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Political Psychology or Politicized Psychology: Is the Road to Scientific Hell Paved with Good Moral Intentions?

Philip E. Tetlock
Political Psychology
Vol. 15, No. 3 (Sep., 1994), pp. 509-529
DOI: 10.2307/3791569
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3791569
Page Count: 21
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Political Psychology or Politicized Psychology: Is the Road to Scientific Hell Paved with Good Moral Intentions?
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Abstract

This article proceeds from the premise that a completely value-neutral political psychology is impossible. Testing hypotheses about the efficacy of deterrence or the pervasiveness of racism or the quality of decision making inevitably requires value-charged trade-offs between Type I errors (rejecting the null hypothesis when it is true) and Type II errors (failing to reject the null hypothesis when it is false). The article goes on, however, to argue that our collective credibility as a science depends on self-critical efforts to monitor and minimize the influence of scientifically irrelevant values on inquiry. I identify two examples of research programs-White's work on deterrence and the Sears and Kinder work on symbolic racism-in which the moral-political values of the investigators appear to have profoundly shaped standards of evidence and proof in testing competing hypotheses. I also identify logical and empirical strategies that investigators can use to check the influence of extraneous values. These strategies include rigorous skepticism toward counterfactuals that underlie causal claims in historical analyses, embedding of experimental manipulations in representative sample surveys to isolate determinants of public opinion, developing methods to translate case studies into standardized data languages so that we can more readily identify potential sources of bias, and continual open-mindedness to the possibility that patterns of thinking that scholarly observers laud as cognitively or morally superior in one set of political settings may look quite maladaptive or immoral in other political settings. The article closes with a transparently valueladen appeal to preserve the autonomy of political psychology as a science by distinguishing sharply between when we speak for a scientific discipline and when we speak as concerned citizens.

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