221737 Translating Law on the Books to Numbers in a Database

Monday, November 8, 2010 : 4:30 PM - 4:45 PM

Alexander C. Wagenaar, PhD , College of Medicine, Dept of Health Outcomes and Policy, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
Charles Tremper, JD, PhD , Perutilis Research & Consulting, Santa Cruz, CA
Sue Thomas, PhD , PIRE-Santa Cruz Office, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, Santa Cruz, CA
Despite an existing body of research on laws related to health outcomes, the science of moving from the written text of laws to numbers in a database is not universally well understood. There are numerous measurement and coding considerations when defining a structure and details of a public health law database. This presentation addresses such challenges by offering guidance on measuring law, i.e., determining relevant dimensions or components of an area of law, categorizing the legal elements of a public health policy, and using the resultant categorization schema to produce accurate summary representations of the law in terms of counts, numeric or continuous indicators, indices and scales. Conceptual topics include the use of theory to guide development of appropriate measures and challenges of legal indeterminacy. Among the practical issues are the importance of ascertaining effective dates, limitations of dichotomous variables, construction of scales, and appropriate use of secondary sources. Although the presentation focuses on issues specific to measuring law, it also offers general guidance for conducting successful multi-disciplinary studies that use legal data. Examples of specific challenges in blending law and social science are drawn from an array of policies.

Learning Areas:
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related research
Systems thinking models (conceptual and theoretical models), applications related to public health

Learning Objectives:
Assess the challenges involved with translating laws from text to numbers. Explain how errors in measurement can affect study outcomes. Discuss practical examples of how to handle the challenges in measuring law.

Keywords: Law, Research

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: Associate Director of Public Health Law Research program. Published over 160 papers. Conducted dozens of public health policy empirical evaluation studies.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.