How is agreement reached on what counts as sufficient evidence to inform particular policy decisions?

This blog post was written by James Lush, the Biochemical Society’s Policy Officer

The title of this post is one of the 40 questions that form the bulk of a new article in PLoS ONE (Open Access), entitled ‘A Collaboratively-Derived Science-Policy Research Agenda’ (March 2012, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031824).

The article ‘shortlisted’ the most important questions in science policy and was contributed to by our former Head of Policy, Beck Smith. The questions were decided by a range of participants (who are named authors of the paper) from across government, NGOs and learned societies, academia and industry.

The paper says that “we need to ask not just how science can best inform policy, but also how policy and political processes affect what counts as authoritative evidence in the first place”. This is key to unlocking discussions on the often controversial and difficult relationship between science and policy, and evidence-based policy. The paper offers a number of inquiry strands to scrutinise the relationship.

Amongst the other questions are:

  • How do scientists and policy makers recognise and convey the limitations of scientific advice?
  • Under what conditions does scientific evidence legitimise political decisions?
  • Which commissioning and operational arrangements lead to the most effective use of science in policy-making?
  • How do policy makers understand and respond to scientific uncertainties and expert disagreements?
  • What governance processes and enabling conditions are needed to ensure that policymaking is scientifically credible, while addressing a perceived societal preference for policy processes that are more democratic than technocratic?
  • What impact has research on the relationship between science and policy actually had on science policy?

As a PLoS ONE article, it is open for comments and annotation.

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