Political Scientists Receive $527k NSF Grant to Study Scientific Evidence in Regulation and Governance

May 6, 2014

Contact: Jared Sharpe 413/545-3809

Bruce A. Desmarais
John A. Hird

AMHERST, Mass. – A pair of political scientists from the University of Massachusetts Amherst have been awarded a $527,233 grant from the National Science Foundation to study how scientific research informs regulatory policymaking. Bruce A. Desmarais, assistant professor of political science and associate director of the Institute for Social Science Research, and John A. Hird, professor of political science and public policy and interim dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, will guide the program titled “Scientific Evidence in Regulation and Governance.”

Using the best available science is an important component of effective rulemaking, and is legally required by various presidential executive orders signed by Presidents Reagan through Obama. The scientific basis of regulatory policymaking plays an important role in maintaining the legitimacy, transparency, and accountability of unelected officials in executive branch offices. By using powerful new information and analytical tools to identify the sources of information—scientific and otherwise—that regulatory agencies use to justify their policies, Desmarais, Hird and a team of graduate and undergraduate students aim to 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 policies to specific scientific sources, allowing comparisons across time, policymaking domains and scientific disciplines. This database will better illuminate the basis of regulatory impact assessments, reveal how science is presented to policymakers and provide scientific researchers and their funders with concrete evidence of real-world policy impact.

The public-use, online database can be used by policymakers to improve their use of science, by research funding agencies to understand which research is most used by policymakers and where important gaps exist, and by 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 will also assist scientists and regulatory agencies to identify areas where better research or communication can improve policymaking.

The researchers will meet regularly with officials from the Union of Concerned Scientists and federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency to help enhance the development and dissemination of the project results.