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Workshop analyzes science influence on policy

Photo by Achint Raince |

The Eagleton Institute of Politics held a forum on Feb. 5 on how science influences or does not influence policy. Speakers discussed previous cases where science influenced policy and allowed attendees to analyze the process for themselves.

As science develops, new research, data and findings come about, which revolutionizes technology and brings forth improvements to better humanity.

The Eagleton Institute of Politics held a workshop to discuss whether scientific methods directly bring those changes to society or if they influence public policy to bring those changes. The workshop, titled "When Does Science Influence Policy?" was held on Friday, Feb. 5 at the Eagleton Institute building on Douglass Campus.

The workshop had four expert panel members who led an interactive exercise to guide graduate and postdoctoral students in scientific fields through the process of influencing policy makers.

The main topic of this exercise was the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval of AquaBounty Technologies' genetically modified salmon. Members of the panel represented different companies and their outlook on the research which went into AquaBounty's technology and the influencing of policy in order to approve such a change.

AquaBounty Technologies is a company that aims to use genetic modification to "spur a radically more responsible and sustainable way of growing Atlantic salmon," according to its website.

Stuart Shapiro, director of the Public Policy Program at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, specializes in the U.S. regulatory process and was one of the speakers in the panel.

“What we wanted to cover was the issue that a lot of people worry (about) that politicians ignore science, but the reality is much more complicated,” Shapiro said. “In my talk, I wanted to emphasize that sometimes science does make a difference in policy, sometimes it doesn’t."

The impact of science on policy depends on many factors including politics, the legal context of the policy and the science itself, he said.

The mock exercise had students role-playing different parts in the FDA’s decision to approve AquaBounty’s genetically engineered salmon to highlight the point that both science and politics played a role in the agency's decision, Shapiro said.

The panel also covered the topic of the public’s knowledge of science. There was a discussion about how the public often lacks the scientific information necessary to form an opinion on issues like genetically engineered salmon, he said.

“On genetically engineered salmon, most of the public doesn’t have an opinion,” said Shapiro. “The reality is that lots of people don’t know how to feel.”

The speakers discussed the related topic of misinformation regarding science. They mentioned Dr. Mehmet Oz’s marketing pitches, that were investigated by the U.S. Senate for being deceptive, as examples of scientific misinformation affecting the public.

The panelists encouraged the students to use tools, especially social media, to spread the truth about scientific issues and to fight misinformation.

Many different opinions come together to make decisions that affect many communities, said Megan Brooks, the senior policy associate specializing in healthcare issues at Cavarocchi Ruscio Dennis Associates, a consulting firm.

“What I really loved about the workshop today is it gave students the opportunity to get out of their comfort zone and think about issues from a different perspective, and about what kind of influences are shaping and forming those perspectives,” she said.

Public policy is always the result of both scientific knowledge and value-based conversations, she said.

“There’s a lot of great potential with biotechnology, but it’s also so new that regulatory agencies often deal with new products they’ve never dealt with before," she said. "So we’re constantly going to have to think about how to adapt to the newness of biotechnology.”

Biotechnology will continue to be an issue in the media and in the discussions of politicians for years to come, because it is a new product on the market that must be dealt with from multiple perspectives, Brooks said.

Mariam Rashid, an Eagleton Fellow and a second-year graduate student in public health focusing on health policy in the Rutgers School of Public Health, was a guest at this event.

“I am very interested in the intersection between science and policy,” Rashid said. “We don’t have enough scientists that are involved in government policy, so I would like to bridge the gap and (this is) the perfect place to learn how to do it.”

Attendees were able to learn about different pathways to pursue after finishing their education and ways to advocate for issues important to them, such as vaccinations and genetically modified organisms, she said.

This discussion was largely for career networking and understanding how science, and its influence on policy, correlates to the corporate public world, said Ruth Mandel, director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics.

“We want to create an environment for graduate students and postdocs in the sciences to learn about career opportunities and paths,” Mandel said. “We wanted to determine whether there were ways in which the institute of politics could play a role in introducing science students to other kinds of opportunities."


George Xie is a Rutgers Business School sophomore majoring in finance. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. You can see more on Twitter @georgefxie.

Shivang Pandya is a School of Engineering sophomore majoring in biomedical engineering. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. See more on Twitter @ShivPandya3.

Shivang Pandya

George Xie

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