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Uncertain waters: Navigating clear policy recommendations in social science research amidst controversy


Feb 12, 2024
A proposed economic rescue package sparks a heated dispute among researchers – here’s the breakdown

A heated debate has emerged over the policy recommendations presented by researchers at the Economic Research Institute Etla last week. The center of the controversy was their “Finland rescue package” publication, which proposed several changes including cuts in corporate and income taxes.

The dispute that ensued questioned the selectivity of research references and the ideological nature of the tax proposals. As the week progressed, tensions escalated with Etla CEO Aki Kangasharju accusing University of Helsinki professor of social policy Heikki Hiilamo of lying and exhibiting bias towards party politics.

The debate eventually attracted widespread attention and drew the participation of many experts. Three economists were asked to provide their insights on the matter. Mika Maliranta, Director of Labore, considered whether similar publications should be viewed as reviews presenting a comprehensive overview of research literature on a particular issue. He pointed out that these reviews are more beneficial to public debates than individual research results. Maliranta argued that it can be challenging to provide clear or explicit policy recommendations given the uncertainty associated with social science research, and that such recommendations require generous funding. He cited the former State Council’s investigation and research activities as a successful model.

Marita Laukkanen, a WATER research professor and working life professor of economics at Tampere University, emphasized the importance of good scientific practice and thorough analysis when formulating policy recommendations. She highlighted the need for evaluating and qualifying prior research to ensure credibility and high quality, taking into account factors like age and relevance of materials and methods. Laukkanen also noted that writing clear policy recommendations from economic research literature is challenging due to limited policies that would benefit everyone directly, making it crucial to consider both advantages and disadvantages of a particular policy as well as its distribution. She underscored the importance of considering national contexts and reliability when studying economic policies.

Kaisa Kotakorpi, another professor of economics at Tampere University, added that providing unambiguous policy recommendations in social science is difficult due to limitations in data availability and methodology options available to researchers. She pointed out that it is essential to examine both advantages and disadvantages of a particular policy as well as its distribution while considering national contexts reliability when studying economic policies.

All three experts emphasized how difficult it is to provide clear-cut policy recommendations in social science research.

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