In March the United Kingdom curiously declined to impose significant social distancing measures in response to the global pandemic. The government was taking advice from the so-called “Nudge Unit,” a private company called Behavioral Insights Team, which uses behavioral science to advise U.K. policymakers, among others, on how to “nudge” people toward certain actions. The company, led by experimental psychologist David Halpern, told policymakers to be wary of “behavioral fatigue,” the idea that the public’s commitment to the measures would fade over time. The lax measures sparked fierce backlash not just from epidemiologists concerned about the virus’ spread, but also from a group of 600 behavioral scientists—psychologists, sociologists, economists, political scientists, and more. They signed an open letter doubting the quality of the evidence that led to the government’s decision.
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