Use Sound Science Guide to Evaluate Information

Policymakers today have no shortage of information when considering a specific topic or legislation.
Supporters and opponents both use a wide range of information when arguing a position, and it is not always easy to tell if that information is based on sound science.
“For policymakers and elected officials, wading through endless reams of research and data is a daunting, if not impossible, task,” said John Lyons, assistant secretary for climate policy for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Department and a member of The Council of State Governments’ Sound Science Advisory Board. 
It was with this overabundance of information in mind that CSG developed "A State Official’s Guide to Science-based Decision-making" in 1999. The guide was intended to serve as an overview of fundamental questions policymakers should consider when integrating public policy with scientific or technical issues. 
But in the nearly 15 years since the first guide was published, the sheer volume of information available through the Internet and other technologies underscored the need to revamp and streamline the guide.
The Sound Science Advisory Board, which was comprised of nine members from the private sector, academia, state legislatures and state agencies, undertook the drafting and editing of CSG’s new "State Official’s Guide to Science-based Decision-making" in 2014.
The revised guide, set to be released mid-June, aims to provide guidance to help policymakers cut through the jargon and spin that sometimes accompanies technical issues. 
“The 'State Official’s Guide to Science-based Decision-making' provides valuable information and tips for the reader on how to assess the research and discern credible sources from those that lack appropriate credentials,” said Lyons. 
The guide has four main sections: assessing the expert, assessing the methods, assessing the results and integrating the knowledge. Each section contains examples and walks readers through key questions to ask, acting as more of a roadmap rather than a strict rulebook. 
“A lot goes into science,” said Teresa Marks, director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and a member of the advisory board. “Knowing the key questions to ask is important for evaluating science and determining credibility.” 
Marks said it is important to ask direct questions.
“Experts often have differing opinions, but it is important to know where they are coming from and the background of their opinion,” she said.
Understanding where an expert is coming from is not the only thing the guide walks readers through.
Readers should come away with tips for understanding how scientific data was gathered, how to assess the relevancy of that data to current topics and how the information can be used in combination with risk assessment to make decisions. 
Determining the quality and applicability of the scientific information is not an exact science, but Lyons believes “those that consult this reference will benefit from the insights provided by it.”