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Why are some MNers angry at 'behavioural scientists'

(25 Posts)
lljkk Wed 22-Apr-20 23:34:28

In some threads, "behavioural scientists" is written like a personal slur. Why? What did they do wrong? I gather it's something cv19 related.

AnneLovesGilbert Wed 22-Apr-20 23:35:22

I haven’t seen this. Context would be useful.

wafflyversatile Wed 22-Apr-20 23:38:20

Also not seen it. Perhaps because it is the science the govt were allegedly following, and while behavioural science has its place there are other rather more pertinent sciences during a pandemic.

lljkk Wed 22-Apr-20 23:51:34

Sure
"CMO again parroting the "behavioural science" line."

"problem is that their advice is still being filtered through SAGE which is run by behavioural scientists, not epidemiologists."

"It's well known the Behavioural Insights Team (the nudge unit)"

"Most of the experts (just not Boris's special experts, who are behavioural scientists who "are trying, in a way that hasn’t been done before"....) think it's dangerous and scary."

Sorry just me being thick, maybe. I sense criticism but can't understand what the criticism is.

lljkk Wed 22-Apr-20 23:55:11

"no other country is even attempting the "herd immunity" plan. It seems like absolute insanity to me. But I'm not an expert in either virology or behavioural science. Those experts...

Foobydoo Thu 23-Apr-20 00:02:05

Because behavioural science is more psychology than biology or virology or epidemiology.
The science on a pandemic response should be primarily based upon medical science.
Behavioural science is more on how people will react to things and nudging them to make them do what you want.
I can't speak for other mumsnetters but I wanted our response to be based on how the virus may act not on how people act.

PinkyAndTheBrian Thu 23-Apr-20 00:07:13

What Foobydoo said.

Whilst behavioural science needn’t be discredited, strategies for protecting a population against a novel virus pandemic should be based on medical evidence.

Unusualbloodgroup Thu 23-Apr-20 00:08:04

I don’t understand the criticism either as they are vital for shaping how the govt manages the next few months.
I have seen some rather snooty comments from scientists who think they are more important and superior to them and I can only think it’s down to good old industry backstabbing.

BakedCam Thu 23-Apr-20 00:12:29

Fooby is correct, OP.

Behavioural science is a predicted set of behaviours as a result of a crisis affecting the population. The SAGE group are a mysterious group with the CMO and various other advisors to the government who put together strategies to prevent riots, as an example. It predicts how populations may react to life changing news, in this case, the closing of schools, shops and retailers. They in turn, are managed by further science which is where the term, 'Follow the science' has emerged from.

lljkk Thu 23-Apr-20 00:14:25

I get impression that the people who dislike behavioural scientist want a more authoritarian, zero tolerance for virus spread approach.

If the epidemiologists said "Actually we're desperately worried about the economy and how the economy tanking will make people sicker and die, too" then the epidemiologists would be seen as bad guys, after all.

WomanIsTaken Thu 23-Apr-20 00:15:29

Because 'behavioural science' conjures manipulation and so mistrust; it is about engineering specific outcomes by anticipating reaction and subtly promoting desired behaviour.

BakedCam Thu 23-Apr-20 00:15:49

OP, where you're seeing an attempt at herd immunity, that's incorrect. Herd immunity is an outcome, not a strategy. Herd immunity is what we have with chicken pox, measles, etc, other viral diseases.

Theres a lot of misinformation out there.

lljkk Thu 23-Apr-20 00:18:05

I have no clue what BakedCam just said.

BakedCam Thu 23-Apr-20 00:23:12

no other country is even attempting the "herd immunity" plan. It seems like absolute insanity to me. But I'm not an expert in either virology or behavioural science. Those experts...

Apologies, that was in response to the above which is your second post in.

Oldsu Thu 23-Apr-20 01:29:35

Oh the jolly old nudge unit, I came across those clowns when I was researching the NHS health check 'invite' letter I got when I was 60 apparently they rewrote it patronising load of bollocks that got chucked in the bin

Flaxmeadow Thu 23-Apr-20 02:12:49

Yes BakedCam

Not sure people understand what herd immunity is. It isn't a plan, it's an outcome and the government don't even mention the term anyway.

Herd immunity is when the population reaches a stage where a certain percentage is immune, either naturally or by vaccine, and so the virus cannot spread anymore. It's the goal of all countries.

It's an annoying term. Like when people say "viral load", when they mean viral dose

MrsTerryPratchett Thu 23-Apr-20 02:18:48

There were three posts on one of the linked threads! Hardly resounding hatred!

