Evidence based policy: what are we really talking about?


Anyone interested in science and the general election will probably have seen Martin Robbins’ litmus test series for The Guardian, in which the respective political parties were asked a series of specific questions on science policy.

A running theme is that of evidence-based policy. Though Ben Goldacre has been a vociferous supporter of evidence-based health policy for a number of years, it’s become a deeply important issue in the wider scientific blog-o-circle in the run up to this election.

But what does evidence-based actually mean?

Essentially, it means basing policy on the best available information and advice. Hopefully it’s provided independently, handled with scientific rigour, and understood by those making decisions on our behalf.

Politicians use evidence, or statements in some way related to fact, to justify policy. The data can be sliced up any number of ways to support a policy whenever it’s politically convenient. So it’s important that raw, independent evidence is in the public domain. If publication of raw data can be demanded of scientists, it should certainly be demanded of government.

The handling of evidence has huge consequences, whether being used to determine drugs policy, the response to climate change, or to justify war.

But what were asking for, dressed up in nerdy terminology, is that politicians use the best available information, without bias, manipulation or coercion, and are open about the whole process and the sources of the data.

It’s just another way of asking for honesty. Please?

This article was written for the Lay Science website

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One Comment on “Evidence based policy: what are we really talking about?”

  1. Malize Says:

    Well, Bible says that human beings differ from animals in their free will, that can also be translated in picking their side when choosing a point of view over an event. I always saw this like those baby toys that are boxes with a lid cut in shapes such as triangles, stars or circles, so only the right piece fits, so that’s what people makes with reality: they turn the facts into circles or triangles, no matter the original shape: if it’s not in their lit, it doesn’t fit.

    Pure facts are pure facts, but they can be understood in lots of ways, and politics are just like this concept but taken to the extrem. To begin with, before asking politicians (and people in general) to be evidence-based should start in make them create lots of new shapes in their lids in the first place.

    Soft clay lids would be perfect.

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