Reliable (safe system) decision making and policy making

It is easy for people to be misled and then become convinced that they are right.
Although it is hard to believe, the squares marked A and B are actually the same shade of grey!
Things that appear to be obvious are not necessarily true.

Poor decision making is a major factor causing climate change (and many other global problems).
To tackle climate change, decision making needs to be improved.
A key part of this is to recognise that
  • people are fallible and are prone to making mistakes of many different kinds
  • good decision making and good policy making are difficult
  • determined efforts are needed to avoid errors.

Fallacies and cognitive biases currently dominate opinions and public policy making

The current process of making public policy (such as how to stop climate change) is failing.

Current methods give different answers to the same question e.g. how much investment should be put into cycling. Which policy is correct is hardly ever discussed by those in positions of power.

Scientific methods have been developed to avoid errors and give correct answers to complex questions

The essence of scientific methods is that they give correct answers to questions that we feel have correct answers.

We have confidence that they work because of our experience that (a) they give consistent answers, and (b) they make accurate predictions.

Some key points of scientific methods are

Scientific methods are needed in policy making in climate change and other major problems

The use is currently common within the medical and associated professions, but needs to be extended.

Nicholas Maxwell (philosopher of science) has argued that humanity needs to "learn how to resolve its conflicts and problems of living in more just, cooperatively rational ways than at present" [1].

It seems clear that applying scientific methods to decision making more extensively would improve them enormously.

Decision making should be science-based, not just evidence-based

There has been a move to advocate "evidence-based decision making", but poorly trained or unscrupulous politicians can just select a piece of evidence that fits with what they have decided to do, and claim that their decision is evidence-based.

All policy making should be science-based

If the process is fixed, the correct decisions will be made.

The immediate goal should be to make campaigning science-based

There is a need for

Progress towards making climate policies science-based

Organisations taking a science-based approach are


[1]Nicholas Maxwell What went wrong?
[2]Scientists for Global Responsibility Science Oath for the Climate

First published: 16 Jan 2022
Last updated: 25 Sep 2023