Bad Science: International Organizations and the Indirect Power of Global Benchmarking

Wednesday 24 January 2018, 12.00PM to 1.30pm

Speaker: André Broome, Warwick


The production of transnational knowledge that is widely recognized as legitimate is a major source of influence for international organizations. To reinforce their expert status, international organizations increasingly produce global benchmarks that measure national performance across a range of issue areas. This paper illustrates how international organization benchmarking is a significant source of indirect power in world politics by examining two prominent cases in which international organizations seek to shape the world through comparative metrics: (1) the World Bank–International Finance Corporation Ease of Doing Business ranking; and (2) the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development FDI Regulatory Restrictiveness Index. The legitimacy attached to these benchmarks because of the expertise of the international organizations that produce them is highly problematic for two reasons. First, both benchmarks oversimplify the evaluation of relative national performance, misrepresenting contested political values drawn from a specific transnational paradigm as empirical facts. Second, they entrench an arbitrary division in the international arena between ‘ideal’ and ‘pathological’ types of national performance, which (re)produces social hierarchies among states. The paper argues that the ways in which international organizations use benchmarking to orient how political actors understand best practices, advocate policy changes and attribute political responsibility thus constitutes ‘bad science’. Extending research on processes of paradigm maintenance and the influence of international organizations as teachers of norms or judges of norm compliance, the paper shows how the indirect power that international organizations exercise as evaluators of relative national performance through benchmarking can be highly consequential for the definition of states’ policy priorities.


View the paper:

Location: Derwent College, room D/N/104

Admission: All welcome