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. The name has been suggested as the converse of evidence-based policy making.

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

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".[1]

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:

[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][2]

The term has also been applied outside the strictly scientific arena, for example in a position paper for the Arts and Humanities Research Council.[3]

See also[edit]

  • Inverse benefit law – The ratio of benefits to harms among patients taking new drugs tends to vary inversely with how extensively a drug is marketed
  • Politicization of science – The manipulation of science for political gain
  • Woozle effect – Frequent citation of previous publications that lack evidence misleads individuals, groups, and the public into thinking or believing there is evidence
  • Goodhart's law – "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."
  • Campbell's law


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ House of Commons Science and Technology Committee: Scientific Advice, Risk and Evidence Based Policy Making, paragraph 89
  3. ^ Position paper for AHRC by Oliver Bennett Archived September 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine