reasons used in a policy argument. Knowledge based in science is broadly taken to mean data, information, concepts, research findings, and theories that are generally accepted by the relevant scientific discipline. Science is not the only source of knowledge used in policy argument—beliefs, experience, trial and error, reasoning by analogy, and personal or political values are also used in policy argument. How science interacts with nonscientific reasons given for public policies is among the issues we address, especially the complicated but inevitable interaction of politics, values, and science.
“Use” is another key term in the report. We review how it is defined and studied in the research specialty known as knowledge utilization. We consider what is known about if, when, and why use occurs, the various efforts to improve use, and how the current interest in evidence-based policy relates to use. The report focuses on what is poorly understood about use and might be better understood if social science research shifted its focus from defining use to studying what occurs in policy arguments when relevant science is available.
“Policy” is broadly construed in this report. It is used to describe specific and detailed adjustments to established policies, such as modifying the rate at which capital gains are taxed. It is also used for more general topics, such as school reform or deficit reduction, each of which can encompass dozens of discrete policy choices and instruments. And it is used even more broadly to reference policy domains, such as welfare policy or security policy. We even stretch the term to include the broadest of national policy goals, such as strengthening the market economy or protecting the civil rights of all Americans, which involve hundreds of discrete policies adopted and modified over decades. The general principles laid out in this report would be applied differently depending on the level of policy specified, on the particular policy sector (e.g., social welfare or national security) and on whether the policy target is a current condition, such as stopping illegal immigration, or one anticipated years or even decades hence, such as future energy needs in a world of 9 billion people. These differences matter, but we do not take them up. We consider what it means for science “to be of use” in a framework that does not depend on a carefully formulated definition of policy.1
1We restrict attention to the use of science in government public policy. There are of course other arenas where policies with public consequence are made—business policies about product lines or investment strategies, university policies about diversity initiatives or tenure criteria, and advocacy group policies about pressure tactics or fundraising goals. Although points made in this report are applicable beyond the arena of government policy, this is not our topic.