NATURAL EXPERIMENT

Two days in a row on political science-related topics. I promise I won't make a habit of it.

People in the social and "hard" sciences like to snipe at one another – they do "real" science with microscopes and Bunsen burners, while we retort that we study things people actually give a shit about rather than tyrosine-specific kinase proteins. One undisputed advantage the chemists and biologists have is the ability to conduct really well controlled experiments. An experiment isn't the only way to study something, of course, but it's pretty cool. Political scientists try to do experiments and some people get a lot of mileage out of it, but you can't really simulate an election or real world decision-making. But we get to do natural experiments. Which is like having someone else do half of the work for us.

If State A adopts voting machines but States B and C stick with paper ballots it sets us up to test hypotheses about the effects of different voting technologies on turnout, wait times, or whatever. Or, to use one prominent example, Nebraska has a unicameral, non-partisan state legislature while every other state has a bicameral legislature with parties. So in comparing the different systems in action we have an opportunity to study a lot of different aspects of the role of parties in the legislative process. Since we can't recreate politics in a lab or control everything we would like in our research, we have to be a little more creative and take advantage of opportunities where they exist.

Now that the President has predictably bowed to pressure and sent another 30,000 people to get shot at in Afghanistan to accomplish…whatever our goal is over there…it is going to be really interesting to watch the poll numbers about the war over the next year. Right now and for the past several years there has been a fairly lopsided partisan distribution in opinions about Afghanistan, with Republicans urging us to "listen to the generals" and send more troops, Democrats opposing it, and independent flipping a coin as usual:

afghanpoll

Something tells me that if we revisit these numbers in December 2010 we'll find that a lot of Republicans are suddenly very dissatisfied with the direction of the war and stridently opposed to committing more resources to it. Are the Democratic numbers going to change as well? I'm a little more skeptical on that one. If anything I think the President is going to find himself increasingly unable to hold his party together, as Bill Clinton did, the more aggressively he reinvents his agenda as Republican Lite, as Bill Clinton did. The specifics of the situation are lost on everyone answering these poll questions, of course – nobody has any idea what's going on over there or what we're supposed to be doing (note this hilarious expression of what Americans believe our goal is). That's pathetic, of course, but why let facts or knowledge thereof get in the way of a knee-jerk partisan response?

13 thoughts on “NATURAL EXPERIMENT”

  • Off-topic, but you shouldn't discount the importance of protein tyrosine kinases!

    "Of the 30 tumour-suppressor genes and >100 dominant oncogenes known to date, protein kinases, in particular PTKs, comprise a large fraction of the latter group. … Somatic mutations in this very small group of genes cause a significant fraction of human cancers." –Blume-Jensen and Hunter, Nature, 2001

  • That poll looks absurd, not the results. "Terrorists" look a lot like bin Laden and the Taliban in many ways, and if we're trying to prop up a government "Kill all the terrorists" seems like an obvious–and worthy–goal. Of course, "prop up a government" isn't listed, but I'd like to see a poll that includes such things as "control the opium crop", "control Afghan oil supplies" (yes I know, but it's good to see what percentage is stupid,) and "airlift anything with a vagina out of the country" on the list of available answers.

    A sane Afghan policy would involve legalizing opium so the black market that funds the terrorism goes away, letting anyone who wants a Westernized life emigrate (to the US if they wish, or any other NATO country willing to take them,) training all the women in the use of handguns (with a free handgun to any woman of childbearing age,) banning handgun possession for men, supporting the government only as long as it avoids corruption at the local and national level, and keeping some military presence in the area that really doesn't do much of anything but could quickly take out any location determined to have al Qaeda or some other people who are after Pakistan's nukes. Of course, that's all still insane. But as anyone would admit, the first thing we'd choose is not to start from here.

  • 'sane Afghan policy would involve legalizing opium so the black market that funds the terrorism goes away'

    Well said, but it makes too much sense to ever happen….

  • 'sane Afghan policy would involve legalizing opium'

    doug, I disagree as I disagree with previous commenter, Jon. There's no easy 'do this' or 'do that' in Afghanistan or the country it borders, Pakistan. As the president accurately said today "the Afghan people have been suffering war for decades". I believe he's truly conscious of that fact and has sympathy and care for the ordinary Afghan citizen. I believe he wants to end the war there, as he does in Iraq.
    But he has inherited the responsibility for both and only has one real option, to see them through and finish them as rapidly as possible. Giving the population drugs or guns certainly won't solve anything.

