Ideology, Interests, and Information

The Basis of Policy Positions
  • Carol H. Weiss
Part of the The Hastings Center Series in Ethics book series (HCSE)


What used to be called applied social research and is now commonly called policy research is a large, multiform, and complex enterprise. In essence, it is the application of social science concepts and methods to the study of issues on the practical agenda, these days commonly on the agenda of government decision makers. Over the years, it has been the object of grandiose hopes and doleful disappointments.


Policy Research Policy Actor Social Science Research Policy Position Policy Proposal 


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  1. Cf. Nathan Caplan, Andrea Morrison, and Russell J. Stambaugh, The Use of Social Science Knowledge in Policy Decisions at the National Level (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, 1975); Carol H. Weiss, ed., Using Social Research in Public Policy Making (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington-Heath, 1977); Mark R. Berg et al, Factors Affecting Utilization of Technology Assessment Studies in Policy-Making (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, 1978); Marvin L. Alkin, Richard Daillak, and Peter White, Using Evaluations: Does Evaluation Make A Difference (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications, Inc., 1979); Henry J. Aaron, Politics and the Professors: The Great Society in Perspective (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1978); and Carol H. Weiss with Michael J. Bu-cavalas, Social Science Research and Decision-Making (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Elisabeth T. Crawford and Albert D. Biderman, eds., Social Scientists and International Affairs (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1969); Morris Janowitz, Political Conflict: Essays in Political Sociology (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1970); and Carol H. Weiss, “Research for Policy’s Sake: The Enlightenment Function of Social Science Research,” Policy Analysis,3 (1977), 53145.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Carol H. Weiss, “Knowledge Creep and Decision Accretion,” Knowledge: Creation, Diffusion, Utilization, 1 (1980), 381–404.Google Scholar
  4. Graham T. Allison, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1971); Morton Halperin, Bureaucratic Politics and Foreign Policy (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1974); Harold L. Wilensky, Organizational Intelligence: Knowledge and Policy in Government and Industry (New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1967); Herbert A. Simon, Administrative Behavior (3rd ed.; New York: The Free Press, 1976); I. M. Destler, Presidents, Bureaucrats, and Foreign Policy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1972); Alexander L. George et al,“Towards a More Soundly Based Foreign Policy: Making Better Use of Information,” in Commission on the Organization of the Government for the Conduct of Foreign Policy,II (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975), app. D; and Charles E. Lindblom, The Policy-Making Process (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Robert E. Lane, Political Man ( New York: The Free Press, 1962 ), pp. 173–174.Google Scholar
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    Robert E. Lane, Political Ideology: Why the Common Man Believes What He Does (New York: The Free Press, 1962), P. 15.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Fritz Machlup, Knowledge and Knowledge Production, in Knowledge: Its Creation, Distribution, and Economic Significance, I ( Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980 ).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Martin Rein has suggested that all research knowledge is permeated with implicit policy prescriptions and that the policy prescription inevitably precedes and shapes the research [“Methodology for the Study of the Interplay between Social Science and Social Policy, International Social Science Journal,32 (1980), pp. 361–8]. It is a provocative insight, with that flavor of the paradoxical that charms intellectuals. But I suspect that it applies to only a minority of well-developed policy issues. In most cases that I know about, researchers and government officials who have attempted to develop policy implications from a study or set of studies (i.e., from the mix of theories, concepts, and data that is social science research) have argued long and hard about the logical policy conclusion, with divergences that spanned an extreme spectrum. In fact, Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Jeffrey G. Reitz have written vividly about the ”gap“ between research data and recommendations and the non-research-based ”leap“ that is required to develop policy proposals from social sience research. [Cf. An Introduction to Applied Sociology (New York: Elsevier Publishing Co., Inc., 1975).]Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Robert Axelrod, ed., Structure of Decision: The Cognitive Maps of Political Elites ( Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976 ).Google Scholar
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    Charles L. Schultze, The Politics and Economics of Public Spending ( Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1968 ).Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    n the former, see Halperin, Bureaucratic Politics; on the latter, see David Mayhew, Congress: The Electoral Connection ( New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1974 ).Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    National Academy of Sciences, Making Policies for Children: A Study of the Federal Process ( Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1982 ).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Hastings Center 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carol H. Weiss
    • 1
  1. 1.Harvard Graduate School of EducationCambridgeUSA

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