Scientists and academics like to believe that policy-makers (those who decide where resources and investments should be allocated in the economy) base their decisions on science and evidence. This is a reassuring assumption that suggests that important decisions are made on the basis of facts and not fake news. It is also convenient because it provides those scientists with a clear justification for their work and makes them feel they are contributing to the decision-making process.
The reality, however, is more nuanced: although we can certainly find examples where decisions and policies have been based on scientific evidence (when, for instance, governments decided to ban smoking in public places), the recent series of poor decisions made by the leaders of some of the most powerful countries in the world in response to the COVID pandemic are vivid illustrations that, more often than not, policy-makers base their decisions on perception, personal beliefs and values, and professional or political agendas. Often, also, questions that carry a ‘sense of urgency or crisis’ receive more attention than those that appear at first glance less problematic or less urgent, even if in the long run the implications are not necessarily well reflected by their initial short-term prevalence. Simply put, the urgent trumps the important.
This drove a recent study conducted in Vietnam, where a group of social scientists investigated the dynamics around food system policies. Vietnam is an interesting case study from which much can be learned. It is one of those fast ‘transitioning’ middle-income countries, where people’s income has been rapidly increasing, along with a fast-growing urbanization, significant changes in lifestyle, and subsequent important transitions in diets.
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