2000: Toxic Terror and 2004: Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences
For day 37, Clay Morgan, Senior Acquisitions Editor, Environmental Studies, Political Science, Bioethics, reflects on both Toxic Terror: Assessing Terrorist Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons edited by Jonathan B. Tucker and Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences by Alexander L. George and Andrew Bennett:
Toxic Terror was one of the first books to explore whether terrorists would be able to launch attacks with chemical or biological weapons. Written before the September 2011 terrorist attacks raised fears that terrorists would use weapons of mass destruction, Toxic Terror features a set of detailed case studies of terrorist groups that have attempted to develop or use biological or chemical weapons. Jonathan Tucker (1964-2011) assembled a group of researchers who examined the track record of terrorists such as the Weather Underground, Germany’s Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo, and the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. Toxic Terror found that several of the cases of terrorist interest in biological or chemical weapons actually were apocryphal. The other cases were remarkably diverse. Toxic Terror concluded that terrorist attempts to use biological or chemical weapons will be infrequent but nonetheless pose a real danger. The book offers a profile of the type of group most likely to seek such weapons—a profile that may enable intelligence agencies to prevent terrorist attacks involving biological or chemical weapons.
For decades, Alexander George (1920-2006) was a major figure in discussions of qualitative research methods. Graduate students in political science and other social sciences pored over his articles and unpublished papers on how to use case studies to build test theories. Although Alexander George made major contributions to the study of nuclear deterrence, presidential leadership, U.S.-Soviet relations, and crisis management, many observers believed that his most important legacy is his work on qualitative research and case studies. Written with his former student, Andrew Bennett, Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences brings together Professor George’s years of work on case-study research. It explains how researchers should conduct within-case analysis, use process tracing to understand causal explanations, and develop typological theories. Since its publication in 2005, the book has become a seminal text on how to use case studies to build theories that will be useful to policymakers. It has reaffirmed the importance of qualitative research and shown how rigorous use of case studies can complement the use of statistics and formal models.