Gagging again

Over at Liberal Democrat Voice today Tom Brake provides an update on the progress of the Lobbying Bill, focusing particularly on Part 2 because of the extensive criticism it received both inside and outside Parliament last week. Brake’s post notes that:

It is not, and has never been, the intention of this bill to in anyway restrict the ability of charities to campaign to change government policy or on other issues they feel strongly about. And government is more than happy to consider amendments to make that crystal clear and set to rest any concerns parliamentarians and campaign groups might have.

Genuine commitment to amending this truly awful bill has got to be welcome. But I find this stance a little peculiar. [Read more…]

Clueless on conditionality

job centre plus policeOn Thursday I blogged about the weak foundations underpinning some of the Coalition government’s policies. On lobbying, on Universal Credit, and on Legal Aid the policy has run into serious trouble. I might return to the lobbying issue again soon, because you could read it in different ways. But that’s for another day. Two days ago I wrote:

A common thread in all these cases is the apparent lack of sufficient thought at the outset: thought about what the policy is trying to achieve and thought about whether the proposed mechanisms are, even in principle, capable of achieving those objectives. This would seem like a profound – and elementary – mistake.

Such thinking won’t stop a policy getting mired in implementation problems. But building the policy on weak foundations increases the chances of it turning into a fiasco.

Today we are presented with another example. [Read more…]

‘Quackademics’ under fire as critical voices targeted

[Originally posted at The Conversation, 22/08/13]

DuckWith independent journalism increasingly under threat, will academics be the next set of critical voices to be targeted? A report calling for research and evidence to have a reduced role in public policy, issued yesterday by a right-wing think-tank, suggests this process is already under way.

These criticisms come after successive governments have sought to encourage academics to leave their ivory towers and influence the wider world. Right now, many academics around the country are knee-deep in final preparations for the next round of research funding. This time around we’ve the additional task of demonstrating how our research has had an impact on the world beyond the academy. In many fields, including my own, that impact is on policy.

At the same time, the government is in the process of establishing a network of “what works” evidence centres for social policy. This government’s commitment to evidence-based policy is perhaps less secure than its precedessor’s, but the idea that research evidence should play a role in policy making remains. [Read more…]

Blond’s take on social science

Guess what, I think I’m parked in the red zone!

                                                             Reservoir Dogs

5862495241_72837a4859_mPhillip Blond has posted a provocative piece offering his perspective on the deficiencies of the social sciences and his prescription for rectifying them.

Yesterday ConservativeHome described the piece as “an important article” which touches on how research funds should be spent and from which “the rationale for reallocation is clear”. It might therefore be wise to pay some attention.

Blond’s piece is sure to meet with strong objections from within the British social science community. Indeed, it already has. A number of academics have been spluttering indignation into their smartphones and out into the twitterverse.

In a nutshell, Blond’s argument is that … [Read more…]

Reinhart and Rogoff: replication and responsibility

… the actions of economists today bear on the life chances of the world’s population far more substantially than do the actions of the members of most other professions.

George DeMartino

Reinhart Rogoff Cover

Replication is an activity that doesn’t attract enough attention, enough credit, or enough effort in the social sciences. But it is an activity that is getting a lot of attention at this precise moment. This has come courtesy of the exposure of both flaws and contestable methodological choices in Reinhart and Rogoff’s landmark study of public debt and economic growth.

The economic blogosphere has exploded with debate over the issue. But, just in case you’re not following it, here are the key points. Reinhart and Rogoff followed up their major historical work looking at debt and economic growth This time is different with a paper called Growth in a time of debt published in the American Economic Review in 2010. Their key result is that levels of public debt in excess of 90% of GDP are associated with lower rates of economic growth. Indeed, the mean annual growth rate they report, once debt crosses the 90% threshold, is negative.

This body of work is highly influential.

A quick search on Google Scholar will tell you that the NBER version of Growth in a time of debt has been cited 450 times, while This time is different has been cited over 2000 times since 2009. That is a lot of citations for social science publications: you’re doing pretty well once citations for a piece get into double figures within four years.

In a paper published this week, Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin (HAP) of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst identify problems with the Reinhart and Rogoff result. [Read more…]

Hilton’s horrors

BaldnessI keep returning to Steve Hilton’s comments on the rigidities and redundancies of the senior civil service, as reported in the Sunday Times. It all strikes me as a bit rum.

Hilton was making three main points. First, that members of the Government were only finding out about some policy announcements from the media. And once they found out they didn’t necessarily agree with what was being announced on their behalf. Second, Hilton conveyed his sense that the main purpose in life for the Mandarinate is to frustrate ministers’ desires for action and change. Third, there is much activity and many decisions are taken, with accompanying mountains of paper being generated, but only a minority of it (30%) is controlled by Ministers and relates to delivering on the Coalition agreement. Hilton suggests that a similar proportion relates to “random things” and, for good measure, fully 40% of activity represents Government implementation of EU regulations. [Read more…]

The Elected Mayor solution

Elected Mayors are, apparently, the answer for our big cities. The Coalition has decreed that on 3rd May the citizens of Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Wakefield be invited to participate in a referendum. The choice is whether they stick with the current model of local government or switch to a Directly Elected Mayor. Liverpool and Leicester have already committed to the Elected Mayor model without a referendum, as has Salford. But if Elected Mayors are the solution, then what is the problem? [Read more…]