Harry Stein has written an important article about how, in the era of big data, the GOP has mounted an attack on evidence.
But even though Congress appears to support evidence-based policymaking in theory, a closer look shows that it is waging a quiet war on the idea. The current versions of spending bills on Capitol Hill would defund data collection, analysis, and pilot programs that are helping to solve some of the toughest challenges facing the nation.
Amid the larger debate about overall spending levels under sequestration, some cuts to evidence-based programs were probably inevitable. But this Congress seems to be targeting evidence-based initiatives in particular, and for reasons that seem deeply political.
The areas where this is happening leave no doubt about the political motivations. They include:
* Climate science
* Research on gun violence
* Comprehensive data about violent crime
* Research on new ways to control health care costs
* Evidence-based practices in education
But, as Stein notes, it’s all part of a pattern (one that has been noted previously at the Washington Monthly).
The decision by Congress to weaken its own ability to gather and process evidence might be the most troubling example of how Congress has lost interest in applying evidence to inform public policy. These budget cuts undermine vital nonpartisan institutions within the legislative branch, including the policy experts at the Congressional Research Service and the investigators at the Government Accountability Office. These institutions are critical sources for Congress to get credible research and evaluation of public policy from experts who are independent from the executive branch.
And, of course, this all comes at a time when the Obama administration has been focused on evidence-based policy.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has been implementing evidence-based initiatives of its own. Its push for more data-driven policymaking has drawn positive attention from Republicans such as Ron Haskins, a former staffer for the House Ways and Means Committee and the George W. Bush White House, whose recent book is titled “Show Me the Evidence: Obama’s Fight for Rigor and Results in Social Policy.”
“Hardly anyone knows it,” Haskins wrote in the New York Times, “but since its earliest days the Obama administration has been pursuing the most important initiative in the history of federal attempts to use evidence to improve social programs.
It all reminds me that when I was growing up, the Republicans were the “green eyeshade pencil-pushers” and the Democrats got painted with the “peace and love” caricature. We’ve traded scripts on the thinker/feeler continuum since then – except that instead of peace and love, Republicans seem to be more attached to anger and fear (even when it comes to evidence, apparently).