Fred Eidlin

Czech University of Life Sciences
Faculty of Economics and Management

295 Water St.
Unit 123
Guelph, Ontario
Canada
N1G 2X5
feidlin@uoguelph.ca |  Visit Personal Website


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Specialized knowledge, including social scientific theory and research results, of course plays an important role in the formulation and evaluation of public policy. Yet skeptics advance weighty arguments as to how difficult it is to plan and engineer social change. It is often argued that attempts to do so will only make things worse. How, for example, can policy scientists deal with such problems as flawed theory, incomplete information, unintended consequence, and the openness of political systems? Are policy scientists merely servants of the people, or do they sometimes know better than the people what is in the public interest? Does the expertise of policy scientists give them any special authority as to the ethical aspects of policy formulation and evaluation? What about the bluntness, low responsiveness, and inefficiency of many of the instruments available to policy makers? What can be done about the problem there is not one single public interest, but many, often conflicting, public interests? My approach to such problems might be called "hopeful realism." I approach the study of public policy critically and realistically. I take seriously the arguments of the skeptics, while retaining hope that policy science can learn systematically from experience, and can contribute to bringing about a better society. Looking at concrete policies, policy making processes, and attempts at various kinds of planning, I am interested in typical sources of policy failure, and typical conditions that appear to promote success. To be sure, there is no shortage of examples of bad policies. Yet, in spite of all difficulties involved, it cannot be denied that there countless examples of successful and partially-successful public policies. Difficulties are often formidable, risks often sobering, and success often only partial. Yet, the historical record provides substantial grounds for hope of more successful public policy, and that policy science may learn to do better.

