At The Incidental Economist, I write about how the role of scientific evidence in public policy making is often misunderstood and misrepresented. That essay in turn stems from a BMJ article (partly gated) co-authored with Dr. Peter Piot, the founding Director of the UN Office on AIDS, in which we discuss how science is essential to good policy making, but can’t make critical decisions about priorities and morals for us.
It is thus facile to say that public policy makers should just “do what the science says”. Science doesn’t tell us to do anything. As Mark Kleiman once quipped, if your data “suggest” things to do, you should seek psychiatric help. Science is there to give us information, and the rest of how we run society is down to voting, values and political debate, which is at it should be in a democracy.
UPDATE: For a great take on these issues in drug policy, see this post by Alejandro Hope.