June 13, 2013

Evidence-based walking on water

Walking on water would be convenient for crossing rivers, fishing, watching seabirds, trekking throughout the seas and rescuing drowning people. A friend of mine proposes an evidence-based program to achieve it.

The program would consist of trying small steps on water in different conditions, and building up on the successes. For example, we can try walking on waters of different colors. If we can walk a little bit on bluish waters, but not on brownish ones, we should focus our future efforts on bluish waters. And so on.

I have told him that what we already know about gravity, the relative density of water and the human body and similar things indicates that it is impractical to even try. He doesn't listen. He insists on gathering new evidence.

Fixing social problems by government action would be convenient. To get there, a recent editorial in Nature advocates an evidence-based program.
[T]he [USA] administration has laid out a blueprint to implement evidence-based decision-making throughout the government — in effect, bringing the methods of science to bear on policy.
Thousands of years of government experience and almost 150 of Nature's existence have witnessed countless government-led assaults on human life and decency including, among others, wars, genocides and famines. But it is better late than never to begin subjecting policy to evidence and scientific reasoning.

However, I am afraid that what we already know about the problems of collective action indicates that governments will never really try - the marketing rhetoric of the USA administration notwithstanding. Nature mentions just one of these problems:
Everyone favours government effectiveness as a concept. But every existing programme is also someone’s livelihood. When those judged ineffective — by whatever measure — are cut or consolidated, the protests and the lobbying are fierce. If officials can resist that pressure, evidence-based policy initiatives could help to bring about a much-needed shift in the inflamed fiscal debate, from ideology to pragmatism.
If water can resist our feet...

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