structures and socially sanctioned belief systems.
As you may have surmised by now, it is frequently difficult to draw a bright line between the use and study of power. We live in a society where individuals and groups across the political spectrum appear to be willing to manipulate truth claims in an attempt to accomplish their goals. If knowledge is power, then isn’t science, like war, just politics by other means?
There is widespread consensus in the department of political science that the answer to that question is “no.” We embrace the scientific values that lead to a willingness to be as transparent as possible about our biases and to invite the kind of criticism that will reveal when our conclusions are the result of bias or error, rather than reason and evidence. We also endeavor to protect the rights of all in our community to think and speak critically and challenge claims of others – especially, those in authority. We are particularly keen to ensure that those in our community who are stifled elsewhere (perhaps because of their race, gender identity, national origin, class, or educational background) have the power to speak and be heard here. And we will fight with all our strength against those who try to deter them from doing so.
Giving lip service to the values of criticism and transparency and equal access is not sufficient. It is also important that we behave in a way that reflects these values. Every member of our community deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. They deserve the right to be listened to and they deserve to be responded to on the basis of what they say and not who they are. Further, members of our community have a right to exchange ideas in an environment that is free from intimidation. Treating people based on their race, gender identity, national origin, or socio-economic status has no place in the department of political science and will not be tolerated.
The goal of political science is to use our knowledge to bring about better-governed polities. Better-governed polities encourage human flourishing by providing individuals with the resources they need to develop their capacities in an environment free from coercion, intimidation, or injustice. If we are to provide leadership on these issues in the world, it is first necessary for us to demonstrate them in our own community.
William Roberts Clark