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Science, Politics and Evidence

Polling station
X marks the spot.

I write a few of these posts in advance. So this is being written the day before the General Election in the UK to come out the day after the election. I don’t know who has won at the moment, but if predictions are right it’s possible no one will know who’s won for a week or so after the result. We’re politically plural in the AoB Blog office so there’ll be a mix of emotions. For some of us it’ll be a day of exasperation or frustration, while the people who voted for the losers will deal with it in their own way.

But it’s not a foregone conclusion that politicians have to be disappointing.

Back in March last year a group of scientists decided that politicians could make better decisions if they had access to independent information. Instead of just setting up a unit, they chose to speak to politicians first to find out what would be most useful to them. They also wanted to know the best way an Evidence Information Service could deliver that information.

To get that information, they went to the public to ask for help. The idea was that each constituency would have its own champion who would interview an MP, and local representative for the devolved governments. I took part and spoke to my local MP and AM (Assembly Member) with a structured set of interview questions. The aim was to write a paper based on those responses. You can see the draft online.

Impressively, they’ve also released their raw data. Their conclusion is that the politicians who met with interviewers showed their human side in responding to questions. I don’t feel I can say exactly what my MP and AM said without breaching confidentiality, but I was impressed with both of them. It seems around the UK, politicians of all parties would like access to independent scientific information.

For most of the results announced today the winner will have been voted in by an overwhelming minority. Regardless of who wins, it would be helpful for the representatives to have somewhere they can get scientific information. Chris Chambers et al. might have a way to aid policymakers, even if the election results mean they’re not the ones I want.

You can read more about the proposed Evidence Information Service at the Guardian.

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