Prediction and policy in the social sciences
Salient events such as the COVID 19 pandemic and the 2022 Ukrainian crisis and subsequent Russian invasion invariably lead to interest and debate on how research can inform policy responses. Research can undoubtedly provide important evidence on the potential consequences of different actions with regards to specific objectives. But research conclusions also remain uncertain and typically depend on many assumptions. I argue that since policy prescriptions entail claims about future consequences, they must be seen as predictions. Although prediction is difficult, especially about the future, we can have better and more informed discussions about policy consequences if we pay attention to what we have learned about predictions and predicting better. Greater attention to prediction can also help overcome common problems in claims about policy implications from research, including a failure to discuss with precision objectives and priorities, stating objectives themselves as if they were policies, claims about targeting factors without discussing the effectiveness of possible interventions, and a failure to consider uncertainty and potential tensions with other objectives or unintended effects.