The philosophy and history
of evidence-based policy

29 September 2017, Royal Danish Library “The Black Diamond”

This is a worrying time for those who believe public policies should be based on the best evidence available. Some claim Western democracies have entered a post-factual era. On some issues, such as climate change and childhood vaccinations, many scientists worry their hard-won research findings have lost authority in society. There is a perceived decline of trust in scientific experts, which raises questions regarding the changing value of research with parallel changing ideologies. But just how should scientific evidence shape policy? Can philosophy and history of science be useful to understand the underlying enablers and constrains that dictate the role evidence plays in the machinery of governance? This workshop brings together scholars from philosophy and history of science to help shed light on epistemological and historical cases of ‘evidence-based’ (or ‘informed’) policy and policymaking. The workshop will address fundamental questions, including how to appropriately apply lessons from history and philosophy of science; how science can integrate moral, cultural, and political concerns; and how we can know if a policy has produced the desired outcomes. Speakers will discuss the role of causality, evidence and objectivity, and their implications for policy. Papers are invited from early career researchers, which touches upon the central relationship of science, society and democracy. The workshop will cover the following main thematic areas each based around the discussion and reflection on:

1. How can we conceptualise a viable social contract between science and democracy?

2. How can we understand the various types of evidence that are needed in policymaking

3. How can we balance the provision of sound expertise with normative and political variables?

4. How can we account for ideology and politics in value claims regarding the use of science?


The workshop is organised by the Danish National Committee for Philosophy and History of Science and supported by the Velux Foundation as part of the project ‘Mapping the Public Value of Humanities’ (Grant no. 12997).

The workshop takes place at The Royal Danish Library, “The Black Diamond” on September 29, 2017 from 09:00 – 16:30 followed by a reception.

For more information contact, the conference organizer Prof. David Budtz Pedersen e-mail:

Registration is free but required. Please register by sending an email to Runa Volmarsdottir Højgaard: no later than September 15, 2017.




Miriam Solomon
Prof. of Philosophy and Department Chair
Department of Philosophy at Temple University



Causation and Evidence in Evidence-Based Research and Policy

Prof. Hans Siggaard Jensen, Aarhus University, Denmark
Research Fellow Mikkel Helding Vembye, Aarhus University Denmark

Over the last three decades the field of education and educational policy has experienced require-ments concerning the need for the field to be evidence-based/informed (Hargreaves 1996, OECD 2004). This denotes; 1) that policymakers and practitioners apply educational strategies, that has been validated by empirical research to work or have an impact, especially, on students’ learning outcome; and 2) that policymakers, researchers and practitioners work a lot closer where they ideal-ly have an open dialogue about the issues practitioners, researchers and policymakers find needs to be fixed and how it is done (OECD 2004:20). Based on a presentation of theories of causation, this paper tries to illuminate how this open dialogue about what works is omitted and is instead substi-tuted by research reports such as systematic reviews and meta-analysis’, which we argue are only relevant if based on a simplified and instrumentalized understanding of the knowledge process and interaction between research, practice and policy. As basis for our argument, we look at six system-atic reviews conducted by the Danish Clearinghouse of Educational Research (DCU) as an actual empirical example that gives insight in how the language and dialogue between researchers, practi-tioners and policymakers is mechanised.

Extended expertise and decision-making in hybrid forums: The ongoing controversy of radioactive waste storage in Denmark

Assoc. Prof. Kristian H. Nielsen, Centre for Science Studies, Aarhus University, Denmark

Although several methods of radioactive waste storage have been considered, it has proved particularly difficult to come up with acceptable long-term solutions. Final storage, in particular, has encountered endured resistance for technical, political and financial reasons. Although deep geological storage seems to be the favored solution from a technical perspective, it is notoriously difficult to provide good-enough geological evidence that final storage solutions will remain secure on the time-scale needed (from tens of thousands to a million years). This paper analyzes the unfinished story of radioactive waste storage in Denmark with reference to the notion of “hybrid forums” (Callon et al. 2009). In September 2000 the Board of Risø National Laboratory decided to cease operation of the largest research reactor, DR3 (Danish reactor no. 3), and the smaller DR1. The DR2 reactor had been shut down in 1975 and partially decommissioned. Upon recommendations from Risø experts and based on an Environmental Impact Assessment, the Danish Parliament in 2003 decided to establish the independent organization Danish Decommissioning to decommission all nuclear facilities at Risø and to manage all radioactive waste in Denmark. A working group under the Ministry of Health was established to provide the technical basis for decision on a final geological repository for Danish radioactive waste. The technical basis was presented to the minister in 2008. Three years later, the Ministry decided on six sites for further environmental assessments. Political representatives and local citizens in the six municipalities where these sites were located – Skive, Struer, Kerteminde, Lolland, Bornholm and Roskilde – were invited to discuss the technical basis. As it turned out, the local authorities and citizens groups identified new problems in terms of financial consequences for local farming and tourism, while also questioning the radiological and geological expertise of the technical basis for the decision. This again resulted in new possibilities such as temporary storage at Risø and waste export being explored and an opening of the political process behind the waste storage solution. As of summer 2017, it still remains to be decided whether to pursue the long-term geological repository solution and where to do it. This paper argues that rather than seeing the radioactive waste storage controversy as a conflict between the institutionalized expertise and ad hoc local experts, we could think of it as an on-going hybrid forum where all possible dimensions are being explored by many different kinds of actors (Callon et al. 2009). As such, the controversy enriches rather than weakens the democratic process. As radioactive waste storage continues to overflow traditional boundaries between experts and non-experts and between authorities and citizens, we should recognize that the interrelated questions of who’s an expert and who’s a decision-maker on this matter have been – and should be –answered by expanding our ideas about expertise and due democratic process.

Good Scientific Conduct in Post-Normal Science Associate

Prof. Tom Børsen, Aalborg University

This paper investigates the relationship between ethics and different modes of science. Academic science, applied science, professional consultancy, and post-normal science are all different scientific forms. What counts as good scientific practice and scientific misconduct are specific to the type of research being undertaken. In academic science, misconduct is defined as severe violations of Robert Merton’s ethos of academic science (CUDOS). However, CUDOS does not account for science’s responsibilities towards society at large or the environment, and only focus on good scientific practice in a narrow sense. This is not the case when we enter other modes of knowledge production that is more entangled with society, its institutions and stakeholders. The output of e.g. post-normal science (science done when facts are uncertain, stakes are high, values in dispute, and decisions urgent) must comply with TRUST, the ethos of post-normal science. This type of science is required to be transparent and not to hide political and financial interests, it should be robust and involve an extended peer community, it must address uncertainties, focus on long-term consequences for society and the environment, and not be one-dimensional. In this paper I compare responsibilities of scientists working in respectively academic and post-normal settings, and I discuss how university education can prepare for these responsibilities.

Towards a BINC Society

Prof. Steen Ramussen, University of Southern Denmark

The discussion of a fourth industrial revolution is becoming increasingly prominent in the public discourse. This presentation argues that the vast technological development of the ecology of the so-called BINC technologies (bio-, info-, nano-, and cognitive technologies) push us towards a global gear-change. The talk presents four theses of what this gear-change means, that has been published in the Danish book “Hvad burde politik handle om?” in 2015, and published separately on the Danish, online news media The four theses are: (i) The digital economy is fundamentally different from the industrial, (ii) The middleclass and the democracy is under pressure, (iii) No national state can take care of its citizens by itself, (iv) a technological gear-change demands new, global narratives. The BINC mission evolves around the sharing and spreading of knowledge and understanding of BINC technologies, the BINC human, the BINC economy, the BINC society and BINC narratives. The BINC mission aims to progress through the establishment of networks and research consortia.

Research Monographs as Scientific Genre and Impact Generator

Prof. Frederik Stjernfelt, Aalborg University, Denmark

It is well-known that the genre of monographs have been challenged by the primacy of journal papers both in bibliometrics and university funding in recent years. Still, monographs do not cease to play a central role in large fields of the human and social sciences. This paper discusses a number of questions related to monographs: are there special scientific objects and tasks which favour monographs more than papers? can a distinction be made between monographs based on primary research on the one hand, and those synthesizing amounts of already existing research on the other? can monographs play special roles in the public and policy impact of human and social science study? The paper ends with a discussion of a recent case, that of the abolishment of the blasphemy paragraph §140 in Danish legislation.

Science Advice in Political Expert Commissions

Ph.D Candidate Jonas Grøndvad. Aalborg University, Denmark Research Fellow Andreas Brøgger Jensen, Aalborg University, Denmark

The use of scientific expertise in policy making has many forms. It is often referred to with a large variety of concepts. Based on a scoping review of the science advice literature, the presentation will first identify specific guidelines and considerations that need to be taken into account when using scientific expertise in policy processes. Mapping the literature on science advice has pointed at specific guidelines, ideals and dilemmas in the process of science advice. Among these dilemmas identified are transparency, independence and the so-called “politicization of science as well as the depoliticization of political decision-making”. How well these guidelines are met will be explored by mapping the use of scientific experts in Danish political commissions and committees set up by the Danish Government in the period 2003-2014. In conclusion, the presentation explores what types of scientific expertise are actually included in policy processes and which types of scientific knowledge are favoured.

Mapping the Policy Impact of Knowledge and Knowledge Organisations

Prof. David Budtz Pedersen. Aalborg University, Denmark
Postdoc Rolf Hvidtfeldt. Aalborg University, Denmark

Academic research impacts public policy and practice in numerous non-linear and interconnected ways, which are rarely amenable to precise, quantitative metrics. However, in the interests of creating new insights into the science-policy interface, it is possible to develop proxy indicators of connectivity between researchers and research-users, which may form important steps towards impacts. Understanding these connections can lead to a deeper appreciation of the factors that shape the processes leading to research uptake in policy processes. Before proceeding to quantitative metrics, it is first necessary to produce a detailed approach to identify the “raw relations” in the flow of knowledge and that emerge during the process of knowledge creation in order to find methods for assessing policy impacts from research.