The Politics of Evidence-Based Policymaking

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.


  • Paul Cairney is professor of politics and public policy at the University of Stirling in Scotland.
  • Brett Davidson (moderator) is director of the Media and Narratives Division of the Open Society Public Health Program.
Date: October 26, 2016
Time: 10:50 a.m.