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Hard evidence

We all want hard evidence right?

The term often shrouds more than it enlightens, suggesting that there is a hierarchy of hard, hearty researched-based evidence looking down (and frowning I suspect) on squishy values-based evidence. Objective numbers reign over subjective words in this world where values—those pesky, contestable, and impossible-to-measure things—do their best to get in the way of the scientific truth. 

This way of thinking however, neglects the fact that values play an unavoidable role in policy-making for not only the politician, but the political scientist too. Numbers, like words, require interpretation. Normative assumptions are hidden everywhere: behind GDP, under unemployment rates and over poverty lines—you just need to know where to look. Even New Zealand’s Chief Science Advisor acknowledged this in a recent report, noting how the trendy term “evidence-based policy” is slowly being replaced with “evidence-informed policy” by scholars to reflect this very important nuance. 

That all being said, hard evidence—understood as the research output of scientific methods—certainly has its place in pursuing policy goals more effectively and efficiently, and the more robust (or harder perhaps) the better. In this spirit, Hard Evidence is also the name of a brilliant new initiative that seeks to explore the evidence behind popular news stories, found in a section of the UK offshoot of a successful Australian initiative called The Conversation—a platform for the academic community to share “independent, high-quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism.” 

Because newspaper content influences popular opinion, it’s important that they’re held accountable to get their facts straight. Writers for Hard Evidence do this by peering behind the often sensationalised curtain of newspaper headlines and reports, using knowledge in their area of expertise to give empirical insight on questions like are migrants draining the welfare system, is life worse for young people today and how dangerous is mental illness? As a bonus, The UK conversation also boasts a section called ‘explainers’, which has posts that explain the science behind everything from carbon capture and utilisation to how teenage brains respond to addiction.

We need more of this in New Zealand, for a more informed New Zealand. We at Maxim think this is a worthy goal, and we’ll continue to do our best to get behind the headlines where we can.

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