Are Nuanced Decisions Possible In Policymaking?

Posted by | September 26, 2010 09:19 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

I often worry that the take-no-prisoners style of politics that jumps on any sign of weakness on the other side of a debate has led to a policymaking process that is often “all or nothing” with many policy questions.  Therefore I was heartened to read this week that the FDA had made a relatively subtle decision on the diabetes drug Avandia.

Presented with what seemed to be a choice between keeping Avandia on the market or withdrawing it, the Obama administration decided on an unusual middle path — allowing sales, but with tight restrictions. Even more unusually, the agency admitted that many of its top scientists disagreed, some passionately. Competing memorandums were posted immediately on the agency’s Web site.

Issues involving science are often far more complicated than non-scientists understand.  Outsiders often want science to give concrete and definite answers.  But science doesn’t work that way.  We don’t always know if Avandia is safe or not or how many degrees the planet will warm.  But policymaking can’t always wait for certainty.  That’s why the middle ground adopted by the Obama FDA is encouraging.  So is the fact that they are admitting that they are not sure about the answer.  Yes, it opens them up more easily to criticism.  But it should also give us some faith that they have thought carefully about the question and are coming up with an answer that may be closer to “right” than banning the medicine or allowing free use of it.

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Copyright 2010 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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