What is Regulatory Science?

Regulatory science is created, “through evolving systems of framing, classification, calculation, and control,” with the goal of, “producing a new state of technologically improved, or designed, nature” (Jasanoff, 2005, 95). According to Jasanoff, regulatory science is the mechanism for providing legitimacy to basic science when it encounters society. She calls this effort normalization. It signals the starting point of the process where public trust institutions (such as EPA or OSHA) make agreements with society about risk. Jasanoff discusses how regulatory science can be used as a mechanism to normalize scientific innovations that have a tremendous impact on the public. This attempt at normalization, typically driven by industry, is an attempt to create legitimacy by making, “vague, unnamed, and unbounded fears,” into, “specific and tractable” ideas (Jasanoff, 2005, 95).

Jasanoff posits that the normalization of regulatory science typically would bring, “public perception back in line with the rational risk calculations made by experts” (Jasanoff, 2005, 99). In most events the normalized regulatory science would not be challenged. The authority of that regulatory science and its risk standards would stand as the measure of what society could consider safe. She argues that this, “apparent closure of controversy was achieved in a period of American deregulation that reduced the type and intensity of scrutiny,” established by regulatory science. (Jasanoff, 99). Expert, and other regulatory agencies would interpret this, “lowering of skeptical oversight as evidence that the research was acceptably safe, but the stability of this conclusion strongly depended on the credibility of the U.S. regulatory process as a whole” (Jasanoff, 2005, 100).

So what do we as a society think about that credibility? Can we find examples when designated experts (EPA, OSHA, utilities, etc) have used this normalized “legitimacy” to defend themselves from liability? Do experts claim the authority of science to support their conclusions and test results regarding the safety of – for example – drinking water? How does society challenge this regulatory science? Or better yet – how does society get involved in its creation?

Jasanoff, Sheila. (2005). Designs on Nature. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

One Reply to “What is Regulatory Science?”

  1. Highly pertinent excerpt and questions. Indeed, how well is society positioned to even sense artificial closures of controversies, let alone challenge them? To what extent do regulatory-science-making processes support and facilitate meaningful public participation?

Leave a Reply