Philosophers can bridge the gap between science and policy

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Public policy should be based on scientific evidence - but scientists often lament the gap between science and policy, while policy-makers feel that scientists don’t deliver the evidence that is needed. Philosophers can fix that.

Fifteen researchers from across the globe, co-lead by Dr Anne Schwenkenbecher from Murdoch University's School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences have shown that philosophical expertise can help close the gap between research and policy. 

In their latest publication in Nature Human Behaviour, the group describes how philosophers can benefit public policy development, especially when dealing with complex problems, like those faced during the COVID pandemic. 

In the research ‘The Epistemology of Evidence-Based Policy: How Philosophy can facilitate the Science-Policy interface’, the group showed that good evidence-based policy needs to engage with philosophical questions.  

“When one thinks of public policy one doesn’t usually think of the need for philosophical expertise,” Dr Schwenkenbecher said. 

“But philosophers can help tackle the complexity of problems where there are many interconnected components and a lack of any single optimal solution.  

“We have shown that some of the problems in translating scientific evidence into public policy are philosophical in nature: how much evidence do we need? What evidence do we need and what does that evidence really show? What obligations do policy-makers have to seek and obtain evidence? 

“Philosophical expertise can help clarify decision making and integrate philosophical – in particular ethical and epistemological – considerations into policy-making when there are challenges with experts coming together from different disciplines, with varying methodologies and unique points of view, like we saw happening in our own country during COVID, as experts sought to find the best policies and solutions as new problems arose.”  

Philosophical expertise was also found to help with “transparency of reasoning” laying open the process, evidence-base, decisions and reasons that lead to the adoption of a particular piece of public policy. 

Read more in Nature Human Behaviour.

Find out more about how you can help solve problems, seek truth and create change as part of Murdoch's School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

Posted on:

15 May 2024

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