The Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy

The Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (2002-2008) examined the nature of science and how it is used and misused in government decision-making and legal proceedings. Through empirical research, conversations among scholars, and publications, SKAPP aimed to enhance understanding of how knowledge is generated and interpreted. SKAPP promoted transparent decision-making, based on the best available science, to protect public health.

How and why science works may be difficult for non-scientists to understand. The aura around science and scientists - reflecting the power of scientific understanding and its complexity - creates opportunities for misunderstanding and misuse of scientific evidence. Indeed, failure on the part of decision-makers to understand the norms of science may lead to inaccurate conclusions and inappropriate applications of scientific results.

Particularly in public policy and the courts, where the parties are intent on a specific outcome and selectively draw on scientific evidence to bolster their position, failure to understand how science works can lead to serious error. The consequences of such misunderstandings can be devastating for individuals, families, businesses and communities. Yet there is a growing disparity between the reality of scientific practice and increasingly prescriptive mandates for how decision-makers should evaluate scientific methods and evidence.

What can science tell us and not tell us about links between environmental exposures and disease? What is the nature of uncertainty in different scientific disciplines? What standards for scientific evidence are appropriate in different contexts? By examining questions like these, SKAPP aimed to enhance understanding of the limits and contributions of science to court and government decisions that may have substantial long-term ramifications for public health.

SKAPP engaged with the public and with the scientific, legal, and policy communities to advance understanding and conversations on these topics; see the SKAPP Writing & Speeches and SKAPP in the News pages for links and more information. Our Coronado Conferences advanced dialogue on science and policy issues in the legal system; papers from the conferences have been published in journals and are available on our website:

  • Coronado I: Scientific Evidence and Public Policy; published in the American Journal of Public Health special issue
  • Coronado II: Sequestered Science: The Consequences of Undisclosed Knowledge; published in Law and Contemporary Problems special issue
  • Coronado III: Truth and Advocacy: The Quality and Nature of Litigation and Regulatory Science; papers published in an Environmental Health Perspectives mini-monograph
  • Coronado IV: Conventions in Science and the Law; published in Law and Contemporary Problems

SKAPP was a project of the George Washington University School of Public Health and Heath Services. Project staff included:

    David Michaels, PhD, MPH
    Susan Wood, PhD
    Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH
    Liz Borkowski

Guidance and support was provided by the SKAPP Advisory Committee:

   Eula Bingham, PhD
   Les Boden, PhD
   Richard Clapp, DSc, MPH
   Polly Hoppin, ScD
   Sheldon Krimsky, PhD
   David Michaels, PhD, MPH
   David Ozonoff, MD, MPH
   Anthony Robbins, MD, MPA

Funding: Support for SKAPP was provided by the Common Benefit Trust, a fund established pursuant to a court order in the Silicone Gel Breast Implant Products Liability litigation; the Bauman Foundation; the Open Society Institute; the Rockefeller Family Fund; the Public Welfare Foundation; and the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. The opinions expressed on the website are ours alone. We did not provide our funders advance notice or the opportunity to review or approve the content of this site or any documents produced by the project.