RESOLVE

Science Adjudication Panels

Many US agencies, by law and policy, are charged to make decisions using the “best available science”. But what is ‘best available’? What happens when scientists disagree? How can decision-makers determine which opinion is more reliable? These questions become even more cogent when advocates and interest groups also present conflicting scientific advice and arguments – then the decision-makers must be able to show how they have selected among scientific opinions.

In some cases, the judiciary also examine the weight of scientific evidence, and must determine whether a decision was well-founded or not. While courts (by practice) usually show ‘deference’ to agency scientific opinion, legal challenges can introduce uncertainty into decision-making when either processes or facts are unclear.

RESOLVE staff have spent 20 years developing techniques that solve these issues. One important approach is the use of Science Adjudication Panels. We carefully select a group of scientific experts, who are able to fairly evaluate the evidence. We set up a transparent and cooperative process, where the science is discussed openly and completely. We maintain a clear administrative record, and ensure that all scientific evidence and points of view are discussed. At the end of this process, the Panel makes a determination of the wight of evidence, and the strength of any conclusions reached.

This approach is useful at resolving disputes, and is also defensible, and resistant to subsequent challenge. Examples where it is has been successful include disputes on:

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