use to advantage a large number of key concepts and processes—from bureaucratic inertia to unintended consequences, from negotiation strategies to using the media.

What the examined cases rarely attend to is how scientific knowledge is used in policy making. There is little discussion of the quality or quantity of research available to the policy makers, even less discussion of whether that research is used as evidence, and still less about why science is ignored. Except incidentally, the cases do not explore the role of knowledge brokers or whether the ideas of evidence-based policy come into play. The processes and institutions through which policy makers gain access to relevant knowledge, such as expert advisory committees, receive little notice. There certainly is no attention to whether variation in cognitive biases of policy makers or variation in cultures of decision making tell them what to expect when science enters the policy argument. In summary, practically nothing of what is emphasized in Chapter 4 as ways to better understand the use of science is reflected in the case studies we examined.

An additional suggestive finding comes from Great Britain, where the current government has established the Behavioral Insights Team, a small office led by a social psychologist. Thaler (2012) describes how this office used a randomized control trial to test behavioral theory on when people conform to social norms. The issue was tax compliance; the treatment was a letter to late payers stating that others in their community pay their taxes promptly. There was a sharp increase in compliance in the treatment group, and not in the control group, whose message made no mention of neighbor’s behavior. British tax authorities estimate that the reinforcing message could generate extra annual revenue of £30 million ($46.5m) nationwide. We cite this small study because the government (Thaler, 2012, p. 4) “is sufficiently convinced of the value of these activities [of the Behavioral Insights Team] that it announced last week that behavioral science is to be included in the required curriculum for civil servants.” Behavioral science had not been taught in Britain’s civil service training but now will be.

Though it would take a Flexner-style investigation to offer a thorough account of what is today being taught to thousands of M.P.A. and M.P.P. students in U.S. universities, our cursory review points to what is absent. Our review found few courses that draw on social psychology and cognitive science to provide public policy students with an understanding of human decision-making processes—including biases, heuristics, and probabilistic errors—as they pertain to reasoning about policy. Nor did we find many courses in which an anthropological, sociological, or humanistic approach

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement