heffetz2_SILVIO AVILAAFP via Getty Images_vaccine trial SILVIO AVILA/AFP via Getty Images

Who's Afraid of Evidence-Based Policymaking?

Carefully designed scientific experiments have been an engine of economic, technological, and social progress for well over a century, which is why the public generally trusts such methods. Unfortunately, governments around the world still routinely oppose controlled trials of public policies.

ITHACA/CHICAGO – Without rigorous research and open inquiry, the breakthroughs that have defined the modern era, saving countless lives and delivering tremendous economic growth, never would have happened. From discovering the laws of physics and the germ theory of disease to developing public policies, scholars have used experimentation to move society forward.

Now, as societies struggle with reviving travel, reopening schools, and workplace safety in the shadow of new COVID-19 variants, social experiments are urgently needed to ensure that we implement policies with a proven record of success.

In doing so, we will be building on a storied tradition. In 1881, Hippolyte Rossignol, a famous French veterinarian who was skeptical of the germ theory of disease, challenged Louis Pasteur to test his hypothesis by vaccinating animals on his farm outside Paris. Pasteur had no choice but to accept the public challenge, even though no vaccine had ever been tested outside the laboratory.