I often saw many laws in various countries were adopted because various premises, like religious, national (which in mostly are not national, but those the one want to be national) or simply they refer to such vague things like "moral fall" and other similar stuff. Such explanations sometimes are given by legislative bodies, not random people on the net.

I never argued with actual legislator for a start. What goes next goes for random people on the net and real life.

I often saw other kind of arguments, which seem to be a little bit better than listed. E.g. they are believed to be beneficial for society. For example, the argument for porn restriction often is that teenagers' brains are still in development. At the same time, this argument seems strange at least, because people usually do not provide any links for studies.

There are other "arguments" (claiming they give unreal expectations, for example), which I would rather call actual porn criticisms than arguments for categorically prohibiting porn for non-adults. But I won't take faulty generalizations in the scope of this question.

And this was a single example, there are other laws covering other life affairs. And many justifications are based on "facts" which are not supported by links to studies.

It does not mean, of course, such studies do not exist. But probably even arguers are not aware of them (otherwise they would provide me links). But do legislators commonly (means significant part of them do so) at least sometimes take any premise without links to scientific studies? Or is this rare occasion? I am in particular interested in western world.

The question asks if lawmakers use scientific method in order to achieve their political goals (which always will be to some degree subjective) or if they use unscientific method.

closed as too broad by Giter, JJJ, bytebuster, Alexei, Glorfindel Oct 1 '18 at 13:48

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 14
    Almost all laws are adopted with unscientific foundations – Caleth Sep 26 '18 at 12:27
  • 1
    They do (claim to) have some idea, it just doesn't come via anything approaching the scientific method most of the time – Caleth Sep 26 '18 at 12:52
  • 7
    In all likelihood, this will always be true. Legislation has to deal with a world that is messy and not subject to definitive an accurate scientific evaluation. Even policy recommendations with a scientific basis (e.g. health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption or the desirability of a low fat diet) often turn out to be wrong. Also lots of laws reflect decisions about norms, not decisions about scientific truth. – ohwilleke Sep 26 '18 at 13:36
  • 2
    Why would one use the scientific method for inquiries outside of science? Unless you have mistakenly elevated science to a religion or worldview, beyond its competency. – user15103 Sep 26 '18 at 17:13
  • 2
    Science is a method for investigating nature's workings, identifying true statements about the movements of matter and energy. It is sometimes stretched to make probabilistic statements about human behavior. By its nature, science cannot answer questions about morality, justice, or public policy. They are outside its sphere. – user15103 Sep 26 '18 at 17:26

Do lawmakers take scientific advice, or have groups of scientists to consult.

Yes, for example in the UK there is the "Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs", you can see the members, and their interests. The body is clearly dominated by "scientists". Other similar bodies exist, and like other legislatures, the government does consult before forming policy, and does seek the advice of relevant scientists.

Do lawmakers follow scientific advice.

No, no always. The advice can be ignored. The role of the politician is to see a "bigger picture". They don't always do very well in this role, and tend to focus on "what will win votes". However it is important that they do have this role of take advice and then make a decision. As the scientists can't be voted out. If the scientists' advice was always followed, that would make the scientists effectively dictators.

Is the scientific method used when forming policy or creating laws.

No, the scientific method is about a "search for truth" by "testing hypothesis against experimental evidence". The job of formulating laws is not the same as designing experiments, for a start basic rigour would require laws to be tested with control groups first.

In the situation you describe, you couldn't have a law on minor access to porn being enforced in part of the country and not in another, in order to see, after 20 years have passed, what the effect is. The politician must take advice and act according to their conscience, not always according to science.

  • 1
    But scientists can't produce norms. How would they be dictators? Scientists might make claims "If you want X, it's better to use strategy Y." Whether or not to want X is not the question. The question is to take their advice if politicians want X. And this is effectively what I'm asking. And isn't it better to adopt different laws locally then, for the sake of experiment (what you mean that 20 years must pass)? – rus9384 Sep 26 '18 at 18:01
  • 1
    @rus9384: They can be dictators because if politicians always follow scientists' advice and don't know enough to say they're wrong, then the scientists control the government. If they don't always follow the scientists' advice, then that's not really different from how it works now. As for the 20 years thing, if politicians wanted to enact a new porn laws they have to enact it in some isolated test group and wait 20 years to compare to an isolated control group. – Giter Sep 26 '18 at 19:44
  • @Giter, Well, it is possible for a scientist to use his position for manipulation. But science is not represented by a single person. There always are opposing theories. And Sweden does not have those laws. For enough time. So, we already know the outcomes. – rus9384 Sep 26 '18 at 19:59

Yes. Constantly. And scientific reports are funded by interested parties for lucrative reasons.

The biggest example of our times is global warming. China promotes green energy as a way of making new businesses and technologies, and USA fights green energy, because it will cost jobs and put brakes on the economy. One of them is right, and one of them goes against science.

