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Discussion > What counts as good evidence for policy? IoP event. after-action report.

Well, I went. This is going to be a personal account because I don't feel able to be fair to the event or the attendees. I felt like Dawkins in a cathedral service. Surrounded by true believers and wanting to shout out 'you're wrong'. (Well, Dawkins probably would, but he is not polite.) . At least three other denizens of BH were there, perhaps they will chime in with their own impressions.

What I came away with was an impression formed in scorn and cynicism. I used to be quite cynical when I was young but now I am old I have put that behind me. I mean the 'quite'. The attendees at this shindig seemed to be largely composed of students and post-grads in the field of science and policy, along with some of their professors. They believe in all this stuff. They believe that there are politicians just waiting, thirsting for the kind of scientific evidence which would chart them a clear map of what policy to implement. The professors probably know it ain't true, but they have a fiefdom to protect in the imaginary (and to me hitherto unknown) field. They aren't scientists, they are a kind of meta-scientist. They seemed to me to be the essence of ark ship B. Of the speakers, Pielke was muted but told a tale of evidence being run over by policy without even a dab in the brakes. Georgina Mace was sensible but possibly a little despairing in her field of endangered species. Horton, well, let's come back to him later.
The last chap had some useful ideas on pragmatic policy formulation but no instances of success yet.

I think they are all deceiving themselves. They are in a nice self-congratulatory bunch, allowed to sit at the top table, having access to ministers, talking their political class jargon. They really aren't making much difference. Politicians and civil servants make policy based on what they want, and they will always be willing to sift evidence and swap scientists until they get the support they are looking for. I am not the first to observe this and of course it is not unknown to the speakers or the audience.

Some of the audience questions were useful and penetrating. There will be a recording on the net at some point, apparently there was a twitter feed too.

Horton is the editor of the Lancet. When asked about archiving code and data, he weaselled out of what is his responsibility as editor of a very influential journal to insist on archiving. Much at odds with his scorn for peer review, he abdicates responsibility for raising standards on the grounds that some authors wouldn't want to free their data. He ought not to publish them. He could make a difference, and he doesn't. He is however only too keen to tax fizzy drinks, junk food and alcohol for the public's own good. He even said this was to enhance the freedom of the people. 'War is peace' muttered Ben Pile. 'Arbeit macht Frei', muttered Rhoda. I formed the impression that he is an ******** ******. My brief notes merely say 'That Horton is a piece of work.'

There. I have concentrated on what was wrong, but there was plenty that was right too. Must have been. I just couldn't see it for the scorn.

Feb 5, 2013 at 3:53 PM | Registered Commenterrhoda

Thanks, Rhoda, excellent summary. Good to talk with you and others in the pub after!

Here is a link to the Twitter 'Storify' by Jon Tennant.

Feb 7, 2013 at 7:44 AM | Registered CommenterRuth Dixon

Many thanks for the write up Rhoda and a great Dawkins analogy. From a mainly lurker, your contributions here generally are outstanding and much appreciated.

Retired housewife eh? From reading numerous blogs and forums I find that many wise heads with great experience have opted out of mainstream career life. The Motley Fool financial boards are full of them, living off their investment nous and dividends, and the Climate sceptic community seems so too. Their intelligence and previous success means that they have been able to choose a quieter life away from the back-stabbing corporate world. It's the sensible option and great for them but what for society as a whole?

What's left behind in the upper echelons is a preponderance of the ambitious, the brown-nosers, the mediocre (and worse), the smug, the deluded, the political, the downright nasty. The clown CEO of the NHS and the 6th form dweeb Ed Miliband topically spring to mind. No discernible talent yet running the show.

Anyhow well done for not shouting out, you're a better person than me!

Feb 7, 2013 at 11:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterSimonW

Rhoda I attended the same meeting, and asked the 'Dave Spart' question of Horton. I am trying to write up the meeting. I know it's a bit late in the day, but would you be prepared to comment on my draft? If so, could be send me your email address? Mine's Thanks

Mar 1, 2013 at 12:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterMark P

Mark, email sent, don't forget to look in junkmail if you haven't had it.

Mar 1, 2013 at 1:11 PM | Registered Commenterrhoda