Unit 1 Study Guide and Review: Social Science and Comparative Politics

1a: Describe the scientific method.

    • Define natural and social science.
    • List some examples of academic disciplines that fall into each category.
    • Why do researchers use the scientific method?
    • Define and explain how the four characteristics of scientific inquiry (replicability, precision, falsifiability, and parsimony) relate to the scientific method.

Scholars who study comparative politics define their approach to their discipline via scientific inquiry, in a systematic and verifiable manner. Otherwise, they run the risk of compiling information that is spurious and useless to other researchers. The scientific method provides the bedrock for all scientific inquiry and consists of four characteristics: replicability, precision, falsifiability, and parsimony. This rigorous approach allows social scientists to learn and obtain inferential knowledge.

Review Scientific Method beginning on page five of Social Science Research: Principles, Methods, and Practices. (Note, the page number for this text appears is in the upper corner of each page, not at the top of your computer screen.)



1b: Differentiate between scientific laws and theories.

    • Define and describe the difference between a scientific law and scientific theory.
    • Define observed behavior and evidence.

How do scientists who rely on scientific laws and scientific theories differ in their understanding of the world? Researchers consider scientific laws to be observed behaviors, whereas scientific theories require explanations and make predictions based on evidence.

Review Scientific Knowledge and Scientific Research beginning on page two of Social Science Research: Principles, Methods, and Practices.



1c: Differentiate between inductive and deductive thinking.

    • Define inductive and deductive thinking or reasoning.
    • Describe the difference between inductive and deductive thinking or reasoning.
    • Explain how these two types of thinking differ and how researchers use them in their research to explain different types of phenomena or arrive at different conclusions.

Engaging in the two thought processes, inductive and deductive reasoning, requires making different types of assumptions that lead to different types of conclusions. We typically engage in deductive, top-down thinking to perform theory testing. We engage in inductive thinking to draw inferences, make conclusions, and generate new knowledge. Inductive reasoning forms the basis of the scientific method.

Review Scientific Research beginning on page three of Social Science Research: Principles, Methods, and Practices.



1d: Define explanatory, exploratory, and descriptive research.

    • Define explanatory, exploratory, and descriptive research.
    • Describe the historical progression and difficulties that are inherent to each of these three types of research.

Scholars engage in exploratory research to discover new areas they would like to explore or research further. Once a researcher has identified this new area of inquiry, they are better able to describe and catalog their area of interest through descriptive research. Researchers apply scientific rigor by using explanatory research to explain new phenomena. Going through this systematic, research-based, process of discovery is important to political science, since each type of research applies increasing amounts of scrutiny to the object of study, moving from basic observation to more substantial findings based on sound scholarly research.

Review Scientific Research beginning on page three of Social Science Research: Principles, Methods, and Practices.



1e: Differentiate between positivist, anti-positivist and postpositivist methods.

    • Define and explain the difference between quantitative and qualitative research.
    • Define the positivist, anti-positivist, and postpositivist research methods.
    • Provide examples of the types of research studies that would lend themselves to each of these three research methods.
    • Describe the historical context behind these three methods.
    • Why did researchers, who followed a certain method, progress to the next level or type of methodology?

The positivist research method requires researchers to use observation to verify their conclusions. This approach typically incorporates research methods that collect quantitative data, such as research surveys and experiments. The anti-positivist research method typically uses a qualitative approach, such as unstructured interviews and participant observation. Finally, as a bedrock of falsifiability, the postpositivist approach determines researchers can only disprove knowledge with any degree of certainty: they cannot prove it.

Review History of Scientific Thought beginning on page seven of Social Science Research: Principles, Methods, and Practices.



1f: Differentiate between Mill's Method of Agreement and Direct Method of Difference.

    • Define and explain the difference between John Stuart Mill's comparative methodologies, method of agreement and direct method of difference.

Social scientists apply John Stuart Mill’s two comparative methodologies to research single, isolated observations, or topics of inquiry, and to compare and contrast multiple instances. Mill called these research methodologies: method of agreement and direct method of difference. By using as much relevant data that is available, researchers can establish a level of certainty for their claims and examples: it is better to have more information available than too little.

Review the video Causation among Specific Events by Lynora Rogacs and the article Causal Reasoning by Garth Kemerling.



1g: Define comparative politics.

    • Define the discipline of comparative politics.
    • How to scientists identify and study the three elements they use to compare different political systems: patterns, similarities, and differences?
    • Describe some advantages and disadvantages of comparing multiple political systems.
    • Define selection bias.
    • Explain why and how social scientists try to avoid selection bias.

When comparing different countries or political systems, social science researchers aim to examine the patterns, similarities, or differences they discover or observe with what other researchers have documented as part of the greater framework, i.e. what is established in the field.

In this course we encourage you to compare and contrast the political culture, political socialization, and political participation of different countries. This online handout describes techniques you can use to compare and contrast different elements to include in an academic essay Comparing and Contrasting from the Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Similarities: For example, when comparing different political systems, can you identify similarities in the political culture, political socialization, and political participation among the countries or regions? What are those similarities? Where did they originate? How do these similarities manifest themselves in the political culture and practices of the countries or regions? Why did these similarities come about?

Differences: What are the differences in the political culture, political socialization, and political participation among the countries? Where do you think the differences you have pinpointed originated? How do these differences manifest themselves in the political culture and practices of these countries or regions? Why did these differences come about?

Depending on the type of work being conducted, two or more comparisons may be appropriate. Researchers can apply their comparisons to the local, regional, national, or international level.

Review Comparative Analysis within Political Science by Alexander Stafford.



1h: Identify and explain various comparative methodologies used to compare various political systems.

    • Define three research designs used in comparative politics: case study method, small N analysis (also called the comparative method), and large N statistical analysis.
    • Name some advantages and disadvantages of these three methods.

Researchers who compare political systems, such as when they review large datasets, must be thorough and cognizant of any bias to avoid making false generalizations and inappropriate assumptions.

Review Section 1 of Evaluating Research Methods of Comparative Politics by Luke Johns.



Unit 1 Vocabulary

      • Antipositivism
      • Case study method
      • Comparative politics
      • Comparative method
      • Deductive thinking or reasoning
      • Descriptive research
      • Explanatory research
      • Exploratory research
      • Falsifiability
      • Inductive thinking or reasoning
      • Large N statistical analysis
      • Methodology
      • Natural science
      • Parsimony
      • Positivism
      • Postpositivism
      • Precision
      • Qualitative
      • Quantitative
      • Replicability
      • Science
      • Scientific knowledge
      • Scientific law
      • Scientific method
      • Scientific theory
      • Selection bias
      • Small N analysis
      • Social science
Last modified: Wednesday, June 12, 2019, 11:40 AM