Public Policy and the Science Base: Successes and Failures

1 March 2013


Written by Edward Oughton, Doctoral Researcher, The Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation (4CMR) and member of CUSPE

Reflecting on his diverse and esteemed career, Lord Turner took to Magdalene College’s auditorium to explore some of the successes and failures of science and public policy. After a brief outline of his role at the interface of science and public policy, he shared examples from his experience at the Pension Commission, the Climate Change Committee and the Financial Services Authority.

View the lecture here:

To view the slides that accompany Lord Turner's talk, please click here.

Of the examples given in the lecture, one failure included the poor communication between medical professionals and those in Government in the 1970s. The financial planning for pensions, for example, failed to predict the continuing increase in life expectancy, requiring reform to rectify the problem in subsequent decades. Since this failure, there has been a dramatic improvement in how this process takes place, with it now being cited as a positive example of the interchange of evidence between different areas of science.

Lord Turner also cited an example from his time spent on the Climate Change Committee, which covered the challenging issue of how complex science should be portrayed to a wider audience without losing the scientific integrity of the original research. In his final example, Lord Turner systematically examined how unrealistic assumptions in the financial services industry led to the global financial crisis. This, he explained, results from attempting to connect present economic conditions with those of the future, under extreme and irreducible uncertainty.

Some of the key lessons for future policy development covered many areas. A resonating message from the lecture was that new economic thinking should be fostered and those in the economics profession should be more open to new forms of economic analysis. With the capabilities of modern computing, new and more sophisticated types of economic modelling are possible which can improve our foresight of future paths.

Banner image courtesy of Sebastien Wiertz on Flickr

  • 27 February 2013, 5:30pm

    CSaP Distinguished Lecture: Lord Turner

    Lord Turner of Ecchinswell, Chairman of the Financial Services Authority, will deliver his lecture 'Public Policy and the science base: successes and failures' as part of the CSaP Distinguished Lecture Series.