PH458      Half Unit
Evidence and Policy

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Liam Kofi Bright


This course is available on the MSc in Economics and Philosophy, MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy, MSc in Philosophy of Science and MSc in Philosophy of the Social Sciences. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Although the emphasis throughout will be on ideas rather than formal techniques and although all the ideas will be explained simply and intuitively, some of the evidence relevant for policy is evidence about probabilities and so the course will involve issues about the correct interpretation of  probability and statistics. Although no detailed formal manipulations will be required, students will need to feel happy thinking about the intuitive ideas underlying probability and statistics.

Course content

Good policy decisions - whether concerning climate, conservation, international development, poverty, education, medicine, or health - require rational deliberation over whether the proposed policy will (or is likely to) bring about the intended outcome. For instance, we might wonder if lowering CO2 emissions will reduce global warming?  Or whether smaller class sizes enhance scholastic achievement? The obvious suggestion is that answers to such questions are the result of rational deliberation just in case they are based on good evidence and appropriate reasoning. But what counts as good evidence and appropriate reasoning? And what happens when different kinds of evidence pull in opposite directions? Are certain types of evidence more telling than others? And if so, why? Does evidence that the policy works in one country mean that we should have confidence that it will work in another country? Can the requirements of democracy conflict with respect for expertise? Do the competing value judgements that are at stake in our political or social decisions make a difference to the forms of reasoning that is appropriate? These are some of the central issues addressed in the course. In this course, you can learn how to be ‘evidence-savvy’, how to ask the right questions about evidence and reasoning as well as how to think about risk-assessment and its relation to policy.


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the MT.

This year, some or all of this teaching will take place online.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the LT.

In addition to the essay, I will also give students the opportunity to do regular shorter writing exercises as a means of building up to the final formative essay. I will give feedback on these. Such short writing exercises will largely be short summaries of the readings as well as answering questions about the readings that I will ask at the end of class.

Indicative reading

A detailed reading list will be provided at the beginning of the course. Useful initial readings are: Gigerenzer, G. (2002) Reckoning with Risk: Learning to Live with Uncertainty;  Cartwright, N. and Hardie, J. (2012) Evidence-Based Policy: A Practical Guide to Doing it Better; Worrall, J. (2007) 'Evidence in Medicine and Evidence-Based Medicine', Philosophy Compass.


Essay (33%, 2000 words) in January.
Take-home assessment (67%) in the MT.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Student performance results

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 35
Merit 60
Pass 5
Fail 0

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method

Total students 2020/21: 37

Average class size 2020/21: 13

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills