I am reading an interesting book called Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and The End of the American Century by George Packer. In the heat of the moment, however, how much of foreign policy is made based on rigorous academic research? but in foreign policy, in the heat of the moment, dealing with lots of misinformation, Holbrooke claims that the answer is that intelligence may not be the most important factor in foreign policy decisions.
I used to think…that intelligence was far and away the most important factor you needed in government service…But character is an equally important function. Under the pressure of events, one never knows more than five, ten percent at most of what one needs to know about a decision. Often one has to make decisions based on two percent of the information one ought to have in order to make important decisions. So one needs a set of guiding principles, a value system, and rock-hard integrity, or else one is buffeted by public opinion polls, pressure, and the confusion of the bureaucracy’s competing claims. Without character one can lose one’s way.
Much of my own research looks at health policy analysis. In health care, rigorous research plays a more important role in decision making (e.g., clinical trials, best practices, health insurance design), but it is important to note that with any policy decision there will always be incomplete information.