Shiran Victoria Shen Receives the 2020 Harold D. Lasswell Award

The Harold D. Lasswell Award is presented annually by the American Political Science Association (APSA) to honor the best doctoral dissertation in the field of public policy. 

Shiran Victoria Shen, an interdisciplinary environmental scholar, forged her own path at Stanford University by simultaneously completing a Ph.D. in Political Science and an M.S. in Civil & Environmental Engineering in five years.  She has been an Assistant Professor of Environmental Politics at the University of Virginia since 2018.

Shen’s research seeks to improve understanding of how environmental change influences and is shaped by politics and policy.  She employs a wide range of data, techniques, and research designs in her work, including large-scale, satellite-derived datasets, statistical and spatial models, integrated assessment models, machine learning, surveys, field experiments, as well as qualitative field interviews and online ethnography.

Citation from the Award Committee

We are pleased to select “Political Pollution Cycle: An Inconvenient Truth and How to Break It for the 2020 Lasswell Award.  This outstanding dissertation provides a model of impactful public policy scholarship grounded in political science.  This work exemplifies the ideals of the Lasswell Award in several respects.  By providing a compelling, novel explanation for variation in air quality over time, this dissertation tackles an important, timely policy puzzle: air pollution constitutes the largest, current environmental problem facing the global community with impacts that reverberate across jurisdictions and across policy domains.  To address its important policy puzzle, this dissertation marshals a truly impressive original dataset and deploys a novel empirical strategy.  This work both offers a new approach to measuring air quality over time and seriously integrates its archival material and interviews into the analysis.  In doing so, the dissertation truly embodies high quality mixed methods research and demonstrates the explanatory power that mixed methods research can yield.  This dissertation also provides a model of how to present cutting edge methodological work in broadly accessible terms.  The author’s work is both unfailingly rigorous and beautifully written, which together augment the dissertation’s impact.  This dissertation also stands as a model for how to use political science theory to help explain policy problems.  By considering and combining multiple policy goals with frontlines implementers’ career incentives, the author expands on the conventional principal-agent approach to implementation in novel and useful ways.  This work holds real promise of having broad impact well beyond environmental policy and in many geographic contexts outside of the dissertation’s main focus on China.

APSA thanks the Policy Studies Association for its support of the award and the committee members for their service: Dr. Susan L. Moffitt (chair), Brown University; Dr. Isabelle Engeli, University of Exeter; and Professor George Hoberg, University of British Columbia.