The Era of Policy-Based Evidence-Making

Steven F. Hayward29 Sep, 2023 5 Min Read
Does not! Does so! Does not! Does so!

We should have known we were in for a new level of flim-flam when government officials started saying that the public should “follow ‘the science’.” Attaching the definite modifier to “science” implies that “science” on whatever subject is uniform and “settled,” as we’re endlessly told by the climate cult, and more recently the Covid cult, aka the "Branch Covidians."

This is the antithesis of science and the scientific method, which emphasizes hypothesis, skepticism, dissent, competing theories, vigorous debate, testing and re-testing. The history of science, as Thomas Kuhn explained in his influential but oft misunderstood Structure of Scientific Revolutions, is a series of dominant scientific models that are overturned by subsequent challenge. Sometimes the challenges are suppressed by incumbent institutions, and the example of Galileo is usually offered as an example of something that could never happen in our modern, enlightened times. In fact the kind of reputational damage and official opposition Galileo experienced is still happening on a daily basis.

The evidence mounts that virtually none of our scientific establishment can be trusted—certainly none that has any connection to or dependence on government funding. Government agencies based on their supposed technical expertise claim that they practice “evidence-based policy making,” but the truth is the reverse: we live in an age where governments practice policy-based evidence-making.

Trust us: the science is settled.

There is by now a sorry recent history stretching back at least to the U.S. government’s determination in the 1990s to use the supposed peril of second-hand tobacco smoke to extract billions of dollars from tobacco companies and justify stringent new smoking regulations. (Many of these regulations have been waived for newly legal marijuana smoking, which shows the power of culture over “science.”) When the government’s epidemiological studies didn’t find substantial harm from second-hand smoke at the typical 95 percent confidence level that is standard for establishing statistical robustness, the EPA simply lowered the statistical standard to 90 percent, and suppressed other contrary findings, to claim “proof” of harm in order to justify regulation.

This has been a consistent pattern for decades with government bureaucracies in the U.S. and abroad. “Scientific” findings always conveniently align with the regulatory desires of administrative agencies. In the U.S., agency “science advisory boards” (SABs) are always stacked with pro-agency “experts” while skeptical or competing perspectives are deliberately excluded, and the entire process is backstopped by lavish government grants directed to sympathetic university researchers, consultancies, and advocacy groups to carry on public propaganda campaigns. In some cases, agencies will ignore their SABs in the rare cases where the SAB offers a finding contrary to policy.

At some point the “coincidence” that “new findings” justify tightening a regulatory standard ought to raise suspicion. But challenging tendentious government “science” is difficult in the formal review processes, and courts have always deferred to the “expertise” of the agencies, making court challenges nearly impossible to succeed.

The omerta of the “science-based community” has nowhere been more evident than in "climate change," where the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) systematically excludes dissenting scientists, pressures journals not to publish contrary findings, and marginalizes contrary publications that somehow manage to slip through, all in service of creating a manufactured “consensus” that demands absolute fealty.

The latest example of this is the recent mini-scandal involved Nature magazine, which recently published a highly technical article assessing the effect "climate change" is having on wildfire risk in California. The author, Patrick Brown of Johns Hopkins University, is not a climate skeptic by any means, and his article agreed with the popular wisdom that "climate change" likely increased California’s wildfire risk, though the wide range of the potential effects was heavily dependent on variables that are difficult to quantify and don’t necessarily all run in one direction. But Brown went on to write for Bari Weiss’s Free Press site that he pulled his punches in the article, deliberately leaving out relevant considerations of wildfire risk, such as better forest management, which might mitigate climate risk completely. His reason was straightforward:

In my recent Nature paper, which I authored with seven others, I focused narrowly on the influence of climate change on extreme wildfire behavior. Make no mistake: that influence is very real. But there are also other factors that can be just as or more important, such as poor forest management and the increasing number of people who start wildfires either accidentally or purposely. (A startling fact: over 80 percent of wildfires in the U.S. are ignited by humans.)

In my paper, we didn’t bother to study the influence of these other obviously relevant factors. Did I know that including them would make for a more realistic and useful analysis? I did. But I also knew that it would detract from the clean narrative centered on the negative impact of climate change and thus decrease the odds that the paper would pass muster with Nature’s editors and reviewers. This type of framing, with the influence of climate change unrealistically considered in isolation, is the norm for high-profile research papers.

About your paper, comrade...

There ensued a predictable firestorm from the climate cult, because Brown clearly embarrassed them. Kudos to Brown for being an honest scientist. There aren’t very many of those.

A turning point may have been reached with the grotesque abuse of science in service of authoritarian government during Covid, when, as is by now fully established -- "settled," even! -- the scientific establishment demonized dissenters from the party line about Covid risk, the utility of lockdowns, and the efficacy of vaccines, while the federal government pressured or outright threatened the corporate media and internet social media to censor dissenting opinions and analysis. Covid may have done us a huge favor in exposing the egregious politicization of science today, such that public trust in “the science” is at an all-time low.

