Online Program

Opening the black box: Role of theory on legal mechanisms of effect

Monday, November 4, 2013 : 10:30 a.m. - 10:45 a.m.

Scott Burris, JD, Beasley School of Law, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
Alexander C. Wagenaar, PhD, Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, Atlanta, GA
Empirical evaluation of injury control laws has supported dramatic injury prevention gains in the past few decades. Studies have demonstrated beneficial effects in reduced injury, and facilitated diffusion of effective policies. A limitation of this research has been its a-theoretical stance—showing a relationship between a law and injury rates, but not effectively articulating or testing alternative mechanisms of the observed effect. Drawing on a new book on Public Health Law Research: Theory and Methods, this presentation describes and illustrates the use of theory-based mechanisms of legal effects in injury research. Examples are drawn from numerous disciplines, including sociology, psychology, economics, criminology, and Law and Society scholarship. Additional attention to the theoretical dimensions underlying the ways injury control laws work will substantially advance the state of the science, and enhance public health impact. In science, research incorporating mechanisms of legal effect can strengthen causal inference. What is learned about a particular mechanism of legal effect in one behavior, setting or population improves the theory for future studies. In practice, understanding mechanisms of effect can guide policy innovation: a mechanism that is documented to work in several specific situations can be generalized to other contexts and public health problems. A renewed focus on theory regarding mechanisms of legal effect offers an opportunity to substantially advance the quality of the science on injury policy, and substantially advance the applicability of lessons learned in injury control to other pressing public health problems.

Learning Areas:

Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related organizational policy, standards, or other guidelines
Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Identify established theories of how law influences behavior. Demonstrate how theories of legal effect can be integrated with other behavioral theories used in public health research. Demonstrate that the value of theories of the mechanisms of legal effect can improve public health law evaluation and policy development.

Keyword(s): Methodology

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the Director for the Public Health Law Research national program, which is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. My work focuses on how law influences public health, what interventions can make laws and law enforcement practices healthier in their effects. I’m the author of 100+ books, book chapters, articles and reports on issues including urban health, HIV/AIDS, research ethics, global health governance, and the health effects of criminal law and drug policy.
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.