FT.com / Comment / Opinion – Political ideas need proper testing [A call for empirical and evidence-based methods of reasoning in politics]
A superb call by Tim Harford (The Undercover Economist) for the introduction of empirical and evidence-based methods of reasoning into politics and political policy determination.
I don’t recall it myself, but like most babies born in 1973, I apparently slept face down in my cot. This was the standard advice, made famous by Benjamin Spock in 1948. We now know that for many unlucky families, this well-meaning advice was fatal. According to research published in 2005, putting babies to sleep on their fronts has led to about 60,000 cot deaths.
The story is a favourite of Sir Iain Chalmers, a campaigner for better standards of evidence in medicine and beyond. Because it is possible to do so much unwitting harm in medicine, many medical interventions are now subjected to a randomised controlled trial. Austin Bradford Hill performed the first properly controlled clinical trial in 1948, although he had predecessors, including James Lind, who used a randomised trial to show that citrus fruit prevented scurvy. There’s even a controlled trial in the Bible (Daniel 1:8). Such trials have proved the effectiveness of countless treatments, and the dangers of countless others.
It is a shame, then, that there is so little appetite from politicians for the same standards of evidence outside medicine. In fact it is more than a shame – it’s a scandal.
What are the chances of this happening? Between zero and none?
Read it all via the link above.