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Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Forschung

Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Forschung

Evidence is good. But more evidence is not always better

Veröffentlicht am 13. Februar 2024

((German version below))

Evidence is good. More evidence is better. This seems self-evident and yet it could be wrong or at least too simple. This is how Liam Mannix summarizes a result of the ZiF research group "The Epistemology of Evidence-Based Policy: How Philosophy Can Facilitate the Science-Policy Interface" in his newsletter Examine. From February to June 2023, the interdisciplinary group with fellows from philosophy, law, ecosystem research, epidemiology and biology at ZiF researched how politicians deal with scientific findings - and why it is sometimes so difficult for science to get its evidence heard. The group's final conference took place at the ZiF in December.

"If two kinds of evidence tend to point in opposite directions and two people weigh them differently, their disagreement will tend to become more entrenched as the evidence becomes more solid," Mannix quotes Remco Heesen, a philosopher of science at the London School of Economics and one of the conveners of the research group. According to the researcher, providing more evidence in this constellation does not lead to an agreement being reached more quickly, it only leads to the positions of the parties involved becoming even more entrenched. The negotiation processes between science and politics are therefore often less about the evidence and more about how evidence is evaluated. Once a politician has e.g. decided to value the preservation of jobs more highly than the preservation of a rare animal or plant species that is threatened by the construction of a factory, additional evidence of the harmfulness of the construction measure from the scientific side is not necessarily helpful in reaching an agreement. It is sometimes more important to first agree on the evaluation of the evidence than to pile up more and more of it. According to the ZiF research group, science can help above all by proposing concrete solutions.

Following their time at the ZiF, the group is now working on a white paper on scientific policy advice.