Program & Abstracts

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EEA & policy-making, 3-4 March 2016


program 20160215

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Anna Leuschner
Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany

The Epistemic Implications of Climate Change Denial: Reasons for Concern

Due to its economic, ecological, and social relevance climate science is under societal pressure: despite huge uncertainties climate scientists are forced to provide reliable information to policy-makers as fast as possible. At the same time, industrial and political stakeholders “manufacture doubt” about climate change in order to postpone climate change mitigation measures.
I will argue that the personal and professional attacks on climate scientists are epistemically detrimental as they hinder the scientific discussion and lead to skewed results. More precisely, I will argue that climate scientists tend to systematically underestimate climate change and its impacts. Therefore, the “manufacture of doubt” leads to a lopsided distribution of risks also in policy-relevant information (e.g., IPCC reports).


Garrath Williams
Lancaster University, UK

Evidence, argumentation and the framing of policy questions

All policy debates involve framing issues in ways that are not directly amenable to argument or evidence. In this paper I would like to consider the ways in which evidence and argument can, nonetheless, be marshalled to affect the framing of problems and policy measures to address them.
To open out the problem, I will consider five different aspects of framing that are germane to all policy debates. How do issues come to appear as *relevant*? Which solutions are considered and appear *feasible*? Which problems appears as urgent or enduring – i.e. in terms of what *timeframe* are issues figured? Which *collective actors* are assumed or called into question? And how are relative *priorities* imagined and reconfigured in debates?
In the second part of the paper, I consider some of the ways in which evidence and argument can be brought to bear, in order to show that some ways in which debates are framed might be more or less valid. Alongside the crucial question of what might be omitted by some framings, I explore the thought that processes of coalition-building and compromise are essential, so long as power inequalities are not too deeply entrenched.


Karl Christoph Reinmuth
University of Flensburg, Germany

Rule evaluation in evidence-based policy-making: The role of evidence in arguments for policy options

An important part of policy-making consists in designing and setting rules in order to solve problems. Which rules are the right, good or even best ones and should be used to solve problems? To answer this question we have to evaluate rules. We do so by taking different standpoints and applying different criteria. For example, such criteria for good rules may be validity, effectiveness and harmlessness. These rely on evidence-based arguments. The paper has two aims. My first aim is to show that we have to distinguish between different kinds of arguments. On the one hand, we have arguments for a rule proposition and arguments for the proposition that this rule is an effective and harmless means for some purposes. On the other hand, there are arguments for evaluative propositions which state that this rule is a right, good or even the best one and arguments for justificatory propositions that we should use (design, implement, follow…) certain rules. My second aim is to show which role evidence plays in these different kinds of arguments and which kind of evidence is needed or relevant regarding different standpoints and criteria. Furthermore, I will analyze different obstacles for getting the required evidence.


Lilian Bermejo-Luque
University of Granada, Spain

The uses of argumentative schemas as a strategy for risk assessment

The Precautionary Principle has attracted two types of criticisms: on the one hand, those concerned with its concreteness and applicability in practice, and on the other hand, those that question its very legitimacy as a general principle. In light of these criticisms, two options seem to be left: either to improve the PP in order to make it actionable and legitimate as a guide for policy-making or just getting rid of it as a mere bias. This paper opts for the former. To this end, it seeks to provide both a formulation of the PP able to discriminate between legitimate and illegitimate appeals to caution, and an account of the legitimacy of such particular formulation. Our strategy is to take advantage of the potentials of argumentative schemas as tools for argumentation appraisal. The idea is that the PP can be seen as a rule of practical inference, that is, as a rule stating that certain precautionary measures are to be adopted when certain risk conditions obtain. So understood, the PP could be embedded into transparent and inclusive public decision procedures, namely, those setting the argumentative schema that sanctions the socially desired levels of risk avoidance and risk distribution.


Marica Ferri
EMCDDA, Portugal

Evidence for policy-making: what, whom, where and how?

Evidence-based policies have become a common definition. Where does the idea of “evidence” come from? How did it develop in recent decades? What evidence do we need to inform policies – especially in drug-related problems – and how do we evaluate if a policy is based on evidence? This presentation – delivered by an expert in the area of evidence-based medicine and knowledge exchange – will identify the origin and discuss the challenges of producing and disseminating evidence to inform policy. The objective is to engage the audience in a discussion about the limitations of the methods and the risks and opportunities presented by the easy access to communication, asking the question “How to balance accuracy and credibility with effective communication?”


