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Policy Lunchbox Slides September 15, 2012

Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.

My slides from Wednesday’s Policy Lunchbox talk, “Science Policy History: Data Points, Morality Tale, or Precedent?” are available here (5MB). A crucial point, not apparent from the slides, is that neither historians nor policy analysts really have done the hard work to make the use of historical precedent in policy discussions practicable.  This is a vision of a possible future, not something we can easily do right now.  But this is something that lawyers must do as a matter of course — without a mastery of precedent, they will simply lose their cases.

I had a couple of very good questions from the audience on what timeframes would be most useful for precedent analysis (I would say the last 20-30 years is the most important, but that doesn’t mean you can’t gain insights from going further back), and what sorts of things policy people would need to do to make such use of history possible (keep policy documents organized and available, particularly via the web, and do in-depth interviews with key parties, sealed for a period of time, if need be).

For examples of work that at least points in this direction, I suggested the work of Naomi Oreskes (naturally), and Imperial’s Abigail Woods, dealing with foot-and-mouth disease. Any other suggestions?



1. Will Thomas - September 28, 2012

As a further possible example of history that is intensive enough to serve as precedent analysis, my attention has been directed to Jonathan Harwood’s new volume, Europe’s Green Revolution and Others Since: The Rise and Fall of Peasant-Friendly Plant Breeding.

My expertise in the historiography of medicine is comparatively narrow, but I thought the cigarette literature might also serve as a good example. That is, Robert Proctor’s Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition, as well as Allan Brandt’s The Cigarette Century.

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