Submission from the Academy of Social
1. The Academy of Social Sciences is pleased
to be able to make a submission to the IUSS Committee on this
topic. The Academy comprises 500 Academicians, who are distinguished
social scientists, and 35 Learned Societies and its mission
is to be the voice of the social sciences in the UK for public
2. The Academy's main argument is that science
policy, and its application, would be strengthened and more effective
if it fully incorporated perspectives and knowledge from the social
sciences. This is because:
most important scientific phenomena
are in part determined by social processes so social science analysis
helps to understand them;
for many of today's policy challenges
the relevant evidence comes from social scientific study of human
attitudes and behaviour. The knowledge and insights offered by
social science about particular policy areas can therefore improve
the effectiveness of these policies;
the scientific approach adopted by
the social sciences provides complementary understanding to that
obtained from STEM subjects.
3. Most government departments and agencies
now recognise the important contribution that the social sciences
can make, as the expansion of social science research staff in
Government (GSRU) and budgets demonstrate. Two recent reports
from the British Academy
and the Council for Science and Technology (CST)
have also endorsed the importance of the social sciences to Government
policy. But science policy formulated by DIUS, as evidenced by
the recent consultation on A VISION FOR SCIENCE AND SOCIETY does
not reflect this. It appears to continue to be concerned, predominantly,
with natural science paradigms and priorities.
4. An additional point is that while it
is important that science and engineering policy draws on, and
is informed by, all scientific perspectives it is even more important
that knowledge and understanding based on good scientific research,
including social science research, is applied to the implementation
of all policies, not simply those concerned with science and engineering.
1. A Department of Science?
5. The CST report argued that "the
engagement between academics and policy makers in the UK is not
as strong as it might be" (p 3). If scientific and engineering
knowledge is to be put at the heart of policy-making, the relationships
between researchers and academics on the one hand and policy makers
on the other needs to be strengthened at every level.
6. It would be wrong to see one Department as
being the sole repository of scientific expertise, particularly
social science expertise. Appropriate scientific knowledge needs
to be available in many policy areas within all government departments.
Being able to draw on relevant knowledge and understanding is
heavily dependent on the context and the particular issue being
addressed. Scientific knowledge, particularly social science,
needs to be embedded in individual departments and agencies.
2. The way Government currently formulates
science and engineering policy
7. In its response to the DIUS consultation document
"A Vision for Science and Society" the Academy
of Social Sciences argued for much greater recognition of the
diversity and heterogeneity of "science". The term
"science" is a very abstract concept. Focusing on science
policy is also a long way away from achieving better use
of scientific knowledge and encouraging better understanding of
the scientific ideas, which are among the objectives DIUS is seeking
to achieve. A more nuanced understanding of the ways in which
people think about science and engage with it would help government
to develop relevant policies relating to scientific knowledge
and would be preferable to one policy on "science and engineering".
8. The inclusion of the social sciences as sciences
and the incorporation of social science understandings in discussions
about science policies would greatly strengthen the policy formulation
process. The previous Minister of Science, Ian Pearson, acknowledged
that the social sciences are valued and used by government when
he spoke at the launch of the British Academy report. However,
while "Social disciplines" were included in the definition
of science at the beginning of the recent DIUS consultation document,
the text was almost entirely concerned with issues relating to
STEM subjects. Science and engineering policy would be much stronger
if the wider definition of "science" was fully accepted.
9. The post 1997 Labour governments
have dramatically increased spending on science and engineering,
with a particular increase in R&D spending on higher education
(up by 38% between 1995 and 2005 from £3.5 billion
to £5.6 billion, SET statistics 2008). This is welcome
and must be continued even in recessionary times. The UK needs
to keep pace with spending in countries such as the US, Finland,
India and China.
10. A weakness is that there needs to be
better integration in policy making between the different components
of the science base to: support interdisciplinary research, make
sure that adequate attention is paid to the resources needed for
teaching UG/PG and PhD students and attracting foreign students
and staff to the UK's universities and research institutions.
The lack of a real increase in R&D spending by UK business,
especially by SMEs also needs to be addressed.
11. One of the problems is a lack of scientific
expertise across Government. Appointing "robust and independent
Advisory Councils and Chief Scientific Advisors" accountable
to a Minister would help address this issue
as would further empowering them as recommended in the CST report.
3. The centrality of the views of the science
and engineering community to the formulation of government policy
12. It would not be appropriate within a
democracy for the views of any one group of people outside Government
to hold a central position in policy making. Ministers and civil
servants inevitably have to weigh up the best course of action
within what is essentially a political process. But up to date
knowledge and understanding provided by the scientific and research
communities is clearly an important component if the decisions
taken are to be well grounded. This would not remove the need
for policy makers to make value judgements about what is the correct
course of action. "Science" is not value neutral as
it works essentially through controversy and "contestation".