FWIW behavioural nudges should be employed when you have a strategy, they shouldn't be the strategy.

bettybeans Thu 23-Apr-20 02:47:42

Behavioural science is just as important as epidemiology at the moment. You surely can't draw up a pandemic strategy without both. E.g. you can't implement measures to influence viral spread which don't also take human behaviour into consideration? Why the suspicion?

TheSparklyPussycat Thu 23-Apr-20 02:55:41

The pandemic models must surely include some aspects of human behaviour, such as how compliant people are with the guidelines, which will interact with the epidemiology data.

CarolineIngalls Thu 23-Apr-20 03:12:59

I AM a behavioural scientist.

The nonsense coming out of the Nudge unit is ill considered, and often based on rapid reviews from different situations. I imagine they are 26 year old economics grads who read Malcolm Gladwell.

Kokeshi123 Thu 23-Apr-20 03:19:42

I don't know much about this particular group of people. A lot of what comes under the heading of psychology is bollocks and has failed to be replicated.

However, as a general principle, it is not a case of "We should base our policies on how the virus behaves, not how people behave"---you cannot separate the two things! Epidemiology requires a close and careful examination of social realities, how humans behave, what you can realistically get people to do and not do, as well as understanding the sort of stuff that you learn in a lab. These two aspects then need to be brought together to craft good policies and good messaging.

Take STI prevention, for example. Good STI prevention policies understand human behavior clearly, and connect this with knowledge about how pathogens work. Bad STI prevention policies are designed by people who have their head jammed inside a test tube and make no attempt to understand the realities of how humans behave.

Which is how you get things like "Sex spreads STIs, so let's tell the kids that they should abstain from sex until they get married, because if everyone did that there would be no STIs!" (Doesn't work. Very few people are realistically going to remain completely celibate until they marry at age 28 or whatever). Or "Condoms almost 100% prevent HIV transmission. So let's just keep nagging people in South Africa and Botswana that they need to use condoms and keep showering them with free condoms and condom campaigns and condom billboards!" (Only partially works. Most HIV in South Africa and Botswana etc. is spread through long-term relationships, in which it is virtually impossible to get couples using condoms consistently. Good HIV/AIDS policies in these countries put the emphasis on monogamy/fidelity, even more than on condom use.)

CarolineIngalls Thu 23-Apr-20 03:38:53

In their moment of glory, the nudge unit was credited with the "wash your hands" campaign of pandemic management. It was the equivalent of an "abstain from sex" campaign. It wasn't sufficient behaviour change to stop the spread of the pandemic.

It isn't that behaviour science is useless. The problem is the nudge unit hid politics (keep economy open as long as possible) under the guise of half baked "science". The government wasn't ready for the pandemic. Nudge bought them a week to increase the social safety net so they could close businesses.

Kokeshi123 Thu 23-Apr-20 09:59:47

It was the equivalent of an "abstain from sex" campaign.

I'd actually say that a closer analogy would be gay bathhouses in the 1980s putting up posters saying things like "Have as much sex as you like but with fewer people and only with healthy people!" etc. etc. As in, very very watered-down advice where the emphasis was on continuing with business as usual and not "panicking" people ;)

YouAndMeAndTheDevilMakesThree Thu 23-Apr-20 11:29:34

However, as a general principle, it is not a case of "We should base our policies on how the virus behaves, not how people behave"---you cannot separate the two things! Epidemiology requires a close and careful examination of social realities, how humans behave, what you can realistically get people to do and not do, as well as understanding the sort of stuff that you learn in a lab. These two aspects then need to be brought together to craft good policies and good messaging

This, in spades. I'm not a behavioural scientist but I've worked with some before. Clearly the nudge unit etc have given it a poor public image but behavioural science is important stuff.

I can't speak for other mumsnetters but I wanted our response to be based on how the virus may act not on how people act

But it doesn't spread itself. People spread it through their behaviour. As we don't have a vaccine (and vaccine uptake rates are studied via behavioural science too) I'll take the behavioural science thanks.

Slurpy Thu 23-Apr-20 11:56:29

It's because the 'behavioural scientists' seemed to be running the show during the delay and dither phase in March - this was, at least in part, 'the science' that we were meant to be following.
The behavioural scientists, are actually the nudge unit, which is a bit of a fringe in the psychological community (beloved of Vote Leave) and failed to credit the general populace from being able to grasp the gravity of the situation and follow stricter lockdown rules.
The actual scientific psychology community were agog in early March, and penned an open letter signed by 2000ish actual psychologists, asking to share the science that they were so reliant upon, which seemed to contradict much of the relevant psychological knowledge that we have.
Psychologists value science and peer-review greatly. The nudge unit do not.

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