The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Desmarais and Hird awarded NSF grant to study the use of science in policymaking

Bruce A. Desmarais, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Associate Director of the Institute for Social Science Research at UMass-Amherst, and John A. Hird, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy and Interim Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, have been awarded a $527,233 grant from the National Science Foundation titled “Scientific Evidence in Regulation and Governance.” The project makes use of powerful new information and analytical tools to understand and improve how science is used across disparate federal policymaking arenas.

Using the best available science is an important component of effective rulemaking and required by Presidential executive order. The scientific basis of regulatory policymaking plays an important role in maintaining the legitimacy, transparency, and accountability of policymaking by unelected officials. They focus on regulatory impact analyses (RIAs), which US federal regulatory agencies are obligated to produce to assess anticipated costs and benefits of major regulations.  By identifying the sources of information—scientific and otherwise—that regulatory agencies use to justify their policies, Desmarais and Hird and a team of graduate and undergraduate students will uncover the relationships between research and regulatory policy and the networks that inform the transmission of science and other information into policymaking.  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. The project results: 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.

The public-use, online database 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 used in the policymaking process.  The database will also be 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. The researchers will meet regularly with officials at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Union of Concerned Scientists to help enhance the development and dissemination of the project results.  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

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