It's Never That Simple

Dave Snowden, Oct 23, 2015
Commentary by Stephen Downes

This article raises three reasons to question "evidence-based policy." The first two are versions of the same thing, and a common problem. The third, though, is the deeper issue, as what constitutes "evidence" is often rationalization for a policy decision that has already been made. As I often say, "You only find what you're looking for." Our presuppositions shape and inform the 'evidence' we hold for those presuppositions. This is not to dispense with evidence at all (I am, after all, an empiricist) but rather a caution that evidence never comes free and clear; there are always theoretical strings attached. Here they are (quoted):

  1. "Confusing correlation with causation may itself result from physics envy, but it is a real problem in management science."
  2. "The symptoms and cause confusion has always been more dangerous in method development."
  3. "Evidence based policy has become an industry in its own right, more policy based evidence these days."
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