Tracing citations in U.S. National Environmental Policy Act compliant reports and role of science in decision-making.

Although science-informed policymaking is frequently touted as a solution to policy design and implementation dilemmas (e.g., Howlett 2009; Cairney 2016; Parkhurst 2017) there are few empirical studies of how scientific information informs policy making (Desmarais and Hird 2014; Newman et al. 2017). DataLab is working with researchers in Environmental Science and Policy to help quantify and characterize the use of science and federal agencies’ environmental assessments.

The U.S. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) mandates every federal agency to analyze and document the potential environmental impacts of their proposed projects using the best available science. Documents produced in compliance with NEPA thus provide a unique opportunity to evaluate the extent that science informs government decision-making.

For this Spring 2020 start-up collaboration we are extracting, parsing, and ground truthing citations included in NEPA documents in order to create several measures of science use. These measures will allow evaluation of the factors shaping the use of science in government decision-making, and will advance computational methods for extracting citations from government decisions, which often rely grey literature and white papers as opposed to peer-reviewed journal articles. For this start-up project we are focusing on the United States Forest Service (USFS) because it produces the most NEPA analyses of all agencies, with the goal toward developing software and workflows extensible to address similarly complex issues and metric evaluation to aid other government agencies. 


DataLab: Arthur Koehl (technical lead), Carl Stahmer, Pamela Reynolds

Domain Leads: Professors Tyler Scott and Gwen Arnold, and postdoctoral researcher Cory Struthers