The ‘daylight saving’ evidence dilemma

The hour lost / hour gained debate is upon us again – that twice-yearly agitation about whether Greenwich Mean Time is critical to the British way of life.   My own view is clear: the evidence for moving to permanent BST (British Summer Time) is beyond dispute, even for Scotland. But this evidence is very obviously not compelling to everyone.

Despite the urgent need to save energy (a major selling point for lighter evenings), objections tend to hover around specifics: ‘It’s not safe; children going to school in Scotland will be in the dark’ (in fact, dark afternoons are more dangerous); or ‘What the Europeans do is up to them; we’re Brits and we have GMT’; or even ‘My cows aren’t used to being milked in the dark’.

Accommodating change
Rarely do we see comment which explores ways to accommodate the change to lighter evenings, though there are many ways this could be done, ranging from reflective jackets for school walks, and blackout blinds for children who don’t sleep well in light evenings, to adjusting milking times for recalcitrant Scots cows.

The National Farmers’ Union now says, in a revision of its position, that it will not oppose the change to BST if that is in the general interest.  Most of the ‘problems’ of adopting BST year-round could be met and sorted quite simply, if a similar flexibility were there overall to deliver the greater commonly shared benefits of ‘daylight saving’.

Emotion versus evidence?
This is an issue which could be seen as fairly neutral – it’s about a fairly arbitrary (and historically fluid) allocation of a single hour across the day, in an impersonal context; but in fact it brings us to some puzzling questions about how people perceive evidence, especially when they have perhaps previously unquestioned, sometimes almost self-defining opinions.

* How do people with long-held views accommodate evidence which conflicts with these views? Is the most usual response to ignore the evidence, or is it to focus negatively on small parts of it

* Is strong rejection of ‘new’ evidence sometimes a mechanism by which people define themselves in opposition to change or ‘different’ sorts of social mores?

* And, if so, is there any way whereby empirical evidence-based positions in the general public interest can be uncoupled from such non-evidence-based, much more emotive, personal inclinations?


Posted on October 30, 2010, in Questions and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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