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The Politics of Evidence-Based Policymaking

  • When
  • October 26, 2016
    6:50 a.m. (EDT)
  • Where
  • Open Society Foundations–New York
    224 West 57th Street
    New York, NY 10019
    United States of America
  • Speakers
  • Brett Davidson and Paul Cairney
  • Programs
  • Public Health Program

The Dangerous Gap Between Scientific Evidence and Policymaking Decisions


Policymakers do not have the ability to consider all evidence relevant to policy problems. Instead, they employ two kinds of shortcuts: rational, by pursuing clear goals and prioritizing certain kinds and sources of information, and irrational, by drawing on emotions, gut feelings, deeply held beliefs, and habits to make decisions quickly.

In his book, The Politics of Evidence-Based Policymaking, Paul Cairney identifies practical consequences for actors trying to maximize the uptake of scientific evidence within government. His conclusion has profound implications for the role of science and scientific experts in policymaking. Cairney believes scientists have a stark choice: to produce information and accept it will have a limited impact—but maintain for scientists an often useful image of objectivity—or go beyond their comfort zone and expertise to increase impact at the expense of objectivity.


  • Brett Davidson


    Brett Davidson is director of the Media and Narratives Division of the Open Society Public Health Program.

  • Paul Cairney


    Paul Cairney is professor of politics and public policy at the University of Stirling in Scotland.

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