The National Research Council produced the report "Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making," in August 2008 (see http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12434) at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the departments of energy and agriculture. NYTimes Story: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/23/science/wacad.html August 23, 2008 Report Says Public Outreach, Done Right, Aids Policymaking By CORNELIA DEAN For decades, laws have required many government agencies to seek public participation in the establishment of environmental policies. And for decades critics have derided the requirement as producing little more than confusion, delay, expense, distorted science and, as a government report once put it, "a proliferation of opportunities to misinterpret or misapply required procedures." But a growing body of evidence suggests that the process, done correctly, can improve policies and smooth their implementation, according to a report issued Friday by an expert panel convened by the National Research Council. Though critics often assert that members of the public are too ignorant to weigh the science involved in environmental policies, "public participation can help get the science right and get the right science," said Thomas Dietz, the director of the Environmental Science and Policy Program at Michigan State University, who headed the panel. "A lot of science has to be applied to a very local context," he said in a telephone interview. "Local knowledge is essential." The council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, produced the report ("Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making," at http://national-academies.org<http://national-academies.org/>) at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the departments of energy and agriculture. Dr. Dietz said it aims to draw together an abundance of new research on what he calls "the melding together of science and democracy" and to offer guidance for agencies beginning public outreach. For example, the report notes that agencies may find themselves trying to wring consensus out of people who disagree practically to the point of violence. In that event, it says, it can be helpful to schedule field trips or other events at the beginning of the process, so that participants get to know each other as more than just representatives of a view they dislike.