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Wednesday, August 01, 2018

How BBC Balance and Bad Think Tanks Discourage Evidence Based Policy

Simon Wren-Lewis:

How BBC balance and bad think tanks discourage evidence based policy:
The Knowledge Transmission Mechanism (KTM) is how knowledge produced by academics and other researchers is translated into public policy. Evidence based policy is the result of this mechanism working. The media is, in theory, an important conduit for the KTM...
The rigid application of political balance in the broadcast media is in danger of negating the KTM, and therefore evidence based policy. The moment an issue (call it issue X) is deemed ‘political’ by the media, balance dictates that any view expressed on issue X is an opinion rather than knowledge. As a result, when the media want to talk to non-politicians (‘experts’) about issue X, the imperative of balance remains.
Now suppose that in the knowledge world there is in fact a consensus on issue X. That would be a problem for balance broadcasting, because it would be difficult to get an expert to argue against the consensus. The BBC overcame this problem valiantly during Brexit, using Patrick Minford (who is not known as a trade economist) time and again to balance the IMF, the OECD, more than 90% of academic opinion etc. But another way of solving this problem is to use certain think tanks.
There are two types of think tank. The good kind can be a vital part of the KTM. There is often a genuine need for think tanks to help translate academic research into policy. ... These think tanks are an important part of the KTM, because they can establish what the academic consensus is, translate academic ideas into practical policy, and match policy problems to evidence based solutions. ...
The bad kind are rather different. These produce ‘research’ that conforms to a particular line or ideology, rather than conforming to evidence or existing academic knowledge. Sometimes these think tanks can even become policy entrepreneurs, selling policies to politicians. This is often called policy based evidence making. It would be nice to be able to distinguish between good and bad think tanks in an easy way. The good type seeks to foster the KTM, and ensure policy is evidence based, and the bad type seek to negate the KTM by producing evidence or policies that fit preconceived ideas or the policymaker’s ideology.
I would argue that transparency about funding sources provides a strong indicator of which type a think tank is. ...
Another good indicator of a bad think tank is their relationship to academia. ...
In the case of global warming the BBC has been forced ... to treat man made climate change as a fact rather than an opinion that always has to be balanced. That is not going to happen for some time over any economic issue, however strong the academic consensus (like Brexit). This is partly because the pressure from academia is much less, and partly there is still a prejudice against social science (as if evidence based policy making cannot occur for economic or social policy!). But the BBC does need to explain their attitude to the use of think tanks. ...

    Posted by on Wednesday, August 1, 2018 at 08:14 AM in Economics, Press | Permalink  Comments (3)


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