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A plea for the inclusion of epistemic pluralism in policy-making

11.01.2022 16:36

What danger is there in insufficient epistemic pluralism in evidence-based public health policy? A new paper co-authored by Branco Weiss Alumnus Karim Bschir uses the example of the COVID-19 pandemic to discuss reasons for implementing more pluralism as well as challenges to be tackled on the way forward.

We live in an age of evidence-based policy, the authors state at the beginning. Never was the significance of science for policy-making more visible than during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. This has led to two strands of criticism: Firstly, concerning the fact that government action has been mainly driven by numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths at the expense of other aspects of the situation. And secondly, concerning the reliance on epidemiological computer models for strategic policy decisions. Both types of criticism share a concern about insufficient epistemic pluralism (i. e. the use of more than one perspective or approach to deal with a knowledge-related problem) in the public health measures that were implemented to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

The authors then provide an analysis of the problems arising from insufficient epistemic pluralism in a public health context that is inspired by certain elements in Paul Feyerabend’s political philosophy of science. The conclude: “It seems that the right move would be to strengthen epistemic pluralism in evidence-based public health policy. Many more perspectives should be included in providing the evidence for policymaking and many more stakeholders should get a voice in policy-counselling (instead of criticizing policymaking from the outside).” This would include not only epidemiologists, social scientists and scholars from other fields but also experts who could contribute local knowledge of relevant social spheres, such as nurses or education department heads who know which hygiene measures can realistically be implemented in their primary schools.

Read the paper on History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences

Read the article on Soziopolis (in German)