Will this lead to any meaningful changes? House Republicans (and Senate Republicans if they ever regain a majority) ought to conduct much more serious oversight of federal science funding, as well as make budget cuts. Unfortunately Republicans often increase spending for government-run science more than Democrats. On the legal side, some years ago the federal courts established a new standard for judicial treatment of scientific evidence and “expert testimony” in civil litigation (the “Daubert standard”). Perhaps in this season of judicial reconsideration of its overall deference to the administrative state (such as the “Chevron doctrine”), some thought to allowing more scrutiny of government science ought to be included. Or Congress can enact new statutes allowing for this.

If changes are not made to reform government science, the domain will continue to spiral down in ways warned against more than a decade ago by MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel (as “mainstream” as they come):

Scientists are most effective when they provide sound, impartial advice, but their reputation for impartiality is severely compromised by the shocking lack of political diversity among American academics, who suffer from the kind of group-think that develops in cloistered cultures. Until this profound and well-documented intellectual homogeneity changes, scientists will be suspected of constituting a leftist think tank.

I think this worry has moved beyond “suspicion” to established truth.

Steven F. Hayward is a resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, and lecturer at Berkeley Law. His most recent book is "M. Stanton Evans: Conservative Wit, Apostle of Freedom." He writes daily at


See All

11 comments on “The Era of Policy-Based Evidence-Making”

  1. A friend sent me a link to a Chronicle of Higher Education paper entitled 'We Need Scientific Dissidents Now More Than Ever'. I responded with this article, and the comment, "No, we need to end government funding of scientific research."

    Of course, the great danger is not from government funding per se, but from funding in service of private or public objectives, whether financial or ideological (or both), and not in the quest for pure knowledge. Thus we see the need to constantly validate the 'consensus' that emissions of CO2 are causing dangerous 'climate change', to the point where every grant-supported paper, no matter how tangential the topic, must contain an obeisant declaration to 'climate change'.

    These little declarations are homilies to the obsession in elite circles that 'climate' can justify a new kind of 'global governance', hence justify policies that must transform all of our lives—and enrich those who are engineering that transformation. The Climate Delusion is the policy-based-evidence elephant in the room, and the best argument for getting the government out of science.

  2. Every once in a while you discover a concept like antisocial personality disorder or the Hawthorne effect, that helps you make sense of the world. "Policy-based evidence-making" is one of those concepts because it helps explain what the heck is going on in American medicine. Thank you Mr. Hayward.

  3. That's not accurate. He did not say his paper was dishonest or included any faked or distorted data. He said he didn't include all the variable that are important for a complete judgment of the issue (fire risk) because he thought Nature magazine wouldn't publish it if he did. In other words, it was an incomplete paper.

  4. Sort of a reverse Sokal effect--something not meant as satire or parody, but just as useless as science.

  5. A government that lies to you or forces others to lie to you is not interested in what's best for you. You are in their way.

  6. Twisting "science" to fit the agenda isn't particularly new. I remember well the "New Ice Age is Coming!" panic. Something to do with Global Cooling. That was fifty years ago when government grants were pushing the idea of peak oil and President Jimmy Carter was on television insisted we all buy a cardigan sweater to keep warm. It all adds up to a sustained assault on our American "First-World" way of life we inherited --- and built upon --- from previous generations. I predict, if this assault continues for one more generation, the strain will result in a split-up. The West Coast will form a new nation (call it "Utopia") and the rest of us will do our best to get along with our new All Electric / Net Zero neighbor.

  7. We should all take notice of what Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell address. No I'm not talking
    About the Military-Industrial complex part of the speech which has turned out to be a prescient warning, but the Scientific-Technological Complex controlled by a central government and controled by procurements and grants. Funding has proved to be a powerful lever of control. The financial carrot dictates to science.

  8. It's all hopeless of course unless we can get rid of government funded science. Government funded engineering has a long track record of working, because engineering is based on established science. "Making new discoveries" by government funding is where we get the Hadron Collider at the cost of $9 billion to fund extremely dubious research instead of safe and efficient nuclear reactors that can actually supply non-polluting energy. Those would bloom overnight and lead to a new golden age if the government would choose to subsidize them rather than try to strangle them. Lysenko was government funded science. In actuality, fewer scientists might lead to more scientific discoveries. It ain't what you don't know. It's what you know that's wrong.

  9. "The evidence mounts that virtually none of our scientific establishment can be trusted—certainly none that has any connection to or dependence on government funding."
    This sentence should be inscribed on the lintels of every government and academic building. Also "computer models are not evidence; they are hypotheses."

  10. "Kudos to Brown for being an honest scientist." ... I would not call anyone "honest" who knowingly published a dishonest paper ... which he did ...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *