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Usable Science

April 11, 2010

I sometimes write about how science can get in the way of good policy. But the flip side of this complaint is a question: how can we better ensure that science will be more useful? I have been working with a number of colleagues on exploring this problem, and we just released our “handbook for decision makers” on the web and in print last week.

To paraphrase our main conclusion:

Science best meets the needs of decision makers when those needs are considered throughout the scientific process.

Our conception of the scientific process is much broader than one might assume. We are thinking about the policy makers who appropriate funds, the institutions and bureaucrats who give out those funds, and also those responsible for evaluating that process. In other words, we recognize that science doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s a social process that involves many moving parts outside the scientists and their work. If you want to change the way science is done, you have to look at this whole system.

The handbook includes advice for people involved in this system, as well as a number of examples from our own experience in studying it. Our hope is that people seeking to change the system can use these insights to help them with that task.

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