Using Science to Inform State Policymaking

Science and scientists have played an important role in the field of policymaking, informing and guiding decisions on a wide range of issues, including health care, land management, pollution, transportation and even social issues. While it is rare that scientific evidence is the only consideration in a policy decision—beliefs, experience, trial and error, and personal or political values are also used in making policy decisions—science is on balance a more dependable and defensible guide than informed hunches, analogies or personal experience.

The combination of science and public policy seems to have greater relevance today. The world is getting more complex. The rapid evolution of information and communication technologies, and advances in social media and communication platforms, have brought a sea change in the public’s ability to access information from a wide variety of sources at previously unimaginable depths and speeds.

All this has put additional pressure on science to help provide answers and solutions, while also opening up the scientific enterprise to closer surveillance and criticism. What used to be “private” debates between different scientific viewpoints over areas of uncertainty now have the potential to become public disputes that can be exploited by different stakeholders to confirm or deny entrenched positions. In other words, science is increasingly visible and, in some cases, increasingly vulnerable in policymaking process.

At the same time, government needs science. Policymakers must make a decision even with inadequate data. The situation becomes even more complicated for the politician when confronted with conflicting scientific advice. Given these challenges, how can we integrate sound science and public policy decisions?

The Council of State Governments is hosting a day-long policy academy, titled “Using Science to Inform State Policymaking,” to provide strategic guidance to state policymakers that can cut through the jargon and spin that can accompany scientific and technical issues and help them understand issues to be able to make the most informed decision possible. Using the development of consumer products as the broad case study, state policymakers will learn about the scientific basis from which product development decisions are derived, the theories and practices employed to ensure safe consumer products, and the lifecycle assessment of a product.

“Science is at the heart of policymaking--science is reproducible, evidence-based information that provides the foundational facts legislators need.  And as science and technology continue to improve life and lengthen lifespans, now more than ever we need to be able to harness and encourage these scientific improvements, breakthroughs and innovation in order to achieve a sustainable planet. The CGS Science Policy Academy is a can’t miss event--equipping participants with the essential tools they need to understand how science works, which will drive better-designed legislation and real results for the future,” said Karyn Schmidt, senior director of regulatory and technical affairs at American Chemistry Council, who will be a speaker.       

Perhaps no consumer product has received more attention from state leaders than the rapidly escalating use of over-the-counter (OTC) medications, which are sold directly to consumers without a prescription. Currently, there are more than 800 OTC active ingredients found in more than 100,000 OTC medicines in the marketplace.

“OTC medications play a major role in our nation’s healthcare system.  Millions of consumers use OTC’s for common ailments and preventive self-care.  Their role in our nation’s healthcare have become even more critical in recent years given increasing healthcare costs and physician shortages. The Food and Drug Administration recently published guidance to encourage companies to pursue new avenues to switch more medicines from prescription to OTC status,” said David Spangler, senior vice president of policy and general counsel at the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), who will be a speaker.

Spangler and Carlos Gutierrez, vice president of state and local government affairs at CHPA, will share how their organization promotes OTC medicine safety and efficacy as their use becomes more prevalent. CHPA is a national trade association representing manufacturers of OTC medicines and dietary supplements.

“The pharmaceutical industry has partnered with state governments for several years on safety and diversion prevention.  Those efforts expand every day as we attempt to maintain access to OTC’s by those who need them, but limit access to those who might be seeking to abuse or divert them.  We will introduce attendees to a number of programs that have launched in states addressing this very issue,” Gutierrez said.

The policy academy will be on Dec. 6, in conjunction with CSG’s 2018 National Conference to be held from Dec. 6-8 in Northern Kentucky-Greater Cincinnati. CSG’s 2014 report, A State Official’s Guide to Science-based Decision-making, is also a helpful resource on this topic. The guide includes recommendations and helpful tools for policymakers to confidently assess the assumptions, conclusions, and results that accompany scientific studies, hearings and testimonies.