Misunderstanding Models in Environmental and Public Health Regulation

Computational models are fundamental to environmental regulation, yet their capabilities tend to be misunderstood by policymakers.  Rather than rely on models to illuminate dynamic and uncertain relationships in natural settings, policymakers too often use models as “answer machines.” This fundamental misperception that models can generate decisive facts leads to a perverse negative feedback loop that begins with policymaking itself and radiates into the science of modeling and into regulatory deliberations where participants can exploit the misunderstanding in strategic ways. This paper documents the pervasive misperception of models as truth machines in U.S. regulation and the multi-layered problems that result from this misunderstanding. The paper concludes with a series of proposals for making better use of models in environmental policy analysis.

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