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Scientific Objectivity and Public Policy


Admission requirements

Admission to one of the following programmes is required:

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Knowledge

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Natural Sciences

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Psychology


Good policy is based on scientific evidence, whether the policy relates to our environment, public health, or our children’s education. But what counts as good evidence? Under what conditions can we apply scientific results in practice? What is the appropriate role for considerations of ethics and risk in using scientific evidence for policy? Should scientists themselves make ethical value judgements and risk assessments? Is there a tension between striving for objectivity in science, and at the same time respecting democratic principles in policy-making? These are the kinds of questions you will answer in this course in practical philosophy of science. The course covers both the natural and social sciences.

Course objectives

This course aims to familiarize students with practical philosophy of science, and in particular to teach them how to interpret scientific evidence for policy.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • the central theories in practical philosophy of science, including philosophy of evidence in the natural and social sciences;

  • current central questions on risk assessment and evidence-based policy.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • evaluate scientific evidence for policy using contemporary practical philosophy of science;

  • develop and defend their own position on questions of risk assessment and objectivity in science for policy;

  • critically discuss aspects of the above in a philosophical paper.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Seminar attendance is required for admission to the exam.

Assessment method


  • Mid-term paper (30%)

  • Abstract assignment (20%)

  • Final paper (50%)

Attendance and active participation in class is required for admission to the exam.


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (see above).


The resit consist of an opportunity to redo either the mid-term or the final paper. The grades for the other exam component, as well as the abstract assignment, remain in place. Students can only resubmit a failed paper.

Attendance and active participation in class is required for admission to the resit.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory overall grade for the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • Cartwright, N. and Hardie, J. (2012). Evidence-Based Policy: A Practical Guide to Doing it Better.

  • Gigerenzer, G. (2002). Reckoning with Risk: Learning to Live with Uncertainty.

  • Contemporary articles; links will be posted on Brightspace.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number, which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. R.W. Runhardt


Not applicable.