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Keywords:

  • Alexander George;
  • policy research;
  • biases

Like many other scholars of international relations (IR), Alexander George was concerned with both understanding the world and improving policy. This double focus presents opportunities and difficulties. Among the latter are the influences of our theories and our policy preferences on each other and the possibility that theories can become either self-fulfilling or self-denying prophecies. Less abstractly, following George we then examine prescriptions for better policymaking procedures. This area is plagued by motivated biases because decision makers are responding to powerful political pressures and psychological needs, which means that there are good reasons for them to reject the procedures that scholars advocate. By contrast, unmotivated biases are at work when decision makers adopt inappropriate short-cuts to rationality, and here scholars' help may be more welcome. Furthermore, good social science methods can produce better decisions. But the flow of ideas is not simply one way. In the areas of coercion and cooperation, scholars and officials have much to teach each other.