What Is Gov 2001/1002/STAT E-200?
This is a (soon to be revised first graduate) course in political methodology. Political methodology is the methodological subfield of the discipline of political science, akin to econometrics within economics, psychometrics within psychology, sociological methodology within sociology, biostatistics within public health and medicine, and dozens of others. These methodological subfields are increasingly interconnected across disciplines and are often known together under broader monikers, such as data science, applied statistics, or computational social science. Political science is an unusually diverse discipline, welcoming of an exceptionally broad array of approaches, substantive questions, theories, and scholars. As such, learning methods within political methodology give you experience with a broader array of specific methods and, a focus on deeper, more unifying perspectives that can help you integrate an understanding of approaches originating in many other areas.
The goal of political methodology and this course is to give you the tools necessary to do high quality scholarly research. We cover three broad, interrelated subjects, and make some progress on each every week.
- Understanding Statistical Inference - the process of using facts you know to learn about facts you don't know. We do this from (a) a conceptual and theoretical perspective so that you truly understand the methods we discuss, and ultimately (b) so that you feel completely comfortable using these methods in your own scholarship. With this knowledge, you will be able to easily digest articles about new methods invented after this class ends, implement the methods, apply them to your data, interpret the results, and explain them to others.
- Making novel substantive contributions to a scholarly literature. This sounds hard, but almost everyone gets there and numerous graduate and undergraduate students in this class in previous years have published revised versions of their class papers in scholarly journals as their first professional publication. Large numbers of class papers have also turned into books, senior theses, dissertations, and conference presentations, and many have won awards and have been reported in the media.
- Learning how to choose a topic for research, especially how to solve hard problems by changing rather than answering the question, and how to identify a big idea. Almost every assignment you've had since nursery school involved doing the best you could to answer an immutable question posed by the instructor. Yet, when conducting research, you get to choose what question to study, and that question has a bigger impact on how good the answer is than almost any other factor. This critical (and rarely taught) skill has a massive effect on careers of successful academics, politicians, startup entrepreneurs, consultants, advocates, and others.
Several important parts of this class are designed as collective experiences --- specifically designed on the basis of social science research to help you learn more, understand the material faster, and remember it for longer. This means that other students will be counting on you (and you on them), and so not meeting a deadline or not coming to class hurts you and all those around you. Please come to class prepared and meet all assignments as listed on the class web site. As you will see below, not meeting one assignment can have cascading effects on your fellow students. If you don't understand something, that's perfectly fine; we'll figure it out together and make sure you're not left behind. Your main job is to try and to stay engaged.
Students taking Gov2001 should have the same background as provided by undergraduate political science (or social science) programs at major colleges and universities, including the typically required undergraduate methods class (i.e., with topics such as introductory probability and statistics, data analysis, regression, and probability). Beginning this year, we are offering two additional options for students who wish to check on or improve their preparation level. First, we are designing a special set of online experiences for the months between deciding to come to Harvard and when classes start (including features such as MOOCs, readings, interactive experiences, collaborative exercises, and periodic virtual meetings with the entire Gov2001 teaching staff). These optional online experiences are not onerous and are doable even for students who work full time. Second, we have arranged that the Government Department methods course required of our undergraduates, Gov50, will be offered in the Fall semester each year, making it possible for incoming graduate students to take or audit it concurrently with Gov2001. See also Political Methodology in the Government Department.
Information for how to register on the course can be found under the "Our Community" section of the website.