Correspondence | Published:

Policy matters

Editorials should heed social scientists

Nature volume 511, page 292 (17 July 2014) | Download Citation

Your Editorials consistently recommend that policy decisions should be backed by sound science, including social science. However, my subjective analysis of a sample of these articles indicates that you do not always follow your own advice.

Roughly half of the 141 Editorials you published in the year from October 2012 relate to policy issues. Of these, only about 10% use literature citations to support their arguments. By contrast, 35% of the Editorials that express ideas with no direct bearing on policy are backed up by referencing.

Moreover, your policy proposals sometimes contradict the consensus opinion among social scientists. Take climate-change mitigation: you tend to highlight piecemeal emissions-reduction policies, such as the introduction of fuel standards, building codes or subsidies for renewable energy. However, most economists dismiss government micromanagement of polluting activities as inefficient and unfair, and would prefer to see the establishment of a universal carbon tax (see N. G. Mankiw East. Econ. J. 35, 12–23; 2009; and go.nature.com/ylxraf).

You also seem to overlook the diversity of opinion among social scientists on topical issues. For instance, you frequently make a plea for more power for the US Food and Drug Administration, without acknowledging the debate over whether the social good would be better served by increasing or decreasing the agency's regulatory power (see go.nature.com/pxxswg).

And in your persistent request for more government money for research, you could make a stronger case by using tools devised by social scientists to estimate the optimal size and allocation of science budgets.

Nature's views probably coincide with the default views of its readership and the public. This should not distract you from publicizing instances of “sound science and evidence on a matter of public interest” (Nature 491, 160; 2012).

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  1. University of A Coruña, Spain.

    • Marcelino Fuentes

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Correspondence to Marcelino Fuentes.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/511292a

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