The Role of Science in Nanotechnology Decision-making: Toward Evidence-based Policy Making

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Science can help inform policy decisions by providing information on the risks and benefits of a technology. In the field of nanotechnology, which is characterized by high degree of

Science can help inform policy decisions by providing information on the risks and benefits of a technology. In the field of nanotechnology, which is characterized by high degree of complexity and uncertainty, there are high demands for scientists to take an active role in policy debates with regulators, policy-makers and the public. In particular, policy-makers often rely on scientific experts to help them make decisions about regulations. However, scientists’ perceptions about policy and public engagement vary based on their individual characteristics, values, and backgrounds. Although many policy actors are involved in nanotechnology policy process, there are few empirical studies that focus on the establishment of coalitions and their impact on policy outputs, as well as the role of scientists in the coalitions. Also, while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regulatory authority over nanoscale materials, there is a lack of literature that describes the use of science on EPA’s decision making of nanotechnology.

In this dissertation, these research gaps are addressed in three essays that explore the following research questions: (1) how are nano-scientists’ individual characteristics and values associated with their perceptions of public engagement and political involvement? (2) how can the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) can be applied to nanotechnology policy subsystem? and (3) how does the EPA utilize science when making regulatory decisions about nanotechnology? First, using quantitative data from a 2011 mail survey of elite U.S. nanoscientists, the dissertation shows that scientists are supportive of engaging with policy-makers and the public about their results. However, there are differences among scientists based on their individual characteristics. Second, qualitative interview analysis suggests that there are two opposing advocacy groups with shared beliefs in the nanotechnology policy subsystem. The lineup of coalition members is stable over time, while the EPA advocates less consistent positions. The interview data also show a significant role of scientific information in the subsystem. Third, the dissertation explains the EPA’s internal perspective about the use of science in regulatory decision making for nanotechnology. The dissertation concludes with some lessons that are applicable for policy-making for emerging technologies.