National Academies’ Teaching Modules on Scientific Policy Issues

Today, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine announced its release of nine teaching modules to help public policy decision makers and students in professional schools understand the role of science in policy decision making.[1] The modules were developed by university faculty members for  the use of other faculty who want to help their students appreciate the complexity and nuances of the evidence for and against scientific claims.

A group within the Academies’ Committee on Science, Technology and the Law supervised the development of the teaching modules, which are now publicly available at the Academies’ website. The Committee was chaired by Paul Brest, former dean and professor emeritus (active), Stanford Law School, and Saul Perlmutter, Franklin W. and Karen Weber Dabby Chair, University of California, Berkeley, and senior scientist, E.O. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the National Biomedical Research Foundation sponsored the development of the modules.

The modules use case studies to illustrate basic scientific and statistical principles involved in contemporary scientific issues that have significant policy implications. The modules are designed to help future policy and decision makers understand and evaluate the scientific evidence that they will doubtlessly encounter. To date, nine modules have been developed and released, in the hope that they will serve as references and examples for future teaching modules.

The nine modules prepared to date are:

Models: Scientific Practice in Context

prepared by:
– Elizabeth Fisher, Professor of Environmental Law, Faculty of Law and Corpus Christi College, Oxford University
– Pasky Pascual, Environmental Protection Agency
– Wendy Wagner, Joe A. Worsham Centennial Professor,  University of Texas at Austin School of Law

The Interpretation of DNA Evidence: A Case Study in Probabilities

prepared by:

– David H. Kaye, Associate Dean for Research and Distinguished Professor, The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State Law)

Translating Science into Policy: The Role of Decision Science

prepared by:

– Paul Brest, Former Dean and Professor Emeritus (active), Stanford Law School

Placing a Bet: A New Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease

prepared by:

– Kevin W. Sharer, Senior Lecturer, Harvard Business School, Harvard University

Shale Gas Development

prepared by:

– John D. Graham, Dean, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University
– John A. Rupp, Adjunct Instructor, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and Senior Research Scientist, Indiana Geological Survey, Indiana University
– Adam V. Maltese, Associate Professor of Science Education, School of Education, and Adjunct Faculty in Department of Geological Sciences, Indiana University

Drug-Induced Birth Defects: Exploring the Intersection of Regulation, Medicine, Science, and Law

prepared by:

– Nathan A. Schachtman, Lecturer in Law, Columbia Law School


prepared by:

– Arturo Casadevall, Professor and Chair, W. Harry Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

Forensic Pattern Recognition Evidence

prepared by:

– Simon A. Cole, Professor, Department of Criminology, Law, and Society, Director, Newkirk Center for Science and Society, University of California, Irvine
– Alyse Berthental, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Criminology, Law, and Society, University of California, Irvine
– Jaclyn Seelagy, Scholar, PULSE (Program on Understanding Law, Science, and Evidence),  University of California, Los Angeles School of Law

Scientific Evidence of Factual Causation

prepared by:

– Steve C. Gold, Professor of Law, Rutgers School of Law-Newark
– Michael D. Green, Williams Professor of Law, Wake Forest University School of Law
– Joseph Sanders, A.A. White Professor of Law, University of Houston Law Center

[1] SeeAcademies Release Educational Modules to Help Future Policymakers and Other Professional-School Students Understand the Role of Science in Decision Making” (June 30, 2016).

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