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Coevolution of policy and science during the pandemic

Yian Yin, Jian Gao, Benjamin F. Jones, Dashun Wang


Disconnects between science and policy, where important scientific insights may be missed by policymakers and bad scientific advice may infect decision making, are a long-standing concern. Yet our systematic understanding of the use of science in policy remains limited, partly due to the difficulty in reliably tracing the co-evolution of policy and science at a large, global scale. Today, the world faces a common emergency in the COVID-19 pandemic, which presents a dynamic, uncertain, yet extraordinarily consequential policy environment across the globe. Here we combine two large-scale databases capturing policy and science and their interactions, allowing us to examine the co-evolution of policy and science during the pandemic. Our analysis suggests that many policy documents in the COVID-19 pandemic substantially access recent, peer-reviewed, and high-impact science. And policy documents that cite science see especially strong comment within the policy domain. At the same time, there is notable heterogeneity in the use of science across policymaking institutions. The tendency for policy documents to cite science appears mostly concentrated within intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), such as the World Health Organization (WHO), and much less so in national governments, which consume science largely indirectly through the IGOs. This close co-evolution between policy and science offers a useful indication that a key link is operating, but it has not been a sufficient condition for effectiveness in containing the pandemic.


The core data and code to reproduce our results are available for download.

Also available at Figshare (doi:10.6084/m9.figshare.13326611