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Yes, but what about the authority of policy analysts? A commentary and discussion of Perl et al., ‘Policy-making and truthiness: Can existing models cope with politicized evidence and willful ignorance in a post-fact world?’

  • Adam FfordeEmail author
Discussion and Commentary

Abstract

The paper discusses issues raised in Perl et al. (Policy Sci, 2018.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11077-018-9334-4), specifically the tensions between policy sciences’ search for ways reliably to link results to inputs and activities and the evidence they present for their conclusions that the three main approaches to analysis of policy processes do not focus upon this aspect of policy-making and are so well placed to cope with the ‘post-fact’ political era. The paper disagrees, arguing that this argument rather suggests that a main prop of modern political legitimacy—that policy can be reasonable and rational, and so not necessarily partisan—is under serious challenge, threatening a retreat to a politics of force and manipulation. The paper argues that this is best understood by appreciating that any empirical foundations of policy logics are not and never have been derived through a search for predictive power, no matter what is believed and taught, and told to those who pay for policy work, but are rather evidentially founded metaphors: theories. Correspondingly, in the norms of mainstream policy science, we cannot find any attempt to establish for a given empirical field whether there is or not adequate regularity to support assertions of (albeit with uncertainty) known outcomes. Given this, recent major failures of policy science’s expectations to bear fruit, despite assertions that evidentially based policy is reliably predictive, suggest that (amplified by academic interest in subjective aspects of knowledge construction) populist and popular shifts to reckless treatment of ‘facts’ appear as a not unreasonable reaction to ‘bad situations that policy-makers said would not happen’. The apparent success, reported by Perl et al. of the three main approaches to analysis of policy processes, then appear as somewhat irrelevant to those who pay for policy advice, if policy science is seen, not as a predictive science, but as one amongst many sources of political authority and so political order. The wise response by policy workers is then to reduce the ‘over-sell’ so as to restore their authority, in part by arguing that predictive power may be impossible (or would spend too much of the limited budget), so the mode of engagement should be non-instrumental action, and/or place far greater emphasis upon ensuring that those who are the objects of policy work are given adequate voice (lest they vote for Trump or Brexit). In that these options would imply less inconsistency, it would increase the authority of policy analysts, ceteris paribus.

Keywords

Policy advice Predictive ignorance Methodology Scientific method Non-instrumental action 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The author thanks Bob ‘RFI’ Smith for sustained support and discussion about the issues examined in this paper; mistakes remain entirely the author’s.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Victoria Institute for Strategic Economic StudiesVictoria UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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