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When and How Presidents Use Scientific Expertise: Criteria for Success Derived from Selected Case Studies Open Access

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This research project sought to clarify the circumstances under which scientific expertise has been accepted as a basis for Presidential decisions by review of case studies where a President clearly used science advice. Presidential decisions were chosen as the focus of research because decisions at the Presidential level are important enough to justify seeking the best expertise available.The study summarized the value of scientific expertise to policymaking using historical examples, and reviewed published literature in three areas: presidential decision-making, the role of expertise in policy advocacy, and academic studies of science advice. The literature review identified 16 variables that might increase the acceptability of scientific expertise in a President's decision-making process. Cases were selected based primarily on the judgement of a few persons who have provided science advice at the Presidential level. A case study was done on three Presidential decisions to see if the 16 variables were important to the use of scientific expertise in these cases. The decisions were: (1) President Ford's 1976 decision to begin a national program of vaccination for swine flu, (2) President Ford's later decision to suspend that program, and (3) President Reagan's decision to negotiate binding intertational reductions on the production of ozone-depleting chemicals.Review of these three cases demonstrated that scientific expertise is sometimes extremely important to Presidential decisions. Analysis of the three case studies suggest that five of the variables from the science advice literature are not necessary to successful science advice, since they are not present in at least one case. On the other hand, the analysis finds that three of the variables were common across the cases: seeking experts from outside government, seeking evidence of a consensus among scientists on the appropriate course of action, and experts engaging directly with policymakers on the full range of policy option development and assessment (as opposed to isolated review of the scientific issues). The study suggests that focusing on those three elements may enhance the use of scientific advice to policymakers, and that these three variables (and possibly others) are appropriate for future research.

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