20 Tips to help policymakers interpret scientific claims

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  • Published: Nov 20, 2013
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Ion Chromatography / Laboratory Informatics / Proteomics & Genomics / Detectors / Electrophoresis / Sample Preparation / HPLC / Gas Chromatography / Base Peak / Proteomics / X-ray Spectrometry / NMR Knowledge Base / Raman / Chemometrics & Informatics / Infrared Spectroscopy / MRI Spectroscopy / Atomic / UV/Vis Spectroscopy
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A team of scientists has proposed a set of 20 concepts that should help policymakers from a non-scientific background to interpret scientific claims. It is impractical to teach science to politicians but they can be given a better understanding of the nature of science and the types of questions that they should be putting to experts and advisers.

Writing in Nature, William Sutherland and David Spiegelhalter from the University of Cambridge, UK, and Mark Burgman from the University of Melbourne, Australia, explained that the key should be to "improve policymakers' understanding of the imperfect nature of science."

To this end, they describe concepts such as bias, significance and the importance of controls. Human factors are also important. Scientists have a vested interest in promoting their own work and data can be dredged or cherry picked to support a particular point of view.

The authors suggest that "politicians with a healthy scepticism of scientific advocates might simply prefer to arm themselves with this critical set of knowledge," but accept its limitations. "We are not so naive as to believe that improved policy decisions will automatically follow," they add. Rather, they think that their "simple list of ideas could help decision-makers to parse how evidence can contribute to a decision, and potentially to avoid undue influence by those with vested interests. The harder part — the social acceptability of different policies — remains in the hands of politicians and the broader political process."

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