A Coming Future Evidence-Based World ?

J. Peder Zane at the News & Observer in Scientists see dazzling future writes concerning the EDGE 2007 question, “What are you optimistic about? Why?:

The overriding hope among Edge respondents is that our increased capacity to gather and analyze information will spark the rise of an “evidence-based” world. We see this already in the field of criminal justice, where people convicted on faulty “eyewitness” testimony have been freed thanks to DNA. In the future, respondents argue, the instincts and perceptions that inform so much of our political, legal and cultural decision-making will be replaced by hard facts.

A very interesting article on Evidence by Clay Shirky, Social & Technology Network Topology Researcher, Adjunct Professor, NYU Graduate School of Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) is found at the EDGE World Question Center 2007.

Shirky puts eloquently some of the rants and raves that we have been throwing at the academic community for the last 35 years when he writes:

In school, the embrace of evidence is often taught as if it were a one-time revolution that has now been internalized by society. It hasn’t. The idea of evidence is consistently radical: Take nothing on faith. No authority is infallible. If you figure out a good way to test something, you can contradict hallowed figures with impunity.

Evidence will continue to improve society, but slowly — this is long-view optimism. The use of evidence dragged the curious mind from the confusion of alchemy into the precision of chemistry in the historical blink of an eye, but its progress past the hard sciences has been considerably slower. Even accepting that evidence should shape our views is inconsistent with much human behavior….

It is only in the last hundred years that evidence has even begun spreading from the hard sciences into other parts of human life….

Social science is expanding because we are better about gathering data and about understanding it. We have gone from a drought to a flood of data about personal and social behavior in the last generation. We will learn more about the human condition in the next two decades years than we did in the last two millennia, and we will then begin to apply what we learn, everywhere. Evidence-based treaties. Evidence-based teaching. Evidence-based industrial design. Evidence-based parenting.

Beautifully written, and correct.

Similarly, J. Craig Venter, Human Genome Decoder and Director, The J. Craig Venter Institute writes at EDGE that:

I am optimistic (and hopeful) that one of the key tenets of scientific investigation, “evidenced-based decision making” will be extended to all aspects of modern society.

We agree.

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