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2001 Controversy
Science Policy




Center for Science and Technology Policy Research

Regulatory vs. Academic Science

The standards of academic science are inappropriate to the needs and constraints of regulatory science. Both try to understand and explain complex, multivariate, non-linear nature, but they have vastly different constraints. Thus asking a panel of academic scientists to apply the standards applied in writing for journals and applying for research grants to making regulatory decisions is inherently unfair.

Academic and Regulatory Science are different:

  Regulatory Science Academic Science
Institutions Government/industry


Goals • Information needed to meet regulatory requirements and to provide reliable information for decision makers.
• Research questions are framed by legislators and regulators and often have social and economic implications.
• Ultimate goal is conflict resolution via public debate over competing interests and values.
• Original research framed by scientists and driven by rational analysis and expert judgment.
• To expand understanding and knowledge of the natural world through an ongoing process of questioning, hypothesizing, validation, and refutation.
Role of Uncertainty Predictive certainty is required by the political process and by legal requirements. Uncertainty is expected and "embraced."
Products “Gray literature,” baseline data, monitoring data, regulatory documents Published papers, presentations at professional meetings.
Time-frame Determined and driven by statute, regulation, and the political process; finite and often quite short (90 days to 2-4 years) Open-ended
Political Influence Directly influenced by politics: upper-level administrators are appointed by the President; funding is at the will of Congress; ultimate oversight is by the courts. Indirectly influenced by the researcher’s own political philosophy and by their perception of the preferences of grant and tenure review committees.
Accountability Legislatures, courts (moderated to some degree by Daubert v. Merrill Dow, deference, and to some extent, the precautionary principle), and the public Professional peers
Incentives Compliance with legal requirements Professional recognition, advancement in tenure system; university administration