The experience of the past tells us that when science is used to provide legitimacy to speculation, there is always a possibility that we will find what we are looking for. Researchers sometimes admit that they are looking for research-based evidence to justify a cause. ... Most of what goes by the name of parenting research is best described as advocacy research. Advocacy research does not set out to discover what's not known it seeks to convince and influence public opinion. [Emphasis in original] Paranoid Parenting: abandon your anxieties and be a good parent (pages 156, 160)Of course it's not only in parenting that you can generate figures that confirm your prejudices. My own field, economics, is another obvious case in point. It's an important consideration in the world of policymaking. Mr Furedi raises the questions of breastfeeding or smacking children. Similar reservations arise in other fields: crime, for instance, or mental health. What exactly is the role of government when research findings are inconclusive and controversial?
Social Policy Bond could help. They would stipulate a targeted outcome, rather than the supposed means of achieving it. So if society's goal is, for instance, to reduce lung cancer rates, then a bond issue would - probably - lead to the sort of restrictions on smoking that we now see. But if the goal is to reduce crimes committed by young people, where the scientific evidence on raising children is far more equivocal, investors in bonds would have to investigate and explore a much wider range of alternative approaches, the nature of which need not be specified in advance. Advocacy research would be regarded with far more skepticism than currently, because investors in bonds targeting youth crime would be looking for results, rather than confirmation of their prejudices. They would have powerful incentives to find only the most efficient ways of reducing youth crime, and to that extent would be impartial in their observations and conclusions.
Social Policy Bonds' focus on outcomes would have the same impartiality in helping achieve a wide range of social goals where research findings are vague or hotly disputed, and so we are collectively paralysed into inaction. They include larger ones about which I have written many times before, such as climate change or the prevention of natural or man-made catastrophes.