Why States Believe Foolish Ideas: Non-Self-Evaluation By States And Societies

Why searching out some information for my thesis I happened to come across an interesting paper titled: “Why States Believe Foolish Ideas: Non-Self-Evaluation By States And Societies” by Stephen Van Evera, January 10, 2002

For the topic of this list, those readers interested in why the Myth of ICNIRP and why Repacholian pseudo-science continues to wield such power with national governments and their agencies, this paper is well worth a read.

Don Maisch

Download it at:


Some exerpts from the beginning:


Kenneth Waltz argues that states are socialized to the international system because they will be injured or even destroyed if they fail to adapt to it. I believe this claim is correct but should be qualified. Most states are indeed socialized to the international system, but their socialization is often slow and sometimes minimal because states widely fail to evaluate their own ideas and policies.

Organization theorists note that organizations are poor self-evaluators; I argue here that states suffer the same syndrome. This failure to self-evaluate impedes national learning and allows misperceptions to flourish.

Myths, false propaganda, and anachronistic beliefs persist in the absence of strong evaluative institutions to test ideas against logic and evidence, weeding out those that fail. As a result national learning is slow and forgetting is quick. The external environment is perceived only dimly, through a fog of myths and misperceptions.

States that misperceive their environment in this way are bound to fail to adapt to it, even when the penalties of such failure are high. Blind to the incentives they face they will respond inappropriately, even if they accept in principle the need to adapt.

The following two sections frame reasons why self-evaluation is hard for organizations and outline ways that parallel problems inhibit evaluation in governments and whole societies. The next two sections detail tactics used by opponents to inhibit or prevent evaluation and frame conditions that are more and less conducive to self-evaluation. The last two sections look at cases that shed light on this theory and offer concluding thoughts.

Aaron Wildavsky contends that organizations poorly evaluate their own policies and beliefs because they often turn against their own evaluative units, attacking or destroying them.

Evaluation promotes innovation and change. This threatens the jobs and status of incumbent members of the organization. Hence incumbents often seek to hamper or prevent evaluation and to punish evaluators. These incumbents tend to dominate the organization’s decision making, so evaluation finds itself with stronger enemies than friends within the organization. Hence self- evaluation is often timid and ineffective.

Targets of evaluation can create competing units to produce pseudo-evaluation and disinformation that drowns out the voice of evaluation. Or they can refuse to cooperate with evaluators. Specifically, they can withhold or doctor data that evaluators need for their evaluation, or they can bargain for leniency in exchange for data. Or they can threaten evaluators with social ostracism or coopt them with personal friendship.

Source: //www.emfacts.com/weblog/index.php?p=393


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