Policy-based evidence making

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"Policy-based evidence making" is a pejorative term which refers to the commissioning of research in order to support a policy which has already been decided upon. It is the converse of evidence-based policy making.[1]

As the name suggests, policy-based evidence making means working back from a predefined policy to produce underpinning evidence. Working from a conclusion to provide only supporting evidence is an approach which contradicts most interpretations of the scientific method; however, it should be distinguished from research into the effects of a policy where such research may provide either supporting or opposing evidence.

In The politics of evidence : from evidence-based policy to the good governance of evidence, Justin Parkhurst quotes the following example from Professor Anne Glover, then Chief Scientific Officer to the European Commission:[2]

Let's imagine a Commissioner over the weekend thinks, "Let's ban the use of credit cards in the EU because credit cards lead to personal debt". So that commissioner will come in on Monday morning and say to his or her Director General, "Find me the evidence that demonstrates that this is the case"

Similar reasoning has been advanced in respect of public policy on alcohol[3] and narcotics.[4]

In July 2006, Rebecca Boden and Debbie Epstein published a paper in which they wrote:[5]

This need [for evidence] has been reified in the UK and elsewhere, as routines of "evidence-based policy"-making have been hardwired into the business of Government. Intuitively, basing policies that affect people's lives and the economy on rigorous academic research sounds rational and desirable. However, such approaches are fundamentally flawed by virtue of the fact that Government, in its broadest sense, seeks to capture and control the knowledge producing processes to the point where this type of "research" might best be described as "policy-based evidence".

The term "policy-based evidence making" was later referred to in a report of the United Kingdom House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology into Scientific Advice, Risk and Evidence Based Policy Making issued in October 2006. The committee stated:[6]

[Ministers] should certainly not seek selectively to pick pieces of evidence which support an already agreed policy, or even commission research in order to produce a justification for policy: so-called "policy-based evidence making" (see paragraphs 95–6). Where there is an absence of evidence, or even when the Government is knowingly contradicting the evidence—maybe for very good reason—this should be openly acknowledged. [emphasis in original]

The term has also been applied outside the strictly scientific arena, for example in a position paper for the Arts and Humanities Research Council.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Strassheim, Holger; Kettunen, Pekka (2014-05-01). "When does evidence-based policy turn into policy-based evidence? Configurations, contexts and mechanisms". Evidence & Policy: A Journal of Research, Debate and Practice. 10 (2): 259–277. doi:10.1332/174426514X13990433991320.
  2. ^ Parkhurst, Justin O. (4 October 2016). The politics of evidence : from evidence-based policy to the good governance of evidence. London. ISBN 978-1-317-38086-3. OCLC 963180218.
  3. ^ Marmot, Michael G (2004-04-17). "Evidence based policy or policy based evidence?". BMJ: British Medical Journal. 328 (7445): 906–907. doi:10.1136/bmj.328.7445.906. ISSN 0959-8138. PMC 390150. PMID 15087324.
  4. ^ Hughes, Caitlin E. (2007-01-01). "Evidence-based policy or policy-based evidence? The role of evidence in the development and implementation of the Illicit Drug Diversion Initiative". Drug and Alcohol Review. 26 (4): 363–368. doi:10.1080/09595230701373859. ISSN 0959-5236. PMID 17564871.
  5. ^ Boden, Rebecca; Epstein, Debbie (2006). "Managing the research imagination? Globalisation and research in higher education". Globalisation, Societies and Education. 4 (2): 223–236. doi:10.1080/14767720600752619. S2CID 144077070.
  6. ^ House of Commons Science and Technology Committee: Scientific Advice, Risk and Evidence Based Policy Making, paragraph 89
  7. ^ Position paper for AHRC by Oliver Bennett Archived September 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine