As part of Policy Bridge’s efforts to continuing highlighting examples of engaged scholarship, we’ve been speaking with several professors around campus who have engaged with policy actors frequently in their work. One of these professors is Dr. Heather Stapleton, the Dan and Bunny Gabel Associate Professor of Environmental Ethics and Sustainable Environmental Management at the Nicholas School for Environment. She is frequently asked to be an expert witness and advise lawmakers on matters relevant to her research on contaminants.
We asked Professor Stapleton what encourages the frequency of her engagement with policymakers. She noted that policymakers and their teams usually initiate their conversations with her research team. Part of this enthusiasm is credited to the niche of Dr. Stapleton’s research area. Her current research projects explore the routes of human exposure to flame retardant chemicals and examine the way these compounds are photodegraded and metabolized using mass spectrometry to identify breakdown products/metabolites. To note, Dr. Stapleton’s lab is one of the only labs in the world that does this kind of work.
For researchers performing studies in distinctive subject areas, her engagement is a great example of how one can be found by government agencies through published research. When lawmakers are interested in receiving expert testimony on the risk of exposure and toxicity to chemical contaminants in home materials, Professor Stapleton is a well-known resource. Due to this credibility, she has engaged across multiple states and at the federal level to respond to testimony requests from state governing body and federal agencies.
When providing expertise to governing bodies, Stapleton did advise us that misinformation is common when research experts and industry officials are not in the room at the same time. This misinformation can contribute to confusion among legislators and contribute to further division over scientific evidence on regulation matters. When this occurrence is coupled with partisan division on some regulatory issues, providing scientific testimony as a non-partisan outside expert can be difficult.
Stapleton most recently testified at the North Carolina General Assembly in May.
To read a record of her past engagement with Congress, see this post on her 2012 Senate Committee testimony on the Nicholas School’s News blog.