Science Use in Regulatory Impact Analysis: The Effects of Political Attention and Controversy

Mia Costa, Bruce A. Desmarais, John A. Hird

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Scholars, policy makers, and research sponsors have long sought to understand the conditions under which scientific research is used in the policy-making process. Recent research has identified a resource that can be used to trace the use of science across time and many policy domains. U.S. federal agencies are mandated by executive order to justify all economically significant regulations by regulatory impact analyses (RIAs), in which they present evidence of the scientific underpinnings and consequences of the proposed rule. To gain new insight into when and how regulators invoke science in their policy justifications, we ask: does the political attention and controversy surrounding a regulation affect the extent to which science is utilized in RIAs? We examine scientific citation activity in all 101 economically significant RIAs from 2008 to 2012 and evaluate the effects of attention-from the public, policy elites, and the media-on the degree of science use in RIAs. Our main finding is that regulators draw more heavily on scientific research when justifying rules subject to a high degree of attention from outside actors. These findings suggest that scientific research plays an important role in the justification of regulations, especially those that are highly salient to the public and other policy actors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)251-269
Number of pages19
JournalReview of Policy Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration


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