    All that said, as an ex-serviceman I hate war and I haven't agreed with any US military action over the last 60 years. I believe the war on Vietnam Laos and Cambodia was a war crime of immense magnitude that has yet to be reparated.

    But I trust president Obama and fervently desire and hope that he is able to act as he speaks so as to bring these conflicts to a quick and successful conclusion, resulting in a better society for the middle east and safety for the US.

  • In order to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan, the U.S. government would have to socialize almost every aspect of the Afghan economy, buy the opium crop and use it for legal purposes, and ruthlessley remove corrupt officials from the government and army. Unfortunately these solutions run directly against the interests of the corporate entities that are looting Afghanistan for all its worth. The CEOs running these companies don't give a rat's ass about Afghanistan's future, the Taliban, terrorism, or American soldiers and Marines. It's all about making as much dough in the shortest amount of time.
    And these are the guys who control the purse strings of both parties.
    Average Americans should demand an end to this damned war. It isn't doing anybody any good, except for a few plutocrats.

  • There is at least one gaping hole in our ability to judge the President's decisions: what does he know that we don't? (To be fair, I have despised Bush since before he held the office, but I mentioned it during his term as well.) I can't factor the unknown into any judgement I make, and decline to give a pass to anyone on the sheer hope that he knows more than I do. But the President is privy to information we are not, and must do what he feels is right under the law. This war is hateful and I want us gone. But a president who lets a moody, ill-informed public shape his policy decisions is doing a rotten job.

  • Escalating in Afghanistan is as much about the 2010 elections here as it is about ending the Taliban there. Republicans would have a field day if Obama decided to pull out now, especially since any rewards for doing, as with the escalation, won't be seen until after our elections. Even after 8 years, 5000 lives, and trillions of dollars, Obama can't do the sane thing without fear of being called a pussy.

  • I was in Kabul for four days back in '04. As soon as I got there, I then devoted every ounce of my intellect and energy to getting the fuck out of there. Just blocks from the US embassy there was some guy literally banging on hot metal (blacksmith). And, no, it wasn't the Afghan version of Williamsburg Virginia. The only sane Afghan policy is one in which we are not there. It is a complete waste of money and treasure. Like many of our current backward policies, if outer space aliens landed in New Mexico and then performed a thorough examination of how we govern ourselves, they would, if they were logical, probably site our Afghanistan involvement as the most bizarre example of all of our policies, right behind combating the illegal drug trade on our southwest border with more enforcement that just makes the drug trade that much more profitable for those who choose to conduct said trade. The reality is that there is only one smart reason for having more troops in Afghanistan, if there is any smart way to look at it, and it is this: When war breaks out between Iran and Israel et al, it’ll be tactically appropriate to have a large number of US troops on Iran's eastern frontier. That is it. Next slide please.

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    Ladiesbane said:

    But a president who lets a moody, ill-informed public shape his policy decisions gets reelected.

    fixed.

  • Now that the President has predictably bowed to pressure and sent another 30,000 people to get shot at in Afghanistan to accomplish…

    Except that he's wanted to escalate Bill and Ted's Excellent Afghanistan Adventure since extremely early in the primaries, at least. I have been arguing this forever, but Rude Pundit has a list of every instance Obama talked about increasing the troop prensence there. That's hardly what I would call "bowing to pressure." Sure, many libruls (myself included) was hoping Obama would have a change of heart during his long deliberation, but guess what? He didn't. But he didn't bow to anybody (except all foreign leaders, while handing over the Big Red Button to each, of course).

    Hopefully his 18 month timeline will be accurate. I'm skeptical, but hopeful. A short (relatively speaking, of course, compared to Little Tommy Friedman and 100 Years Of Occupation McCain) engagement is better than an open-ended engagement, on the sliding scale of ideal situations right now.

  • Sure, many libruls (myself included) was hoping Obama would have a change of heart during his long deliberation, but guess what?

    If only somebody had said something.

  • Something tells me that if we revisit these numbers in December 2010 we'll find that a lot of Republicans are suddenly very dissatisfied with the direction of the war and stridently opposed to committing more resources to it.

    Safe prediction. Just go back and look at what every god-damned repugnicant and right wing talking ass-hole said when Clinton had our military participate in U.N. activities in the former Jugoslavia.

    But not a word from them on Bush's fiascos in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The wars and the economy now belong to Obama. He will be responsible for all the inevitable bad outcomes, and probably the sinking of the Titanic.

    JzB

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