Martin Hinton
University of Lodz, Poland

Who are experts and what can they do?

In the field of public policy making, the role of the expert is fundamental: expert opinions are cited by politicians as reasons for action, and a failure to follow expert recommendation may be seen as a dereliction of duty. A proper understanding of their capabilities is, therefore, vital.
The argumentum ad verecundiam ‘fallacy’, is frequently described as an appeal to the testimony of an expert on a matter outside that expert’s field of expertise. However, there is no universally accepted characterisation of ‘expert’, and little consideration of what constitutes a ‘field’. I consider the consequences which the ambiguity of those terms has on the evaluation of arguments based on expert testimony and how that impacts on policy making. I then attempt to point the way towards a better understanding of experts and the various roles they play.
It is suggested that ‘fields’ should be considered in terms of capabilities, rather than areas of activity, and that the reliability of ‘expert opinion’ must be assessed not only with reference to the expert but also the nature of the opinion and the inherent risk involved in giving it.


Sally Jackson & Scott Jacobs
University of Illinois, USA

Argument as Expansion Around Disagreement

Any controversy can be conceptualized as spreading through an issue space undefined at the outset, but expanded, compressed, and shifted, issue by issue, as challenges are raised and answered. Standpoints emerge from challenge and response, along with the major lines of argument in offered in their defense. Two case studies illustrate this idea. First, we examine the R.J.Reynolds advertorial campaign of 1984 as an effort to avoid restrictions to cigarette advertising and to smoking by adults. Having lost the battle over whether cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, R.J.R. published a series of advertorials to create a disagreement space around the effects of advertising to children and the dangers of smoking in public. The advertorials shifted debate away from the more general (and more threatening) policy issues and segued to challenging the legitimacy of the now-reformulated debate itself. Second, we explore the controversy over mandatory childhood vaccination, paying attention to expansion around two causal questions: what causes autism, and what accounts for the sudden dramatic increase in the incidence of autism. Here, the clashing interests of parents and health professionals drive each to select particular routes for the expansion of the issue space.


Sean Sinclair
University of Leeds, U.K.

How Policy-Makers Should Understand Qualitative Evidence

I address the difficulty of taking account of qualitative input in policy-making, eg citizens’ juries. I propose a new way of gathering, reporting and using qualitative evidence which takes it as revealing reasons.
It is objected that qualitative evidence may be unrepresentative of the wider population and that decisions based on it lack transparency and consistency. Yet qualitative evidence intuitively has value. I aim to explain this.
To start, I argue that qualitative evidence should not be seen as “baby quant”. Quantitative evidence has an entirely different role. It is best understood in terms of a rational choice model of consumer behaviour. Consumer preferences are taken as unexplained givens, which policy-makers must then aggregate to determine which policy satisfies preferences to the greatest extent.
In contrast, I argue that policy-makers should view qualitative evidence as providing an insight into reasons, and as a contribution to a debate in which policy-makers also participate. On this conception, qualitative researchers should aim to uncover the reasoning which leads different groups to their conclusions, including dissenting minority groups. The resulting report of findings will be a set of persuasive arguments, not a mere list of preferences. Policy-makers should engage with such evidence dialectically.


Thomas Gordon
Fraunhofer FOKUS, Berlin, Germany

Supporting Policy Deliberations with Carneades

Unlike linked arguments, cumulative arguments need not fail completely when some premise has not been proven, but are rather only weakened or, surprisingly perhaps, possibly strengthened. Cumulative arguments are useful for practical reasoning of the kind needed in policy deliberations. An argument for a policy option can consist of premises for hard and soft constraints. Such an argument fails only if some hard constraint is not proven. Its soft constraints can be aggregated using methods from multi-criteria decision analysis to weigh the argument. The soft constraints can model properties of the policy option and the argument for an option can then be weighed by computing a weighted sum of normalized values of the proven (not claimed) properties of the option.

In the European research project “Policy Compass”, we have been developing a new version of our Carneades model of structured argumentation, Version 4, with better support for cumulative arguments, practical reasoning and multi-criteria decision analysis, applying the insights above, together with web-based software tools using this model to support argument construction, evaluation and visualization tasks. In the Policy Compass project, we aim to demonstrate and validate this new version of Carneades in political discourse analysis application scenarios for deliberating about policy performance metrics, causal theories about the effects of policies and policy options.