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Cornell University    
  Feb 20, 2018
Courses of Study 2016-2017 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

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GOVT 3999 - How Do You Know That?

Spring. 4 credits. Letter grades only.

C. Way.

Does allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons reduce violent crime? Do affirmative action policies at law schools cause black students to fail the bar? Do micro-finance policies make the poor better off? Do the militaries of democracies fight better in the field than those of non-democracies? Does the death penalty save lives by deterring murders? Answering questions like these about the effects of public policy implies cause and effect knowledge: if we implement policy X, we will get effect Y. But on what evidence should answers to questions like these rest? How do you know the answer, and under what conditions can you? Providing robust answers to cause-and-effect questions in a (mostly) non-experimental field like political science is devilishly difficult. In this course, we will learn some of the pitfalls that make it so hard to evaluate evidence in the public policy realm, how to judge the quality of evidence cited in the media, and how to ask the right questions to get the best possible evidence. We’ll do so by working through the evidence supporting “yes” or “no” answers to the questions listed above.

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