(Disclaimer: The majority of my published research employs statistical analysis. Everything I am currently working on employs statistical analysis. )
I fear for the future of my profession. Part I
The IR blogging community's response to Andrew Exum's (rather insipid) manifesto, which Will ably collects here, illustrates something I have been contemplating for a while: the talismanic status of quantitative analysis in contemporary study of international politics. Consider Drew Conway's response (I don't intend this to be a dig at Drew Conway, who by all appearances is an intelligent, thoughtful, and highly-skilled individual. I focus on his post because I think his response is representative of median IR-man. I could equally pick on Will, but I do that enough already).
(edited for content, 5:23)
Drew advances a positive case for quantitative IR based entirely on first principles. Yet, the issue isn't whether statistical analysis can in theory produce good knowledge (of course it can). A scientific defense of quantitative IR is empirical: what original knowledge has this approach to the study of conflict (and IPE, for that matter) produced that is both substantively important and generally accepted as "true?" And is this knowledge better than the knowledge which would have been produced had we dedicated those same resources to studying conflict using an alternative method? And not only does Q-IR not have an answer to this question, but its adherence to first-principle defenses suggests that quantitative IR doesn't recognize that this is the question. This suggests that quantitative IR has ceased to be a method (a tool scholars employ when it is best suited to answer the question at hand). Quantitative IR has become dogma: Q-IR believes it offers the best possible answer to every question.
And thus I fear for the future of my profession because it is becoming (or has become already) a primitive religion based upon a methods fetish. It believes that statistical methods have a magical power to deliver truth. It thinks it need not demonstrate that quantitative analysis is better than alternatives because first principles (faith) tell practitioners that statistical analysis is always better than the alternatives. It clings to methods because it believes that therein lies the discipline's salvation. Now, as a Vermonter and a skeptic, I never paid all that much attention to religion. But I do seem to recall some sort of admonition against the worship of false idols.