In comparison with other academic disciplines, the potential for experiments as a research method has been downplayed and underestimated in political science. A former president of the American Political Science Association may have initiated this tendency when he announced in 1909 to the annual conference that ‘we are limited by the impossibility of experiment. Politics is an observational, not an experimental science’ (Lowell, 1910, cited in Druckman et al. 2006). Sixty years later, Arendt Lijphart (1971) reiterated this gloomy view in a seminal article in the American Political Science Review, commenting: ‘The experimental method is the most nearly ideal method for scientific explanation, but unfortunately it can only rarely be used in political science because of practical and ethical impediments’ (Lijphart, 1971: 684–5). Comparative methods backed by statistical inference were for Lijphart the only way that political scientists could in practice make progress.
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- The Experimental Method: Prospects for Laboratory and Field Studies
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