Statistics versus History


Over the last decade we have been able to observe that most of Russian political scientists, specializing in international relations, have become numerically inclined. They have focused on the quantitative research methods, the phenomenon which now seems to have turned into the cult of statistics. If any research work  – an article or monograph– fails to provide quantitative data, it is automatically stigmatized as political opinion-based journalism. The supporters of quantitative methods in the sphere of international relations usually put forward three reasons: 1) any research work requires complying with standards and accuracy; 2) only numerical data can be verified; 3) allegedly, only figures can provide “discipline” in research being the solid and objective evidence for your observations. However, what they do not realize is that such dominance of statistics in the humanitarian research creates a risky illusion of being “quasi- accurate”. Scientists often provide numerical data for the unprovable and even faulty assumptions.

The bulk of the examples from history are in unconformity to quantitative models of the international relations, as from a numerical viewpoint it is the territory and the size of the population of the country which is most important. According to this logic, it was the defeated (in real history) who had to win and not the opposite way around. Apparently, the material resources, which can be numerically assessed, are less important than non-material resources: the spirit and mentality of the nation, its cultural strategy as well as the quality and the mindset of the political elites. It is impossible to assess these factors statistically, but it was these very factors that led those states to victories over the others.

Thus, the emphasis on quantitative research methods in political science is not that harmless, as it might seem at first sight. Its main effect is not “scientific accuracy”, as alleged by its proponents, but rather in promoting mechanistic superiority of the potentials. The latter can be easily disguised by hidden material or non-material factors, which seem to be difficult or even impossible to consider when using quantitative approach. The result of this clash is often not in favor of the numerically inclined scientists. Ideally, by employing the quantitative models we could avoid discussions involving moral and ethical issues, but in reality such an approach is even more likely to throw light on these problems (which are initially subjective matters) in international relations.


methodology  of  International  Studies;  quantitative  methods;  mathematical methods;  formalization; interdisciplinary synthesis; game theory; system modeling; realized superiority; network analysis.

Authors: Alexey Fenenko

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