Engaging Policy in Science Writing
Posner, Stephen M.
Ricketts, Taylor H.
Many scientific researchers aspire to engage policy in their writing, but translating scientific research and findings into policy discussion often requires an understanding of the institutional complexities of legal and policy processes and actors. To examine how researchers have undertaken that challenge, we developed a set of metrics and applied them to articles published in one of the principal academic publication venues for science and policy—Science magazine’s Policy Forum. We reviewed each Policy Forum article published over a five-year period (2011–15), 220 in all. For each article, we assessed the level of policy content based on presence of a stated policy proposal or position and identification of the relevant policy actors and actions, and recorded attributes such as field of science, field of policy, number of references to legal and policy sources, number of authors from law and policy institutions, and number of citations. We find that a handful of science fields dominate publication frequency, but that all fields have produced publications with high policy engagement. Of the attributes, number of references to law and policy sources is correlated positively with level of engagement, whereas number of law and policy authors was fairly constant across all depths of engagement. Surprisingly, level of policy engagement was negatively correlated with the number of citations an article subsequently received. We offer possible explanations for these results and thoughts for authors, editors, and research institutions interested in facilitating robust engagement of policy in scientific writing.