Friday, 18 January 2013

'Evidence-based policy': a very British debate

Yesterday, the writer and academic Jon Agar invited his twitter followers to guess the source of the following quote, calling for evidence-based policy:
"At government by knowledge, with the nature of things the only social force"
Rather surprisingly (for me anyway) it turned out that the writer of this sentence was none other than the nineteenth century French writer Victor Hugo, in his celebrated work 'Les Miserables'. However, whilst this quote shows that there is nothing very new or peculiar about calls for government policy to be rigorously based on evidence; I think it is nonetheless important to recognise that there is a very particular historical and cultural context within which current debates about evidence-based policy in the UK are situated.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The slippery concept of 'climate'

Reproduction of Johannes de Sacrobosco's zonal world map of 1230 
Warren Pearce has an interesting post over at the Making Science Public blog (see here) in which he explores the debate over the attribution of specific extreme weather events to climate change. He argues that when it comes to events like Hurricane Sandy, public and media discourse about links to climate change can quickly depart from the scientific line. While climate scientists prefer to say 'we can't attribute it directly to climate change, but it is consistent with the patterns we expect', some media outlets opt for the Bloomberg approach: 'it's global warming, stupid!'