Glass fiber insulation was legally promoted for 30 years over cellulose, tree insulation, which was banned for that time, due to fire risks. People realized that cellulose is fire-proof due to it's air-damping and it's fire proof treatment, except that the cellulose industry did not respond in time and was throttled from 1970 to about 2000.

India imprisoned a shop owner for selling a bottle of vape-juice, for promoting drug use, and has made vapes illegal. Cigarettes are very cheap there, and tobacco advertisement is still legal in some forms.

Most politics is a tug of war in between two parties, so the policies are often a reversal of the previous party's work, whereas science has a fairly constant and long term view on the best way forwards.

  • 1
    "One of them is right, and one of them goes against science." I am not sure one of them is wrong. It might both cost jobs but produce new jobs as well. You claim that new party will always try to reject anything another party accepts? I think it's not true, parties exist because there are differences, but they don't cover all fields. – rus9384 Sep 26 '18 at 16:17
  • The differences between opposed parties tends to become radicalized to extremes. A political party might decide to sell all the utilities to the private sector, the trains, water, roads, hospitals, prisons, post service, as fast as possible before the next election out of spite. because the other party wished to keep them all. It happened in the UK in the 90's. That covers enough fields to make adversarial lawmaking an unscientific process. Governments know everything about everyone, thanks to NSA and cookies, but they don't measure what people want, the people's wants are paramount. – com.prehensible Sep 26 '18 at 16:24
  • It might cost jobs but produce new jobs as well: Asia has nearly all the new battery companies and factories in the world, LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Sony, Sanyo, A123. I claim that one of them is right! It doesn't cost future jobs to resent a 100 billion dollar technology for 2030, jobs have to change with the times. – com.prehensible Sep 26 '18 at 16:36
  • I know what the struggle is. And it is not a subject of this question. The subjects are not goals, but methods. Scientific method used to reach political goals. – rus9384 Sep 26 '18 at 16:43
  • 1
    I would question the statement that science is fairly consistent. Dietary studies are notoriously inconsistent. Sociological studies are often not rigorous. You even have global cooling in the 1970's vs. global warming now. Science provided us with DDT and can even now prove that it is an effective insecticide. It is policy & public opinion that bans DDT, not science. – doneal24 Sep 26 '18 at 16:51

Well, in the US we have something that's often called law that begins this way (after some front matter):

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

If this is a law, then it is most certainly a law that is not based on science; in fact, it's radically unscientific! What could possibly be a self-evident truth known to science?

  • This law sets a goal and is not a method in itself. This law is a goal in itself. A law which is a method would be the one that limits the speed you can drive. Its goal is to reduce the amount of accidents. But I'm asking if it is often so that laws-methods are unscientific. – rus9384 Sep 26 '18 at 18:28
  • Is if A then B B therefore A a self-evident truth used by science? Or, dropping it down a level, is mathematics itself a self-evident truth? – doneal24 Sep 26 '18 at 18:40
  • @rus9384, rights are invisible to science. Any law claiming to regulate rights, such as property rights or personal liberty, will not be scientific. – elliot svensson Sep 26 '18 at 18:58
  • @DougO'Neal, if mathematics is self-evident then that self-evidence is presumed by science, not ratified by science. Such mathematics are not inside of science but below it (above it? Around it? meh). – elliot svensson Sep 26 '18 at 19:00

The question asks if lawmakers use scientific method in order to achieve their political goals (which always will be to some degree subjective) or if they use unscientific method.

In the United States, at least, there is some experimentation done with laws at the state level before being instituted at the national level. We see that done with both marijuana legalization and removing the 55mph national speed limit, just to name two examples.

  • 1
    Well, it does not really look like experimentation, though. Just some states adopted such laws locally. And they were not the first, marijuana legalization probably was inspired by its legalization in other countries. – rus9384 Sep 26 '18 at 20:38
  • @rus9384 Yes, but eventually the laws spread, or in the case of marijuana, will spread, and became national ones. Local governments serve as experimental subjects before it is used on a national basis. – theresawalrus Sep 26 '18 at 20:42
  • There are a few countries where porn distribution is not restricted. And there is no single state in the US agreeing with that. And there are countries with lower age of consent. But still all states seek to increase that age. And it would not be an issue if third parties could not file suit the adult person there (only adolescent could). But a neighbor can file suit and that seems wrong. – rus9384 Sep 26 '18 at 20:50
  • @rus9384 I'm not saying that this works in all cases, just that it happens in some cases. – theresawalrus Sep 26 '18 at 20:54
  • 1
    @rus9384 It seems like your question is really "why isn't child pornography legal?". Just because an experiment occurs (for example California's bizarre political experiments) doesn't mean that it's guaranteed to be a success, or that every other state must follow. Just because child pornography is legal somewhere, doesn't mean it is "scientific" or that it must be legalized everywhere. – user15103 Sep 26 '18 at 21:05

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.