As policy makers work to avert catastrophic health and economic outcomes due to COVID 19, they are struggling with a difficult question: What makes expert knowledge credible, legitimate, and reliable for use in public policy? That question is especially urgent since national and regional authorities are facing scientific uncertainty and fast-moving events that cross geopolitical borders, and the need for quick action stands in tension with the need to ground policy in robust expert knowledge and convincing analysis. Ways of identifying trustworthy sources of expertise is essential, but they remain largely vested in governments with their differing institutions, research traditions, cultural commitments, and civic beliefs. The PIs will conduct a multi-sited investigation in ten regions that will capture detailed information about the COVID 19 crisis as it unfolds, and then conduct a rigorous comparative analysis to provide a better understanding of the relationship between expertise and trust, a critically important nexus for policy makers in an era of decentralized information and polarized politics. Effective dissemination of results to critical policy analysts and policy communities is key to the success of this project. To achieve this goal, the PIs will utilize the extensive connections that they and their collaborative partners have to science policymakers and national and international organizations.

The PIs have assembled a team of research partners, well established STS scholars in ten regions, who have agreed to participate in the project. This team will collect and analyze publications and public documents pertaining to COVID-19 policy making in each region. These materials will provide the basis for STS-based accounts of knowledge and policymaking in each region for the comparisons that are central to this project. To provide that account, they will build a basic policy timeline tracking key events and decisions in each region’s response to the pandemic. Tracking these moves will enable them to document change and analyze variations in how issues are framed and evidence is gathered. They will also collect information on uncertainties (such as scope and limitations of scientific knowledge) and controversies, with a focus on the most contentious aspect of coronavirus policy in each region. In addition, they will track carefully chosen objects as they are incorporated into policy discussions. Such objects include particularly influential epidemiological and epistemic models, widely circulated visual representations, key policy concepts, and knowledge claims about the availability, effectiveness, and future prospects of medical interventions.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Frederick Kronz
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Harvard University
United States
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