Situated Expert Judgement

QSAR Models and Transparency in the European Regulation of Chemicals

  • Brice Laurent
  • Francois Thoreau U Liège


In this paper we discuss the kind of expert judgement demanded by the development of a particular class of models known as “Quantitative Structure-Activities Relationship” (QSAR) models, used to predict the toxicity of chemical substances, for regulatory and other purposes. We analyse the production of these models, and attempts at standardizing them. We show that neither a technical nor a procedural standardization is possible. As a consequence, QSAR models cannot ground a production of knowledge along the lines of “mechanical objectivity” or “regulatory objectivity”. Instead, QSAR models imply that expert judgement is situated, re-worked for each new case, and implies an active intervention of the individual expert. This has important consequences for risk governance based on models. It makes transparency a central concern. It also means that new asymmetries emerge, between companies developing sophisticated models and individual experts in regulatory agencies in charge of assessing these models.


Download data is not yet available.


Aykut, S., Benbouzid, B. and Demortain, D., “Foreknowledge in Public Policy. Towards a Political Sociology of Predictive Expertise — Introduction to the Special Issue”, Science & Technology Studies, this issue. Result score too low

Boullier H (2016) Autoriser pour interdire. La fabrique des savoirs sur les molécules et leurs risques dans le règlement européen REACH. Thèse pour le doctorat de sociologie. Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée.

Boullier H., Demortain D. and Zeeman M. (2019), “Inventing Prediction for Regulation: Modelling Structure-Activity Relationships at the US Environmental Protection Agency”, Science & Technology Studies, this issue. Result score too low

Cambrosio A and Keating P (2009) Biomedical Conventions and Regulatory Objectivity. A Few Introductory Remarks. Social Studies of Science, 39(5): 651-664.

Cambrosio A, Keating P, Schlicha T and Weisza G (2006) Regulatory objectivity and the generation and management of evidence in medicine. Social Science & Medicine, 63: 189–199.

Daston L and Galison P (2007) Objectivity. New-York: Zone books. Result score too low

Demortain D (2009) Legitimation by standards: Transnational experts, the European Commission and regulation of novel foods. Sociologie du Travail 51:2, 104-116.

ECHA (2008) Guidance on information requirements and chemical safety assessment. Chapter R.6: QSARs and grouping of chemicals. European Chemical Agency. Result score too low

ECHA (2011) The OECD QSAR toolbox for grouping chemicals into categories. European Chemical Agency. ECHA-11-L-08-EN. Result score too low

Edwards P N (1999) Global climate science, uncertainty and politics: Data-laden models, model-filtered data. Science as Culture, 8(4): 437-472.

Edwards P N (2010) A vast machine: Computer models, climate data, and the politics of global warming. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press, 2010.

European Commission (2006) Regulation (EC) n° 1907/2006 of 18 December 2006 Concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). Consolidated version of 1 June 2015, doc. 2006R1907. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

European Commission (2016) Better Regulation: Delivering better results for a stronger Union. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council. COM(2016) 615 final. Result score too low

Fisher E, Pascual P and Wagner W (2010). Understanding environmental models in their legal and regulatory context. Journal of Environmental Law 22(2): 251–283.

Gramatica P (2007) Principles of QSAR models validation: internal and external. Molecular informatics, 26(5): 694-701.

Heaphy L (2015) The role of climate models in adaptation decision-making: the case of the UK climate projections 2009. European Journal for Philosophy of Science 5(2): 233-257.

Hilgartner S (2002) Science on Stage. Expert Advice as Public Drama. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Jasanoff S (1990) The Fifth Branch. Science Advisers as Policymakers. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press. Result score too low

Jasanoff S (2004) States of Knowledge. Cambridge (MA), MIT Press. Result score too low

Jasanoff S (2005) Judgment Under Siege: The Three-Body Problem of Expert Legitimacy. In: Maasen S., Weingart P. (eds) Democratization of Expertise? Sociology of the Sciences Yearbook, vol 24. Springer, Dordrecht

Jasanoff S (2011) The practices of objectivity in regulatory science. In: Carnic C, Gross N, Result score too low

Latour B (1987) Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Cambridge (MA), Harvard university press.

Laurent B (2017) Democratic experiments. Problematizing nanotechnology and democracy in Europe and the United States. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.

Lavecchia A (2015) Machine-learning approaches in drug discovery: methods and applications. Drug Discovery Today 20 (3): 318–31.

Lo Piparo E and Worth A (2010) Review of QSAR Models and Software Tools for predicting Developmental and Reproductive Toxicity. JRC scientific and technical reports EUR 24522 EN. Result score too low

MacKenzie D (1993) Inventing Accuracy. A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press. Result score too low

OECD (2007) Guidance document on the validation of (quantitative) structure-activity relationships [(Q)SAR] models. OECD, ENV/JM/MONO(2007)2. Result score too low

Salzman J (2005) Decentralized administrative law in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Law and Contemporary Problems, 68: 3-4. Result score too low

Saurugger S (2002) L'expertise: un mode de participation des groupes d'intérêt au processus décisionnel communautaire. Revue française de science politique, 4:52, 375-401.

Thoreau F (2016) 'A mechanistic interpretation, if possible': How does predictive modelling causality affect the regulation of chemicals? Big Data & Society, July-December: 1-11.

Vos E (2000) EU food safety regulation in the aftermath of the BSE crisis. Journal of Consumer Policy, 23:3, 227-255.

Wickson F and Wynne B (2012) The anglerfish deception. The light of proposed reform in the regulation of GM crops hides underlying problems in EU science and governance. EMBO reports, 13, 100-105.

Worth A, Hartung T and CJ Van Leeuwen (2004) The role of ECVAM in the validation of QSARs. SAR and QSAR in Environmental Research 15:5–6, 345–358.

Worth A et al. (2007) The role of the European Chemicals Bureau in promoting the regulatory use of (Q)SAR methods. SAR and QSAR in Environmental Research, 18:1-2, 111-125.