Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bad public policy

I want to put together this post by John D Cook:

We can’t use common sense because it doesn’t fit on a form.

We can’t treat people like people because that doesn’t scale well.

We can’t use a simple approach to solve the problem in front of us unless the same approach would also work on a problem 100x larger that we may never have.

If the smart thing to do doesn’t scale, maybe we shouldn’t scale.

with this post by Radley Balko about a note sent home because a child was too heavy:

•Back when I wrote about the obesity debate for Cato, I remember when public schools telling parents their kids are too fat was the sort of thing people on my side of the debate warned about, and people on the other side of the debate said was ridiculous hyperbole. Also, the kid’s BMI is 19.4, and the school is sending home fat warnings? Why not just go ahead and build a vomitorium next to the girls bathroom?

Now, it is true that the person in question was in the 85th percentile for her group. But let us be clear here: if every single person in America had a healthy weight then somebody would still be in the 85th percentile. By definition.

We don't talk epidemiology enough on this blog (given the title) so this is a good tiem to talk about the need for careful developed public health policies. All that badly designed policies like this will do is to make it harder to implement effective and useful interventions.

To link this back to the quote at the beginning, blanket policies like this need to include nuance or else they are at risk of doing more harm than good. If we can't design a policy that can avoid these kinds of absurd outcomes then we should really be thinking about whether the area is a good one to implement policies in. But bad policies are worse than no policies . . .

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