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Models: Scientific Practice in Context
An Educational Module

Elizabeth Fisher
Professor of Environmental Law
Faculty of Law and Corpus Christi College, Oxford University

Pasky Pascual
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 

Wendy Wagner
Joe A. Worsham Centennial Professor
 University of Texas at Austin School of Law


This module (and associated instructors’ guide) is an introduction to models and to their role in regulatory decision-making. It has been explicitly designed for non-scientists from a variety of different backgrounds including law, journalism, public policy, and business. The module covers three main themes: 

  1. Core lessons on using models for policy making including what models are and what they are used for;
  2. Key questions and ideas on the art and science of modeling including how models are used to establish causation and how models differ from other scientific techniques;
  3. Key ideas on using models in policy-making including how models are used by agencies and the legal and policy issues they raise.

The module draws on scientific literature, regulatory documentation, newspaper articles, legal material, and video clips. The models we discuss relate to many different things – climate change, air quality, and even baseball results.  The material’s diversity reflects both the importance of models and that they often operate against a background of controversy.

The module has been created to be used in a variety of different learning environments ranging from instructor led teaching formats to environments where there is heavy use of student participation including break out groups. Throughout the module, students are guided by a roadmap, and there are checkpoints which can either be used for class discussion or independent student learning. The first part (Sections 1-4) of the module introduces students to the basic concepts of models.  The second part (Sections 5-6) then locates this understanding within applied legal and policy settings and includes a more detailed case study of the EPA’s use of models to set ambient air quality standards (Section 6).  If a course is not particularly policy-oriented, the final Section – Section 6: Case Study on Air Quality Standards – could be omitted, leaving more time for student engagement with the basic concepts and material.  


The copyright in the linked module is owned by the author(s) of the module, and may be used subject to the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Public License By clicking on the link and using or further adapting the educational module, you agree to comply with the terms of the license.  The educational module is solely the product of the author(s) and others that have added modifications and is not necessarily endorsed or adopted by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine or the sponsors of this activity.