Why Politics needs Science

What if those in politics could get past what's right and what's left to what's right and what's wrong? That's naive, of course, but it doesn't mean that science couldn't improve the way we decide those big policy questions

Politics is often described as a contest of ideas, and so it is. But because politicians only get to implement their ideas if they can win the support of the majority, simple and populist ideas often float to the top of any policy debate.

Politicians learn quickly that if you can't explain a policy to the infamous "man on the Clapham omnibus" - a reasonable, but non-specialist person - you're knackered before you even begin.

Here in New Zealand, what's loosely called "ideology" has been a powerful force in politics, often appealing to voters' guts rather than their minds, and sold in spurious marketing speak, such "three strikes" or "Iwi/Kiwi".

While it goes way back, it was especially prevalent under the fourth Labour government and the following first-term of the Bolger government as they embarked zealously on a free-market experiment with the TINA ("there is no alternative") argument.

But what if there was another way? What if we could get behind the rhetoric and ideology?

John Key has often said he cares about results, as recently as this week dismissing as foolish, "a strict adherence to ideology rather than what works".

Which makes a recent paper by Key's Science Adviser Sir Peter Gluckman such interesting reading.

With a title like "Towards better use of evidence in policy formation" it sounds like something only a policy wonk would care about. Perhaps. But it's got great implications for government policies that hit us all where we live.


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