Monthly Archives: April 2011

More follow-up on Utah’s immigration debate

I’m originally from Utah and I study American immigration policy attitudes. So that’s why I keep posting updates on this subject. Enjoy!

“Science” and “Political Science”

In 2009 the British Science Council unveiled what they describe as the “official definition of science“:

Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.

There’s a lot of debate as to whether “political science” really qualifies as a science. This is for a variety of reasons, including the fact that there is such a variety of ways in which political researchers go about trying to answer important political questions. Also, the very definition of “science” itself is often hotly contested.

The UK Guardian asked a historian and a philosopher what they thought of the British Science Council’s definition of “science”. The historian said that the definition “defines science as a pursuit, an activity, related to the creation of new knowledge, rather than established knowledge itself. … The definition would include historical research and indeed some journalism! It does not demarcate something called science from the humanities. This is a good and sensible thing.”

The philosopher said: “Because ‘science’ denotes such a very wide range of activities a definition of it needs to be general; it certainly needs to cover investigation of the social as well as natural worlds; it needs the words “systematic” and “evidence”; and it needs to be simple and short. The definition succeeds in all these respects admirably, and I applaud it therefore.”

When a historian and a philosopher both agree on a definition of “science”, you know you’ve got something fairly comprehensive and useful. By this definition, I would enthusiastically argue that “political science” qualifies as a full-fledged “science”. Political scientists, whether they favor historical, philosophical, or empirical (qualitative and quantitative) approaches, all are engaged in the “pursuit of knowledge … of the social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.”


My father-in-law passed his Ph.D. dissertation defense this afternoon. He’s going to graduate this semester from Utah State University (where I finished my B.A. in Political Science in 2006) with a degree in Instructional Technology. (At least, I think that’s the official name…) Either way, we’re all very, very proud of him and we’re excited that he’s finished. Congratulations!!!

The Big Sort and political self-segregation

Bill Bishop’s book The Big Sort has an explicit normative message to it: the political self-sorting that he describes is a bad thing, leading to a host of problems in American life including extremism, polarization, and the disappearance of a “national narrative” and a “common path to unanimity”.

While I don’t necessarily disagree with many of the points that Bishop makes in the book, I found myself asking over and over again the same question: is it really so wrong to want to live by people who are similar to you? In other words, if I value having a strong public education system, a racially diverse community where I can get authentic Italian and Mexican food, a robust public recycling program, numerous bookstores, lots of public trails and parks… is it so wrong to seek out a community that offers those things? On the other hand, if I want to live in a place with access to a strong church community, a huge back yard, low property taxes, several hunting/fishing options… is it really such a bad thing to try to live in a community that offers those amenities?

Granted, there is strong evidence that this self-sorting along lifestyle lines produces some undesirable political effects. However, if forced to choose between living in a place where I will feel comfortable, safe, and happy… and doing something to help politicians not fight quite so much, is it so horrible to sacrifice some political unity for the sake of providing my family with the quality of life that we want to have and enjoy?

The Big Sort and community political cues in Danville

This week my Congress class is reading Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort in preparation for the convocation next Monday night where Mr. Bishop will be speaking to interested Centre students. Bishop’s main argument is that Americans have been geographically sorting themselves into like-minded communities over the past 60 years, based primarily on lifestyle preferences (rural vs. urban, educated vs. non-educated, religious vs. secular, etc.). The author also identifies all sorts of negative effects that result from this self-imposed political segregation of the American public, polarization being chief among them.

In the first chapter of the book, Bishop describes how people are able to pick up on environmental cues from the communities that they live in (or are considering living in) that give a pretty good indication of the political/lifestyle leanings of the area. Observant individuals usually don’t have a difficult time figuring out if a community is conservative or liberal, even without resorting to checking out the voter registration rolls. They then use this as a basis for choosing where they want to live.

When I first came to Danville, these were the cues I picked up on from the environment, and this is how I interpreted them, politically-speaking:

  • Lots of Baptist churches (conservative)
  • Walmart is the biggest shopping place in town (lean conservative)
  • Applebee’s is one of the most popular chain restaurants in town (lean conservative)
  • Sufficient clientage to support an urban-like coffee shop downtown (lean liberal)
  • Our first weekend in town, we took our 2-year-old to Millennium Park and there were some young adult males nearby talking about guns and the army while chewing and spitting tobacco… right next to the playground (very conservative)
  • A small liberal arts college with a cultural performance venue (liberal)
  • A new mandatory curb-side recycling program (lean liberal), but vocal howls of protest about the program in the local letters to the editor (conservative)
  • A beautiful new public library with lots of amenities and resources (lean liberal)
  • Poorly-tended sidewalks and walk-ways in the city, no public trails in the city (conservative… that is, few resources to maintain the sidewalks = low tax rates = conservative)

Undocumented immigrants pay taxes… and lots of ’em

Today, the Immigration Policy Center releases estimates produced by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) of the state and local taxes paid in 2010 by households that are headed by unauthorized immigrants. Collectively, these households paid $11.2 billion in state and local taxes. That included $1.2 billion in personal income taxes, $1.6 billion in property taxes, and $8.4 billion in sales taxes.

These figures should be kept in mind as politicians and commentators continue with the seemingly endless debate over what to do with unauthorized immigrants already living in the United States. In spite of the fact that they lack legal status, these immigrants—and their family members—are adding value to the U.S. economy; not only as taxpayers, but as workers, consumers, and entrepreneurs as well.

The full report is available here: Unauthorized Immigrants Pay Taxes, Too: Estimates of the State and Local Taxes Paid by Unauthorized Immigrant Households

The accuracy of political information on Wikipedia

Turns out that it’s actually a pretty reliable source for political information:

Now a peer-reviewed study by Brigham Young University political scientist Adam Brown validates Wikipedia as a reliable place to get a political education.

The research focused on past and present candidates for governor across the 50 states. Brown fact-checked biographical information and voting statistics and found very few inaccuracies.

I still think it’s a good idea to check the citations and independently verify the source material. But I also think that Wikipedia is certainly a good place to start when researching a topic.