Citation:
"Misperception, Ambivalence, and Indecision in Soviet Policy-Making: The Case of the 1968 Invasion of Czechoslovakia." Conflict: All Warfare Short of War 5 (2):89-117,1984.
Abstract: The invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 is usually portrayed as a carefully planned operation directed at clearly formulated goals, which eventually resulted in success for Soviet policy in Czechoslovakia. In this article it is argued that present reality makes Soviet policy appear more successful, prescient, rational, coherent, and guided by long-term strategy than it actually was. Hindsight obscures significant ambivalence, confusion, disunity, and ignorance within the ruling circles of the U.S.S.R. on the matter of how to interpret and deal with developments in Czechoslovakia. The decision to intervene is shown to be more the product of a partly autonomous decision-making system than of rational calculation and deliberation among the top Soviet leadership group.
URL: http:// http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1903573
Citation:
"The Radical, Revolutionary Strain in Popper's Social and Political Theory (L'aspect revolutionnaire et radicale de la theorie sociale et politique de Popper Radykalne i Rewolucyjne Watki w Popperowskiej Mysli Spoleczno-Polityczne)." Journal of the International Society for General Semantics 42 (3):283-298, 1984; Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue Canadienne de Science Politique 17 (1):503, 1984; KARL POPPER ET LA SCIENCE D'AUJOURD'HUI (pp. 469-484); Renée Bouvresse ed., Paris: Aubier Studi Nauk Politycznych, 4:85-104, 1988.
Abstract: Popper's social and political theory is congenial to the planning and carrying out of fundamental and thoroughgoing reform of society guided and informed by rationally plausible and morally defensible theory. Popper's arguments for moderation in political action do not rest on or support any kind of idealization of either tradition or status quo, or even upon his dislike of violence, but rather upon the inherent limitations of human knowledge. Popper's theory of method -- the same for theoretical social science as for theoretical natural science -- calls for bold, informative conjectures controlled by severe criticism. A bold conjecture which turns out to be false is even preferable to a true conjecture with less informative content. Social engineering, is different since, as with engineering generally, we are morally obliged to assess the status of our knowledge before applying it in ways that will affect the lives of human beings. And it is because of the impossibility of knowing in advance the effects of our interventions to change society that reform must be piecemeal and controlled by critical comparison between expected and achieved results. Thus, while there is no need to fear radical revolution in theoretical science (no one is harmed when theories are killed), the application of theories to political action involves risk. And risk presents moral problems and decisions which cannot be resolved by science. Popper's social and political ethics are humanitarian and egalitarian. If this should require broad, fundamental changes in political and social norms and institutions, then such changes must remain among the ultimate, if not the immediate goals of political action.
URL: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1961975
Citation:
"Ethical Problems of Imperfect Knowledge in the Policy Sciences (Этические Проблемы Несовершенного Знания в Политологии)." Public Administration Quarterly 11 (1):397-418.
Abstract: If anything constructive is to be done about the suffocation of ethical debate in policy science and the removal of issues that are properly political from the political domain, the nature of the problems has to be better understood. Policy advisers need theory. This means not only Social scientific theory but also ethical theory that addresses the kinds of problems raised in the present chapter. Many critics of positivistic social science have rightly drawn attention to some of these problems, but not many have come anywhere near to offering viable theoretical alternatives of their own. Although I do not pretend to have solved many of the problems raised here, I hope that! have succeeded in clarifying and reformulating some of them in ways that might make them more tractable and open to fruitful theoretical discussion.
URL: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1965228
Citation:
Eidlin, Fred. "The Method of Problems Versus the Method of Topics." Political Science & Politics 44 (4):758-761.
Abstract: Confused students researching papers not knowing where they are going, articles, lectures, and books on exciting topics that turn out to be boring. Such familiar phenomena are shown to be symptoms of the widespread, largely unconscious methodological habit of focusing on topics rather than problems. This habit rests on views about knowledge deeply ingrained in commonsense knowledge and much of social scientific inquiry. Such views saturate the understanding of scientific inquiry assumed by most social science methods textbooks. The word topic suggests that there is some surface to cover, but not why covering it might be interesting. Interesting research is problem-driven. It begins with a sense that something is amiss with existing knowledge and requires explanation. The method of topics is criticized and contrasted with the method of problems. The method of problems begins, not with data collection, but with identification of inconsistencies in existing knowledge. It seeks solutions to problems through free invention and severe criticism of hypotheses. The method of problems is intellectually challenging, since the human psyche naturally tends to skip over or blur them without solving them. There is no cookbook for the method of problems. The method of topics is criticized and contrasted with the method of problems. The method of problems seeks solutions to inconsistencies in existing knowledge through free invention and severe criticism of hypotheses.
URL: http://hq.ssrn.com/submissions/MyPapers.cfm?partid=495927
Citation:
"Reconciling the General and the Unique: Area Studies, Case Studies, and History Versus Generalizing Social Science"
Abstract: Should social scientists search for general laws, or is each political event and, case study, and regime so infinitely rich in unique detail that such a search is bound to be futile? This question reappears perennially in debates about the aims and methods of comparative politics. The very idea of a science suggests a focus on generalization. It is thus widely believed that the social sciences must search for general laws. Case studies, historical, and area studies, given the uniqueness of each country and event, thus appear antithetical to the generalizing character of theoretical science. The polarization is no longer as sharp as it used to be. Virtually everything written in recent years about the relationship between area studies and social science acknowledges that each side has something to contribute to the other. But no coherent account has yet emerged of just how to integrated the generalizing spirit of science with the concern for uniqueness inherent in case studies, history and area studies. This article addresses the problem of synthesizing generalization with concern for uniqueness. It first argues that discovery of general laws, although not absent from the social sciences, is of less interest than it is in the natural sciences. Most generalization of what is called theory in the social sciences consists of generalized types of social situations or settings or events. Such contextually limited generalizations may be rough, rudimentary, oversimplified, and over schematized, but they are objective, empirically criticizable, and amenable to comparison with alternative models of the same situation or type of situation. They may be cast at any level of abstraction, from the richly detailed case study to the abstract model of a complex organization, for example. There is continuity across levels of abstraction. The article also shows that much explanation in the natural sciences also consists of such contextually-limited generalizations.
URL: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1839173

Substantive Focus:
Governance
Defense and Security
International Relations PRIMARY
Social Policy
Comparative Public Policy SECONDARY

Theoretical Focus:
Policy History SECONDARY
Policy Process Theory PRIMARY
Policy Analysis and Evaluation

Keywords

IMPERFECT KNOWLEDGE POPPER SOCIAL ENGINEERING MISPERCEPTION CONCEPTUALIZATION POWER POLITICAL THEORY THEORY OF PROBLEMS FOUNDATIONS OF SOCIAL SCIENCE FAILURES OF EXPERTS IDEOLOGY FORMER USSR INSTITUTIONS RUSSIA UKRAINE BELARUS PUBLIC POLICY EXPERT KNOWLEDGE