The gap between policymakers and scholars

If academics – as they like to think themselves – have the most knowledge, why do not policymakers and politicians listen more to what researchers and scientists say?

One possible explanation is given by Daniel W. Drezner, professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, on his blog at the Foreign Policy website:

“I was at a small conference devoted to the idea of getting scholars and policymakers in the same room to talk about U.S. policy towards a Great Power That Shall Remain Nameless.  The idea was that policymakers could highlight issues that professors might have overlooked and vice versa.

Everything was going along swimmingly until one of the policymakers in the room complained that some of the academic memos that had been prepared for the conference were too long to be read by policymakers — which was true, except that wasn’t the purpose of these memos.  In response, a Smart and Well Respected Political Scientist went off on a serious and righteous rant.  Why didn’t policymakers or staffers in DC actually read what experts thought about a particular issue?  It wasn’t just that political scientists were being put on the sidelines — we were  being completely ignored.

Well, this provoked a rollicking good debate, and afterwards, many of us gathered around the Smart and Well Respected Political Scientist to applaud those remarks.  We then chatted about how political scientists could enter the policymaking fray with a bit more vim and vigor.  Someone suggested that this might be easier if younger scholars felt that they could engage in public debate without the fear of disapproval from the profession.  At which point the Smart and Well Respected Political Scientist said something to the effect of, ‘Oh, no.  Once someone has tenure, and has a full publishing pedigree, then they can start making a few public pronouncements.’

And that, my friends, is a big reason why there’s a gap between policymakers and scholars.”

So true.

Simon Hedlin Larsson

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