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Widespread use of National Academies consensus reports by the American public
PNAS (2022)
  • Diana Hicks
  • Matteo Zullo, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Ameet Doshi, Princeton University
  • Omar Isaac Asensio, Georgia Institute of Technology
In seeking to understand how to protect the public information sphere from corruption, researchers understandably focus on dysfunction. However, parts of the public information ecosystem function very well, and understanding this as well will help in protecting and developing existing strengths. Here, we address this gap, focusing on public engagement with high-quality science-based information, consensus reports of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). Attending to public use is important to justify public investment in producing and making freely available high-quality, scientifically based reports. We deploy Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT), a high-performing, supervised machine learning model, to classify 1.6 million comments left by US downloaders of National Academies reports responding to a prompt asking how they intended to use the report. The results provide detailed, nationwide evidence of how the public uses open access scientifically based information. We find half of reported use to be academic—research, teaching, or studying. The other half reveals adults across the country seeking the highest-quality information to improve how they do their job, to help family members, to satisfy their curiosity, and to learn. Our results establish the existence of demand for high-quality information by the public and that such knowledge is widely deployed to improve provision of services. Knowing the importance of such information, policy makers can be encouraged to protect it.
  • BERT,
  • natural language processing,
  • public understanding of science,
  • machine learning
Publication Date
March 1, 2022
Citation Information
Diana Hicks, Matteo Zullo, Ameet Doshi and Omar Isaac Asensio. "Widespread use of National Academies consensus reports by the American public" PNAS Vol. 119 Iss. 9 (2022)
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