Politics, Science and Evidence Based Policy

Politicians must not elevate mere opinion over science: Over the Christmas period an article by Brian Cox and Robin Ince in the New Statesman sparked an interesting and refreshing discussion about the nature of science and its relation to politics.  The Cox – Ince article summarises the issues in layman’s terms and made the conclusions seem self evident. I found it impossible to disagree with any of their points.

Jack Stilgoe and Jon Butterworth both wrote critiques of the article which are well worth reading as are some of the accompanying comments.  (Good to see a mainly intelligent, thoughtful on line debate.)  However despite carefully studying these articles and responses I could not avoid the conclusion that the authors either misinterpreted what Cox- Ince were saying or were just nitpicking around the periphery of the issues.  Both well worth reading though.

Anther excellent article was Kenneth Perrott’s defence of  Cox – Ince.

Evidence-Based Policy: Immediately after Christmas a Twitter discussion about evidence based policy was initiated by a BBC R4 programme (Ben Goldacre’s Bad Evidence) in which Medic and author Ben Goldacre explores the idea of Evidence-Based Policy and asks if it can ever become a reality in the UK.  This is essential listening for all politicians and anyone interested in the issues.  I have added some useful additional links on evidence based policy at the end of this post.

Two cultures: This is another radio programme broadcast early in the new year that is worth listening to:  BBC R4 “The Two Cultures”.  Melvyn Bragg considers the 150-year history of the Two Cultures debate. In 1959 the novelist C.P. Snow delivered a lecture in Cambridge suggesting that intellectual life had become divided into two separate cultures: the arts and the humanities. This is still a problem today.  Includes an interview with Paul Nurse.

Cox – Ince articles and critiques:
Brian Cox and Robin Ince: Politicians must not elevate mere opinion over science (New Statesman 18th Dec 2012)
Jack Stilgoe: Science and politics need counselling, not a separation  (Friday 21 December 2012)
Jon Butterworth: Science is not political, except when it is (Wednesday 26 December 2012)
Historians and sociologists lecture scientists – about science (Ken Perrott, 27th Dec 2012)


The BBC R4 programme on Evidence Based Policy:
BBC R4 programme (Ben Goldacre’s Bad Evidence)

Further links on Evidence Based Policy:
Test, Learn, Adapt: Developing Public Policy with Randomised Controlled Trials (Cabinet office 14/6/2012)
LSE Blog on evidence based policy by Jeremy Hardie and Nancy Cartwrigh(19th Oct 2012)
National Institute of Economic and Social Research(www.niesr.ac.uk)
Innovations for Poverty Action and Dean Karlan (www.poverty-action.org)
Medical Research Council (www.mrc.ac.uk)
The Education Endowment Foundation(educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk)

BBC R4 Radio programme “The Two Cultures”:
BBC R4 “The Two Cultures”

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