VTT, dosentti Erkki Tuomioja
PUHE KUNNIATOHTOREILLE – promootiopäivälliset 26.5. 2000
Distinguished Honorary Doctors;
Mr Chanchellor, Mr Rector Magnificus,
Ladies and Gentlemen
Most of us take it for granted that we are engaged in our work
not only for the pursuit of knowledge and understanding as such
but also in order to make this knowledge available for those who
seek to make the world a better place for people to live in.
Some of us go futher and seek to directly engage ourselves in
the process of policy-making and implementation, sometimes even
holding the view that scientific knowledge and its rigorous and
rational application is the key to managing social change in a
This will be readily recognized as social engineering in the
spirit of the Enlightenment. It is no longer unchallenged. Some
even go as far as Zygmunt Bauman who sees a connection between
the pursuit of rational change based on enlightened belief in
progress and the concentration camps and genocides of the 20th
While it is philosophically possible to see a connection
between rationalism and genocide and while good intentions and
ideals can be shown sometimes to have lead to totalitarianism
and crimes against humanity this is not inevitable and does not
mean that they should be declared dangerous. Instead of
jettisoning ideals we should analyse why, how and in what
circumstances they can lead to a realization of their negation.
Volumes have been written about values in social science. We
must live with the fact that they almost inevitably invade our
work. Even if value-free science were impossible to achieve it
does not make striving for it unnecessary.
Recognizing the limits of scientific knowledge in social policy
should not lead us to undue modesty about the desirability of
and possibilities for using the fruits of our work in
policymaking. Policymaking will always reflect the values and
opinions of the decision-makers, and there is no scientific
method which can determine the rights or wrongs of values and
opinions as such, but this does not mean that scientific
endeavours should not be used to gain knowledge about society
and the effects of alternative policy-options.
Decisionmakers should have access to as much researched
knowledge, common sense and value-goals tested in critical
dialogue as possible. All of these are readily available, at
least somewhere some of the time, but not necessarily when and
where policies are prepared and decisions made.
It is sad to say that the social sciences were more popular and
respected and, at best, also more in use for policymaking during
the decades when social policies were being expanded during the
formative years of the post-war Welfare States. Now, when
savings, cuts and reductions rather then expansion dominate the
agenda for social policies it cannot be any less important to
fully exploit the research capabilities of the social sciences.
This is not because of lack of resources. It is more because of
general scepticism towards the value of social sciences. This is
partly a consequence of the collapse of communism which has made
experimentary and controlled social engineering unappealing and
But why should unplanneed and non-researched social engineering
be better than planned and researched policies in a democratic
society? An example of large-scale social engineering of the
former kind is the tax reform of the Reagan administration in
the US which seems to have been based on faith in the so-called
Laffer curve, where tax receipts increase as taxes are lowered.
And have we as as social scientists also too readily acquiesced
in this devaluation of social sciences ourselves?
As important objects for social research one can mention the
incentive and employment effects of social policies and
taxation. Ignorance of research seems to prevent neither
politicians, columnists or high-level officials from advocating
fargoing policy changes and expressing firm opinions of their
While research on the macrolevel concerning for example the
relation between the size of the welfare state and the actual
welfare of its citizens is needed it is even more necessary in
order to base concerete measures of an incrementalist kind – or
decrementalist in the case of dismantling welfare provisions –
on research about their consequences.
Sector officials responsible for social policies are generally
inclined to base their contributions on available research, but
this seems to carry little or no weight when ministries of
finance take over. This is true not only concerning social
research; the use of economic research is also much too
restricted and discriminatory.
Belittling science and research is just as damaging as blind
faith in science, as long as we recognize that knowledge as such
will never make unnecessary the ethical value choices which the
accumulation, evalutation and use of knowledge always
To conclude: researched knowledge in the service of
policymaking is so valuable that it should always be at hand
even if decisionmakers do not use it.
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