Monday, April 3, 2023

Peltzman Revisited: Quantifying 21st-Century Opportunity Costs of Food and Drug Administration Regulation

Peltzman Revisited: Quantifying 21st-Century Opportunity Costs of Food and Drug Administration Regulation. Casey B. Mulligan. The Journal of Law & Economics, Volume 65, Number S2, November 2022. Peltzman Revisited: Quantifying 21st-Century Opportunity Costs of Food and Drug Administration

Abstract: Peltzman’s work is revisited in light of two recent opportunities to quantitatively assess trade-offs in drug regulation. First, reduced regulatory barriers to drug manufacturing associated with the 2017 reauthorization of generic-drug user fee amendments were followed by more entry and lower prices for prescription drugs. A simple, versatile industry model and historical data on entry indicate that easing restrictions on generics discourages innovation, but this cost is more than offset by benefits from enhanced competition, especially after 2016. Second, accelerated vaccine approval in 2020 had unprecedented net benefits as it improved health and changed the trajectory of the wider economy. Evidence suggests that cost-benefit analysis of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation is incomplete without accounting for substitution toward potentially unsafe and ineffective treatments that are outside FDA jurisdiction and heavily utilized before FDA approval. Moreover, the policy processes initiating the regulatory changes show an influence of Peltzman’s findings.

Consumer losses from purchases of ineffective drugs or hastily marketed unsafe drugs appear to have been trivial compared to gains from innovation. (Peltzman 1974, p. 82)

News snacking on digital media platforms does not enrich political knowledge (we learn substantially less) and at best feeds the impression of being informed

News snacking and political learning: changing opportunity structures of digital platform news use and political knowledge. Jakob Ohme & Cornelia Mothes. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Mar 28 2023.

Abstract: The increasing prevalence of news snacking – that is, the brief, intermittent attendance to news in mainly digital and mobile media contexts – has been discussed as a problematic behavior potentially leading to a less informed public. Empirical research, however, that investigates the relationship between news snacking and political knowledge is sparse. Against the background of changed opportunity structures in increasingly digital and mobile media environments, this study investigates how news snacking relates to the breadth and depth of political knowledge in society. Based on an online survey of the German population (N = 558), we examine how snacking news affects political event and background knowledge gains using different digital news platforms. Results show that users who exhibit high levels of news snacking learn substantially less from news use across different types of digital platforms.

Keywords: News snackingpolitical knowledgepolitical learningsocial mediasmartphonesknowledge gaps


News snacking, the habitual behavior of quickly checking and skimming through news on smartphones and digital media platforms, is a prime example of how digital media environments enable new ways of using the news. Digital media channels such as mobile devices, platforms such as social media, and an increased acceleration of the pace of life impact the opportunity structures of news usage – and, thereby, how people attend to news. Accordingly, almost 40% of our sample of German Internet users indicated agreement with statements that suggest strong news snacking behavior.2 This corroborates earlier findings that the quick checking of news items as a pastime activity and intermittent engagement with news on the go is a prevalent phenomenon in digital societies (Costera Meijer & Kormelink, Citation2015; Forgette, Citation2018; Sveningsson, Citation2015). Our study specifically asked how news snacking is related to political knowledge gains in society and utilizes a design suited to investigate learning about current affairs via news exposure. Our findings have three important implications.

First, higher levels of news snacking are conditioning the direct relationship between news use on digital platforms and political knowledge about political events and political backgrounds in a negative manner. While the difference is clear and visible across almost all platforms, it is of moderate amplitude and does not reach statistical significance in all cases. Nevertheless, it must be noted that if a more substantial body of knowledge is considered than what was possible in this study, news snacking can result in significant knowledge gaps.

Second, our study could not establish the predicted pattern that news snacking would lead to greater breadth but not depth of political knowledge (see Prior, Citation2007). Rather, we find that with increased use of most digital platforms, users that “snack” news more than others gain little from their high levels of exposure. This suggests that the short skimming of headlines when being on the go does not contribute to the promotion of informed citizenry. In extreme cases, respondents who said to mostly snack news and who attend news seven days a week (for instance, on a news website) knew as little about political current affairs as respondents who did not use news on such websites at all. Our study, hence, suggests that news snacking might indeed leave people with the impression of being informed rather than being knowledgeable, as suggested by Costera Meijer (Citation2007).

