Evidence-based policy has support in many areas of government and in public affairs more generally. In this paper we outline what evidence-based policy is, then we discuss its strengths and weaknesses. In particular, we argue that it faces a serious challenge to provide a plausible, over-arching account of evidence. We contrast evidence-based policy with evidence-based medicine, especially the role of evidence in assessing the effectiveness of medicines. The evidence required for policy decisions does not easily lend itself to randomized controlled trials (the “gold standard” in evidence-based medicine), nor, for that matter, being listed in a single all-purpose hierarchy.
KeywordsEvidence Evidence-based policy Evidence-based medicine Randomized controlled trials Public policy
An early version of this paper was presented at the 2009 Sydney-Tilburg Philosophy of Science Conference: ‘Evidence, Science, and Public Policy’ held at The University of Sydney, 26–28 March 2009. We’d like to thank the audience at that conference for fruitful discussion and several very helpful suggestions. We are also grateful to the referees of this journal for helpful suggestions.
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