Evidence-Based Policy vs. Policy-Based Evidence Seen as Shared Science Challenge in U.K.

If misery indeed loves company, U.S.-based climate scientists and journalists may take some modicum of comfort from the similar challenges facing their British counterparts.

Britain’s top science advisor, Sir John Beddington, at a recent meeting of the World Conference of Science Journalists highlighted what one scribe called “a growing concern among scientists and others (including experienced civil servants) that praise-worthy efforts to promote evidence-based policy are sometimes undermined by politicians seeking ‘policy-based evidence’ – research that can be used to justify politically-motivated action.”

The quote comes from David Dickson in an editorial, “The curse of policy-based evidence” posted at scidev.net .

Dickson wrote that “the value of evidence-based science is clear,” and he pointed to “robust scientific findings” linking human activities to climate change as pointing “convincingly to the need for immediate action.” Bad science, he continued, leads to bad decisions. He urged better science communications “whether the information is direct scientific evidence, or comes indirectly through the media.” And he urged journalists and other communicators to “be alert to the reverse situation, where politicians selectively refer to, and may even sponsor, research designed to endorse pre-determined action.”

He wrote that he hopes the media will be more skeptical of politicians using unsound science to justify their actions, but he said that responsibility lies also with the science community, which he wrote should complain “both privately and publicly” when confronting inappropriate references to scientific findings. Journalists often may need the help of the science community in ferreting-out these instances, he wrote, so that resulting public awareness can lead to “corrective action.”

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