Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
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Special Issue on "American Bias"

August 12, 2019

Political scientist Jeff Colgan

Jeff Colgan, Associate Professor of Political Science, was the guest editor of American Bias and Blind Spots on World Politics, a special issue of the Journal of Global Security Studies, published in July 2019. 

Scholars of international relations (IR) from the United States, like any country, view the world with particular perspectives and beliefs that shape their perceptions, judgments, and worldviews. These perspectives have the potential to affect the answers to a host of important questions – in part by shaping the questions that get asked in the first place. All scholars are potentially affected by national bias, but American bias matters more than others because of the outsized role that American scholars play in the study of IR worldwide. To the extent that American bias affects research, it means that the field as a whole is less accurate and insightful than it could be. In turn, that means that scholars will offer lower-quality advice to policymakers than the otherwise might.

This Special Issue focuses on two issues: attention and accuracy in IR research. Attention is about which issues, countries, and events receive scholarly analysis — and which ones don't. Accuracy is about the extent to which research done by US scholars might differ from how the same research might be done by non-US scholars, on the assumption that no nationality has a perfect claim to objectivity. 

The collected articles provide specific, fine-grained examples of how American perspectives matter for IR, using evidence from survey experiments, quantitative datasets, and more. Our evidence suggests that American perspectives, left unexamined, negatively affect our field’s research. Still, the essays in this Special Issue remain bullish about the field’s neopositivist approach overall — just that it might be done better. The authors also offer concrete steps for taking on the problems, and improving the field’s scholarship. 

To read more, visit the table of contents for all of the article links.