Scientific Evidence in Regulation and Governance

Project: Research project

Project Details


Public policymaking is enhanced through access to the best possible science. This project uses powerful new information and analytical tools to understand and improve how science is used across disparate federal policymaking arenas. Central to the project is the development of the first large-scale, publicly available database that connects specific policies to specific scientific sources, allowing comparisons across time, policymaking domains, and scientific disciplines. This database better illuminates the basis of regulatory impact assessments, reveals how science is presented to policymakers, and provides scientific researchers as well as their funders with concrete evidence of real-world policy impact. This project focuses on regulatory impact analyses (RIAs), which US federal regulatory agencies are obligated to produce to assess anticipated costs and benefits of major regulations, to: 1) describe the patterns of scientific research use in regulatory decisions; 2) identify characteristics of scientific research that make it more or less useful to policymakers; and 3) utilize specific instances of research-to-policy connections to reverse engineer science-policy networks, and understand when and how regulatory policymakers make use of scientific research.

Intellectual Merit:

This project substantially advances knowledge regarding the relationships between scientific research and policymaking. The breadth and specificity in the database constructed with this research provides insights regarding many important overarching questions, such as: Do regulators draw upon scientific research more heavily when faced with particularly high profile policy decisions? Does legislative oversight influence the use of scientific research by regulators? What roles do advocacy and interest groups play in shaping the use of scientific research in regulatory policymaking? Do major research funders facilitate the production of science that is relevant to policymaking problems? The project offers substantial new contributions to understanding research use in public policymaking. Overall, the results of this project provide a comprehensive assessment of the role that important actors in the political, policy, and scientific spheres play in facilitating connections between scientific research and rulemaking.

Broader Impacts:

Federal regulators establish the specific regulations intended to enhance human and ecosystem health, economic competitiveness, government functions, and other regulatory domains. The best available science is an important component of effective rulemaking. The public-use, online database produced by this project can be used by policymakers to improve their use of science, research funding agencies to understand which research is most used by policymakers and where important gaps exist, and organizations and members of the general public interested in identifying the quality and quantity of evidence--scientific and otherwise--used in the policymaking process. The database is also openly available to scholars studying the relationship between scientific research and public policymaking. The project helps scientists as well as regulatory agencies identify areas where better research or communication can improve policymaking. Lastly, the project is poised to directly benefit regulatory policymakers in two ways. First, accessing the best possible science provides legitimacy for regulatory policymaking. Second, the project includes substantial interactions with regulatory agency officials to better understand their methodologies for identifying appropriate science and to enhance their application of science to policymaking.

Effective start/end date7/1/146/30/16


  • National Science Foundation: $527,233.00


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