June 30, 2016




Academies Release Educational Modules to Help Future Policymakers and Other Professional-School Students Understand the Role of Science in Decision Making


WASHINGTON – A series of educational modules has been developed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to help students in professional schools – law, public policy, medicine, journalism, and business – understand science and its role in decision making.


The nine sample modules, which explore topics such as shale gas development (“fracking”), vaccines, forensic pattern evidence, and scientific modeling, are intended for use by professional-school faculty who wish to help their students understand basic scientific principles and approaches, assess the evidence underlying scientific claims, and distinguish when there is genuine scientific consensus on an issue and when there are legitimate differences. The modules were authored by individual experts under the oversight of an Academies-appointed committee.


“During the course of their careers, most professional-school students will be required to make decisions in which scientific and technical knowledge play a critical role, but many of these students graduate without an adequate understanding of fundamental scientific principles or how to assess particular scientific claims,” said Paul Brest, former dean and professor emeritus (active), Stanford Law School, who co-chaired the committee that oversaw development of the modules.


“We hope that the modules will help these future decision makers begin to develop the understanding they need to assess and interpret the scientific evidence they will encounter,” said co-chair Saul Perlmutter, Franklin W. and Karen Weber Dabby Chair, University of California, Berkeley, and senior scientist, E.O. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.


The sample modules, which use case studies to illustrate core principles in science and technology particularly relevant to critical thinking, are designed for professional school faculty to use either as parts of courses or as the basis for a course designed by individual faculty members. The Academies committee developed a set of guidelines for the development of the modules and then asked prominent members of the legal and scientific communities to submit proposals for modules on a range of topics where scientific information plays a key role in decision making. The committee met with prospective authors to discuss their proposals; after drafts of modules were developed, the committee reviewed the submissions and suggested refinements and enhancements and ultimately approved the content of the final modules. The committee’s goal was to provide materials that will serve as reference examples for developers of future modules.


The modules are available free online at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/pga/scipol_ed_modules/index.htm  


The development of the modules was sponsored by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the National Biomedical Research Foundation. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine.  The Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit http://national-academies.org.  A committee roster follows.



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Division on Policy and Global Affairs

Committee on Science, Technology, and Law


Committee on Preparing the Next Generation of Policymakers for Science-Based Decisions


Paul Brest (co-chair)

Former Dean and Professor Emeritus

Stanford Law School

Stanford, Calif.


Saul Perlmutter1 (co-chair)

Franklin W. and Karen Weber Dabby Chair

Department of Physics

University of California, Berkeley; and

Senior Scientist

LBNL Physics Division

E.O. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Berkeley, Calif.


Arturo Casadevall2

Professor and Chair

W. Harry Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health



Joe S. Cecil

Project Director

Division of Research

Federal Judicial Center

Washington, D.C.


William Clark1

Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy, and Human Development

Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government

Cambridge, Mass.


Steven N. Goodman

Professor of Medicine, Health Research, and Policy and Associate Dean for Clinical and Translational Research

Stanford University School of Medicine

Stanford, Calif.


John D. Graham


School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Indiana University



Benjamin W. Heineman Jr.

Senior Fellow

Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government

Cambridge, Mass.


Dan Kahan

Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law

Yale Law School

New Haven, Conn.


Fred. D. Ledley


Department of Natural and Applied Sciences

Bentley University

Waltham, Mass.


Cathy Manduca


Science Education Center

Carlton College

Northfield, Minn.


Cathy Middlecamp


Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Integrated Liberal Studies Program

University of Wisconsin



Jennifer Mnookin

Dean and David G. Price Professor of Law

School of Law

University of California

Los Angeles


Richard L. Revesz

Lawrence King Professor of Law,

Dean Emeritus, and

Director, Institute for Policy Integrity

New York University School of Law

New York City


Carl P. Simon

Professor of Mathematics and Economics

College of Literature, Science, and the Arts;

Professor of Public Policy

Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; and

Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program

University of Michigan

Ann Arbor




Steven Kendall
Study Director


1Member, National Academy of Sciences

2Member, National Academy of Medicine