Policy as synonymous with “solution”

I often experience a certain amount of pessimistic skepticism when I encounter discussions that posit the development of policy as a solution to a particular ill.  In this case, I refer specifically to the section entitled “An International Standard of Integrity in Science” found towards the closing discussion of the Matheson piece (375). In my brief discussion here, I do not mean to imply that Matheson is suggesting some final and complete solution to the issues that were discussed in all three articles this week. I mean only to observe that this piece, as with a number I have encountered in my own research (which, at this juncture, relates to government funding of public health interventions by small, community-based organizations and shares some commonalities with our discussions), hopes to suggest that the way around these issues is for some type of policy that serves as a form of multilateral, international, interdisciplinary, etc., governance. Although the section in Matheson’s piece is relatively brief, the closing line of the article also points to the optimistic hope of policy as resolution: “[c]areful policy studies are required to help science both corporate and academic remain vibrant, incisive and free” (378).

My cynicism is likely a product of my experience working on policy development for a government agency and on policy research and lobbying for a non-profit organization. In my experience, rules and regulations called “policy”, contained in wordy yet colourful documents that are often accompanied by flow charts, logic models and circle graphs, tend to find a place on cubicle walls where they are seldom looked at. I think that this would be perhaps exacerbated by Matheson’s proposed “international standard” because of how broad it is and how challenging and unrealistic it would be to enforce. Indeed, even if it were enforced, the articles from this week and previous ones would tell us that pharmaceutical companies have long worked around policy (often under the illusion of following it perfectly) to achieve their bottom line and I am not sure that this standard would be any different. Of course, like a true former public servant, I do not have an alternative to suggest in the stead of this “international standard” at this point in my thinking on the issue.

Addendum – This is a video I was shown during a conference on policy development – President Bartlet discussing military policy on the West Wing (and capturing my sentiments quite well).

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