Despite 40 years of research into evidence-based policy (EBP) and a continued drive from both policymakers and researchers to increase research uptake in policy, barriers to the use of evidence are persistently identified in the literature. However, it is not clear what explains this persistence – whether they represent real factors, or if they are artefacts of approaches used to study EBP. Based on an updated review, this paper analyses this literature to explain persistent barriers and facilitators. We critically describe the literature in terms of its theoretical underpinnings, definitions of ‘evidence’, methods, and underlying assumptions of research in the field, and aim to illuminate the EBP discourse by comparison with approaches from other fields. Much of the research in this area is theoretically naive, focusing primarily on the uptake of research evidence as opposed to evidence defined more broadly, and privileging academics’ research priorities over those of policymakers. Little empirical data analysing the processes or impact of evidence use in policy is available to inform researchers or decision-makers. EBP research often assumes that policymakers do not use evidence and that more evidence – meaning research evidence – use would benefit policymakers and populations. We argue that these assumptions are unsupported, biasing much of EBP research. The agenda of ‘getting evidence into policy’ has side-lined the empirical description and analysis of how research and policy actually interact in vivo. Rather than asking how research evidence can be made more influential, academics should aim to understand what influences and constitutes policy, and produce more critically and theoretically informed studies of decision-making. We question the main assumptions made by EBP researchers, explore the implications of doing so, and propose new directions for EBP research, and health policy.