Friday, 1 February 2013

Evidence Based...?

I really should learn to hold my tongue (as advised, I seem to recall, by + Nichols - but this post is not about that.).  The other day on twitter I made a passing reference to having had a fascinating conversation with an academic Social Scientist friend, de-constructing the term 'evidence-based' when applied to education, and whom it privileged.  To my dismay, a couple of people picked up on this and asked for more details.

So I have been trying to remember how the conversation went in detail, and realise quite how skillfully my academic friend managed it.

I spent some time struggling to recall what she had said about the term, which I vaguely remembered as being both wise and devastating, but in fact what she did was get me to question it, (and, naturally enough, it was my own critique I thought both wise and devastating.)

She simply asked a few questions, and provoked me to think about the implications of the words.

What does 'evidence' mean, and imply?
What does 'evidence-based' mean, and imply?
What are the assumptions underlying such a term?
Whom does it privilege?
Whose views, experience, knowledge and intuition does it ignore or de-value?
... and so on.

I can't remember precisely what I said (though I know it was both wise and devastating) beyond the obvious point that it begs a whole load of philosophical questions and gives power to academics who collect and analyse 'evidence' and even more to those who fund the research projects, and therefore set the terms of the debate.

But it probably doesn't matter that I can't remember my answers in detail: in a sense the power lies in the questions, and if you think about each of them seriously, you too are likely to find answers both wise and devastating.

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