Faculty Scholarship

Public Health Law Monitoring and Evaluation in a Big Data Future

Big Data

Law is important to public health. It provides government health agencies with their jurisdiction and regulatory authority. Laws and regulations are routinely used in the name of health to regulate behavior and foster safer environments. More fundamentally, law’s influence in shaping everyday life and the socioeconomic and physical environments in which it unfolds has a powerful impact on both the level and distribution of health. Despite law’s importance, and despite the strong orientation toward scientific evaluation in public health, the study of the impact of laws and legal practices on health (“public health law research”) has been uneven.

While research of the highest quality has been sustained in a few areas like auto safety and tobacco control, it has been infrequent or truncated in others, like gun control and HIV/AIDS. The research that has been supported is almost entirely aimed at evaluating deliberate legal interventions. Epidemiological research on unintended health effects of non-health laws has been almost entirely neglected. Overall, the national investment in rigorously separating the laws that help from the laws that hurt has been insufficient in comparison to its importance to the nation’s health. The Public Health Law Research Program was established at Temple Law by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2009. Its mission is to fund and support scientific research documenting the impact of law on public health. From the perspective of this mission, I will discuss two complementary ways that big data fits into our thoughts and work in public health law research. The first is straightforward: our single biggest challenge in evaluating the health impact of laws and legal practices is the lack of data measuring intermediate and ultimate outcomes. The second is, in a big data discussion, perhaps paradoxical: old-fashioned scientific methods of human coding statutes and regulations may be the most feasible short- and intermediate-term means of getting law into the big data mix, and may have implications for legal practice and research that transcend the field of health.

Download the Paper from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law’s I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society.

Questions about this post? Drop us a line at lawcomm@temple.edu.

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