A forgotten central part of the Overton window

Overton through a window

Talking of ‘shifting the Overton window‘ and the like has become increasingly popular in the last few years amongst political and policy geeks in the UK. It’s not obvious why, given that – for example – the previous paucity of evidence to support the theory has remained just the same, a point that Nick Barlow made well a few years back.

A paucity of evidence doesn’t stop something becoming popular, of course. It’s almost as if the Overton window is political homoeopathy.

More curious, however, is what Overton himself thought of this eponymous window. He thought that bigger social and economic trends move it, but that politicians can’t.

Which makes the current fashion for talking about how politicians should move the Overton window all the odder, because its current adherents are quite at odds with its founder.

All of which makes the parallel with homoeopathy rather stronger because, as Ben Goldacre pointed out in Bad Science, modern supporters of homoeopathy who disdain carefully tested evidence are in fact also running against the founder of their cause. He, in fact, set out to be far more driven by evidence than his rival contemporaries.¬†As with Overton’s window, things rather changed along the way.


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