It seems with every election cycle in the United States politicians are requested to sign various new types of pledges. Pledges not to raise taxes, pledges to support the eventual party nominee, pledges regarding campaign finance, etc. The concept of a pledge is not unique to the U.S. election cycle – other countries’ politicians take various campaign pledges. The pledges can take various forms, too – a written document signed, framed and publicly displayed, a written document hidden away in a safe, or an oral promise that fact-checkers will later review and confirm, as examples. With the 2016 election cycle beginning to kick up into high gear, I wonder if another pledge should potentially be considered by the candidates – a pledge to acknowledge scientific evidence and actively promote the concept of evidence-based policymaking.
A quick Google search shows that other organizations in other countries have promoted the concept of a “science pledge” (e.g. https://evidencefordemocracy.ca/en/sciencepledge). I’m not sure whether I’m a proponent or opponent to the concept of pledging to anybody besides to the electorate whom elects you, but if it is a method to encourage the promotion of evidence-based policies and a reason to call out candidates when they disregard clear scientific evidence on a particular issue, then it may be worth considering. A science pledge would also provide grounding for a wide range of issues besides the usual suspects of vaccines and climate change. Pledging to promote evidence-based policymaking could be useful for a variety of subject areas, including, but not limited to agricultural policy, policies regarding Medicare and Medicaid, environmental policy, and economic policy.
I am skeptical that a “science pledge” or promoting the use of evidence based policy will prevent the exchange that happened last week at the Republican debate regarding vaccines and the subsequent pronouncements from various organizations disputing the claims made during the debate. However, if a pledge may be a viable harm reduction strategy, it should be considered. Unfortunately, evidence may still be out on the potential usefulness of an evidence-based pledge. This pledge may be one pledge we should have valid evidence for before promoting, too.
The views reflected in this expert column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.