Should political scientists be neutral, detached from politics, and objective? How scientific can the study of politics be? These questions are discussed in an excellent opinion piece published yesterday in the Guardian newspaper. The author, David Wearing – a PhD student in Politics – argues against ‘The prevailing view within the discipline… that scholars should set aside moral values and political concerns in favour of detached enquiry into the mechanics of how the political world functions’. He argues – quite correctly in my opinion – that the attempt to borrow from the ‘hard sciences’ and be apolitical and neutral is a con. Better, he says, to openly acknowledge your politics and values and not pretend to be something you’re not. He also defends the place of ideology within academia, saying, ‘Ideology – the place where theory and morality meet – is, at its best, a dynamic rational tool, vital to the task of building knowledge. It is when our personal ideologies are taken for granted, or left unexamined, that they lapse into dogma, and it is therefore important that this is not allowed to happen’. More importantly, intellectuals should be criticising power from an explicitly moral standpoint – Wearing says that ‘The willingness to critique is vital to intellectual activity, and the contribution to wider political discourse of scholarship that challenges power is crucial in a functioning democracy’. Another good point he makes is that when ‘scholarship is described as too political or too polemical, what is really meant is that it is insufficiently consistent with, or too critical of, mainstream priorities and assumptions’. I couldn’t agree more, and think the study of politics should be deliberately critical of existing politics – of political parties, of the institutions that they interact with (such as Parliament, the interest groups), and existing public policy. This critical approach does not emerge out of a desire to criticise or be negative, but from the belief that all institutions – and particularly those that play a role in administering society – should be subject to rigorous evaluation.