Building Better Policies: Making the Most of What the Sciences Teach
March 10, 2016
How can we use knowledge from the social sciences to build more effective social policies? The very vocal evidence-based policy movement has for over a decade been vetting studies and disseminating the results to ensure policy makers have access to study results of the highest quality. But there is still little understanding of how to use this evidence to predict policy outcomes. The usual advice is: restrict yourself to policies that work -- which means policies that have been shown to work somewhere or another -- but note that you may need to make adjustments because 'of course' context matters.
This talk will show just how seriously context matters, and why, illustrating with several international development interventions (like male circumcision to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDs and bed nets to prevent malaria and ease poverty). The lesson is: you can't get general truths by generalizing and you can hardly ever carry 'what works' from one setting to another. Instead you should think in terms of social technology: you must build your policy for your situation, using a tangle of knowledge of theory and past attempts, just like a technologist who is trying to build a new toaster from an array of parts at hand.
Nancy Cartwright is one of the foremost philosophers of science in the world, and is the distinguished author and/or editor of over a dozen volumes including How the Laws of Physics Lie (Oxford University Press), Nature's Capacities and their Measurement (Oxford University Press), and The Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science (Cambridge University Press). She is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Durham and University of California, San Diego, and is also a Fellow of the British Academy, a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the German Academy of Sciences (Leopoldina), and a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.