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Behaviour, knowledge, policy. The philosophy of science perspective on the applications of the behavioural sciences in policymaking.

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - EPISTEMEBEHAVIOUR (Behaviour, knowledge, policy. The philosophy of science perspective on the applications of the behavioural sciences in policymaking.)

Período documentado: 2019-09-01 hasta 2020-08-31

The behavioural sciences have become increasingly important for addressing societal challenges. Proponents of the recent applications of behavioural science to policy believe that important societal problems can be addressed by interventions informed by behavioural research. It is the motivation of the research project to assess the societal value of the so-called behavioural public policy. In order to achieve this I work out a novel philosophy of science approach that allows to apply a well-informed and critical perspective to the applications of the behavioural sciences in policymaking.
The research project challenges the epistemic presumption underlying the behavioural approach to policy and shows that it rests on an image of the behavioural sciences which simplifies in consequential ways the understanding of the kind of knowledge the behavioural sciences provide. The analysis of what is actually known on the basis of behavioural research has been lacking in recent debates on behavioural policy and nudging. I pioneer such an analysis.I show that the current practices of relying on the behavioural sciences in policymaking are based on an epistemic presumption which is not substantiated in research on the basis of which behavioural policies are claimed to be designed. Acknowledging that behavioural policy (and the debate on it) rest on a consequentially simplified view of the behavioural sciences, enables a complete change of perspective on the role of behavioural research in policy settings. If behavioural economics and cognitive psychology don’t offer us knowledge which proponents of behavioural policy claim to have, in what sense are they ‘policy relevant’? Conclusions of my research are that the main function of the behavioural research in policymaking is to reframe societal and policy challenges as problems of individual human behaviour. Such framing, if widely accepted, has important consequences: it makes it difficult to bring to policy other research perspectives which could be useful in addressing societal challenges, including other approaches in behavioural research such as the vast public health literature on socio-economic factors influencing health behaviour. Also, it neither allows us to account for the political and redistributive effects of behavioural policies, nor to consider other than behaviour modification uses of behavioural research. Thus, apart from contributing to the academic research by proposing original and novel approach in philosophy of science, my research is policy relevant, and also has the potential to foster the public understanding of science and its use in policy contexts.
At Stanford University I worked on the parts of my project which are inspired by work of Prof. Helen Longino in general philosophy of science and philosophy of the behavioural sciences, who sponsored my stay. She analyses pluralism of approaches within the behavioural sciences and value-ladenness of behavioural research. I had been regularly meeting with her to consult parts of my argument that concern these issues. At the University of Helsinki I conducted a detailed analysis of empirical research in the behavioural sciences in order to show that the knowledge which the behavioural sciences (in cognitive psychology and behavioural economics) provide differs from the knowledge claims made about this research by proponents of the behavioural public policy. I discussed my results with the philosophers of the social sciences and with Prof. Uskali Maki, who supervised my work.
I disseminated the results of my work during the prestigious conferences and colloquia in the US: the Biennial Meeting of Philosophy of Science Association in Seattle, History and Philosophy of Science Colloquium at Stanford University, Colloquium of Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science at University of California, Irvine, The 9th Annual Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology Conference at the University of Texas, during the seminar at the New School of Social Research in NY. During the second year of the fellowship I disseminated my research during Perspectives on Science Seminar and Theoretical Philosophy Research Seminar at the University of Helsinki and during Philosophy Department Research Seminar at Tampere University. I was invited as a guest speaker to University College London, The University of Groningen, Radboud University to give talks on my Marie Curie research during spring semester 2020: it shows that my research on the topic became recognised in the academic community. Unfortunately, these events were cancelled, or postponed, due to COVID-19 pandemic. Information about the talks and publications was shared on social media (facebook page and profile). I worked on five articles and one editorial project on behavioural economics for the Journal of Economic Methodology. I exploited the results of my research as a contributing author to the EU Joint Research Center report on the use of the behavioural sciences in policy‘Understanding our political nature’. In November 2019 I applied to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton to become a fellow at the School of Social Science with the project that is a continuation of this Marie Curie research. I was accepted.
Most general philosophical treatments of behavioural policy can be found within moral and political philosophy (e.g. Hausman & Welch 2010). For instance, it has been discussed whether behavioural policy and nudging is a form of manipulation of citizens’ choices (Bovens 2009), whether it infringes their autonomy (Cohen 2013), or whether it is a form of paternalism (Veetil 2011). Political and social theorists have debated whether nudging is a manifestation of transformations within a neoliberal state (McMahon 2015; Jones et al. 2013), or whether it is compatible with existing democratic legal institutions (Lepenies & Małecka 2015). The work proposed by philosophers of science has mainly contributed to discussions on causation, evidence, and randomised controlled trials (Heilmann 2014, Gruene-Yanoff 2016, Marchionni & Reijula 2019), all of which have focused on epistemological and methodological conditions under which one can predict that a policy informed by behavioural research will bring about a desired effect (Cartwright & Hardie 2012). Hence, philosophers of science focus on philosophical problems related to studying the impact of policies on behaviour. By doing so, they do not scrutinize the kind of knowledge which is provided by ‘behavioural insights’ entering policy setting and how a narrow and selected body of behavioural research is intertwined with conceptualizations of challenges to be addressed in policy context. The main expected result is a philosophy of science approach which allows us to address such questions.
The societal implications of the project rest in showing that the behavioural approach to policy is not well-suited to address important societal challenges, despite its prominence in public policy settings and contrary to claims made by proponents of the behavioural public policy. It also shows what may be negative consequences of a wide application of the behavioural sciences to policy.