When Public Participation is Public Theatre: Misuse of Public Comment Opportunities by Anti-Vaccine Activists

9 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2020 Last revised: 16 Jun 2020

See all articles by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss

Dorit Rubinstein Reiss

University of California Hastings College of the Law

Barbara Romzek

American University - School of Public Affairs

Date Written: April 21, 2020

Abstract

Public participation can benefit public policy decisions by improving decision quality through direct input, or by increasing the legitimacy of process and results. But participation can also impose costs or cause harm. The Federal Advisory Committee Act gives federal agencies the discretion to decide which form of public participation best balances the potential benefits and potential harms, and agencies should use that discretion to improve policy-making.

In recent years, anti-vaccine activists have misused public participation opportunities, especially the oral comment process in front of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at the CDC, using them to create videos repeating anti-vaccine talking points for supporters with an appearance of legitimacy provided by the forum. These comments do not advance any legitimate interest – they do not improve decision making, do not increase legitimacy, and can make committee members feel directly threatened. Under these circumstances, oral commenting is more harmful than beneficial – and since CDC has the discretion to limit oral comments, it should.

Keywords: Public Participation, Public Administration, Vaccines

JEL Classification: I18, I28, K32, K30

Suggested Citation

Reiss, Dorit Rubinstein and Romzek, Barbara, When Public Participation is Public Theatre: Misuse of Public Comment Opportunities by Anti-Vaccine Activists (April 21, 2020). Stanford Law Review Online, Vol. 73, 2020, UC Hastings Research Paper No. 391, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3581391

Dorit Rubinstein Reiss

University of California Hastings College of the Law ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States
415-5654844 (Phone)
415-5654865 (Fax)

Barbara Romzek (Contact Author)

American University - School of Public Affairs ( email )

Washington, DC 20016
United States

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