The Curious Bipartisan Push for Evidence-Based Policymaking

From: The Regulatory Review

Despite its popularity, “evidence-based” policymaking is often less rational than it sounds.


We typically think of evidence-based policymaking as an instruction to agencies to make a particular decision on the basis of the best available evidence. But many provisions are much more general. For example, the much ballyhooed evidence provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act are not addressed to the U.S. Department of Education at all. Instead, the provisions give state grantees tremendous leeway in addressing low-performing schools; these provisions just say that when states decide how they want to intervene, they should use some sort of evidence-based practices. Such an instruction barely constrains government actors from selecting the policy interventions they prefer.


This is not a call to reject evidence. By all means, we should seek to pursue evidence-based policymaking across ideological divisions. Let us fund research and ask agencies and grantees to make decisions based on evidence. Let us revise our policies when new evidence emerges to correct previous misconceptions. But let us also be skeptical about claims for what evidence-based policymaking will achieve. It will not—and should not—let us avoid difficult conversations and decisions based on value judgments.

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