Reading the NYT piece in particular makes me (as a political communication researcher) wonder: How valuable are many of our field's studies that are guided not by the size and relevance of the questions, but rather by these questions' being "researchable" with conventional empirical methods and "analyzable" with conventional data analysis techniques?
I personally feel that purely theoretical work (that which has no direct practical application - as in "solving an interesting intellectual puzzle") is still valuable: As we are trying to understand the human nature, we simply cannot foresee if/how the insights we develop today can be relevant for the future discoveries or practical applications. I doubt that mathematics theorists of several hundred years ago envisioned how their discoveries back then could be instrumental to today's sophisticated computations relied on by biotech geneticists, computer scientists, physicists, engineers, NSA code brakers, etc. Perhaps those mathematics theorists tried to understand some puzzling numerical phenomena of their day, and incrementally got to where there are now.
But, still it appears that, generally, trying to put publications on one's CV, wrapping up research projects quickly, and following conventions is more prized in political communication research field than trying to answer "big" questions... And that seems to reduce our field's relevance and advancement. What do you, fellow researchers, think? Do we and political science have a problem?