Third, we find notable differences between digital media platforms and types of knowledge. Interestingly, strong news-snacking behavior has been shown to be detrimental to learning from social media platforms with their newsfeed character and their combined function of information and entertainment. Given the high levels of social media news use in society nowadays, news snacking may be one answer to the question of why studies consistently find rather low learning outcomes of social media news use (Boukes, Citation2019; Cacciatore et al., Citation2018; Dimitrova, Shehata, Strömbäck, & Nord, Citation2014; Lee & Xenos, Citation2019; Shehata & Strömbäck, Citation2018; van Erkel & Van Aelst, Citation2020). However, we find the same pattern across almost all digital platforms for news exposure. Lower knowledge gains for “news snackers” seem to be a more universal outcome and less dependent on the platform. This suggests that users can learn from different digital platforms but that political learning outcomes depend on how, not if they use it.

Although not in the focus of the study, users of video platforms and other websites to get political information show marginal knowledge about current affairs. We can only speculate about reasons, but recent research about the usage of video platforms for news indicates that these platforms are primarily used for exposure to special interest news, often in a polarized news environment (Lopezosa, Orduna-Malea, & Pérez-Montoro, Citation2020). Furthermore, the usage of “other websites” may refer to non-journalistic actors that contribute to alternative media content. In line with the alternative nature of these sources (see Holt, Ustad Figenschou, & Frischlich Citation2019), they seem to convey little information about major political events and their backgrounds.


Our study faces a number of limitations. First, we relied on a single-country sample and our findings are thereby limited in their explanatory power to German Internet users. Additionally, the news media exposure was measured aimed at reducing respondents’ recall bias by asking specifically about the last week. However, our data is still based on self-reports and can thus not rule out social desirability inaccuracies (e.g., Slater, Citation2004). Future research should test the relationship between news exposure and learning on an empirical basis less susceptible to perceptual distortion (e.g., Karnowski, Kümpel, Leonhard, & Leiner, Citation2017; Mothes, Knobloch-Westerwick, & Pearson Citation2019) and/or on a more fine-grained level of analysis, for example using media diary studies, data donations, or tracking data (Ohme et al., Citation2023; Araujo et al., Citation2022; Mangold, Stier, Breuer, & Scharkow Citation2021). Second, assessing the level of political knowledge is a tricky task (Barabas, Jerit, Pollock, & Rainey, Citation2014). We tried to improve previous measures by timing the current affairs questions closely with the field time of the survey for a valid assessment of learning through media use. However, the distinction between background and event knowledge may be imperfect because although some information is less likely than others to be found in headlines and teasers, we cannot be entirely certain that our distinction holds for all news coverage in the given time framesince we did not analyze news content in this study.Third, as for the explicit aim of this study to investigate the role of news snacking for political learning, it was necessary to develop a specific measure for this concept. The index that we have developed shows good internal consistency and succinct scale conformance. However, future research should put this measure to test, especially in terms of social desirability biases. Although we assess the behavioral component of media exposure with this measure, it is fair to ask how strongly this measure assesses the state of how people attend to media, rather than self-perceptions of news users (see Ohme, Araujo, Zarouali, & de Vreese Citation2022b) for a similar discussion on news avoidance behavior. The small increase in R-square in our models is another indication that news snacking only explains a small fraction of the variance in political knowledge among respondents. Future research should use more precise measures of news encounters and session length, ideally across different spatial conditions, to include the behavioral component of news snacking more strongly. Fourth, the study tested for relationships of exposure to news on different, higher-order platforms but did not distinguish between specific social media or other news platforms (e.g., different news apps or social media brands). We, therefore, suggest that future research more specifically investigates differences in political learning from using, for example, different social media and messaging platforms (e.g., Boukes, Citation2019), as it is possible that certain platform affordances and digital architectures attenuate the conditional effect of news snacking on learning (see Bossetta, Citation2018). Lastly, we rely on cross-sectional data, and although results point in the direction that people with high levels of news-snacking behavior learn less from digital news exposure, we cannot rule out the opposite interpretation, namely that people with low political knowledge show higher levels of news snacking.

New platforms in digital media environments provide new opportunity structures for accessing public affairs news, but at the same time, urge people to find new ways of navigating through the plethora of information offered to them. Intermittent, short-term attendance to headlines or teasers – as one of these strategies – seems to leave society less well-informed about political issues. In our study, people who used more superficial ways of attending to the news were less likely to know about scandals in the Federal Intelligence Agency, the latest law passed by the European Parliament, or developments that affect the environment in their own country. It is always debatable which topics are of political relevance. However, ultimately, a functioning society needs a common base of knowledge to discuss and act on. The study proposes the possibility that news snacking indeed leads to lower levels of knowledge in some digital contexts, especially in cases of high news use frequency, where people may think they attend to news a lot but still learn very little. This begs the question of how news media can secure a healthy diet of political knowledge among citizens when the formerly full meal of news exposure more and more becomes a snack.