Desmarais and Hird Awarded $527K NSF Grant

Bruce Desmarais and John Hird
Friday, May 9, 2014

Assistant Professor Bruce A. Desmarais (political science), associate director of the Institute for Social Science Research, and Interim Dean John A. Hird (political science and public policy) have been awarded a $527,233 grant from the National Science Foundation titled “Scientific Evidence in Regulation and Governance.” The pair will guide the program titled “Scientific Evidence in Regulation and Governance” that 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 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.