Scientists often disagree about the interpretation of facts about
which they are in agreement. Topics like climate change, GM foods
or nanotechnology also raise social and ethical issues as well
as scientific ones.
13. The scientific and engineering communities,
including social scientists, therefore have a significant contribution
to make to policy-making and responding to formal consultation
exercises is one way of doing this. But it is important that
there are a range of mechanisms for engaging external people in
the policy process and a need to balance external perspectives
with those of in-house researchers and advisory committee members.
Having relevant expertise available at short notice is probably
more important to informed policy making than occasional consultations.
The CST report makes a number of sensible recommendations for
ways of strengthening existing mechanisms.
4. A regional (versus national) science policy?
14. There is a need to develop scientific
capacity, and to apply relevant knowledge to the issues being
faced, at a sub-national level. This is particularly important
for the social sciences as the relevant knowledge may be very
specific to the local circumstances. However regional science
(technology and innovation) policy requires appropriate expertise
at the regional level, for example in the RDAs. We doubt whether
this is in place at the moment and suggest a first step would
be for the major players to commit to the necessary skills and
resources, as well as to the development of effective policy at
this level. There are a number of bodies at a regional level that
have developed good relations with higher education institutions
in their area. This could usefully be expanded to establish better
networks between universities, regional bodies, cities and funding
15. It is important that scientific research,
across all disciplines, allows for the pursuit of some "blue-skies"
thinking and the exploration of ideas that do not have immediate
policy relevance. The Haldane principle that decisions about
research funds should be made by researchers rather than politicians,
or the modification proposed by Rothschild, continues to have
validity. However, it is now generally recognised that other stakeholders
and the general public have a beneficial role to play in decisions
about research priorities and we consider this should continue
for the majority of publicly funded research. However, we also
agree with Dusic (2008)
that there needs to be greater transparency in the relationship
between research councils and DIUS the extent of the former's
independenceand the extent to which government is directing
5. Engaging the public and increasing public
confidence in science and engineering policy
16. There is already considerable public
engagement in scientific issues. The wealth of publications about
popular science demonstrates the extent of public interest and
surveys of public attitudes to science confirm this. In its response
to the DIUS consultation document the Academy of Social Sciences
emphasised the importance of two-way engagement and the need to
see people as active participants rather than simply consumers
of scientific knowledge.
The Government should not expect that "engagement" means
only positive support for individual policies. Public debate
about the direction and outcomes of scientific endeavour, and
more "upstream" engagement, are all part of enabling
people to develop informed views. There are many fora for public
engagement on science issues where natural and social scientists
come together with members of the public, for example in the environmental
movement. These bodies should be recognised as promoting informed
engagement rather than putting forward partisan views which are
therefore ignored, as sometimes happens.
17. Being able to make full use of knowledge
from existing fora and other forms of public engagement is likely
to require some changes within the civil service. The CST report
draws attention to what is widely known, that there is a lack
of collective memory within Government and poor knowledge management.
The Academy supports the recommendation that "Government
should place a greater focus on promoting effective knowledge
management within the Civil Service".
6. Roles of different bodies in determining
UK science and engineering policy
18. In the final analysis a Government policy
has to be determined by a Government Departmentat the present
time the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.
Other organisations and agencies have important roles to play
in contributing views and information when policy is being developed,
as has recently happened with "A Vision for Science and
Society", and in putting it into effect. The Academy
published a report in June 2008 of a joint project with the
ESRC which looked at the role that Learned Societies in the social
sciences can play in developing knowledge transfer and public
A wide range of ways in which learned societies could become more
engaged with policy makers and the general public were identified.
The Academy is now exploring how it can best take this work forward
and is seeking the resources to do so. The CST report also recognised
that much greater use could be made of the Learned Societies,
among others. Learned Societies have strong academic links and
can provide experts in a given field at short notice, so are an
important source of external capacity.
19. The Academy of Social Sciences considers
that existing bodies such as the Council for Science and Technology,
the Science Council, and Sciencewise all make significant contributions
to the development and dissemination of science policy. But the
social sciences are not well represented on these bodies and we
believe that the remit of these bodies should be seen explicitly
to include the social sciences and therefore the social and cultural
aspects of science policy.
7. The scrutiny of science and engineering
20. The IUSS Committee is itself the key
body to scrutinise science and engineering policy. This work could
be better supported if the recommendations of the CST report are
acted upon and mechanisms are put in place for improving engagement
between academia and policy makersand ideally more widely
to include public engagement. This would allow for policy makers
to get feedback, both positive and negative, on an ongoing basis.
Bodies like the Academy of Social Sciences and/or its constituent
learned societies would be encouraged to formulate views and obtain
feedback if it was confident that its contribution would be heard.
47 Punching our weight: the humanities and social sciences
in public policy making. A British Academy report, September
2008. www.britac.ac.uk/reports/wilson/index.cfm Back
How academia and government can work together. A report
by the Council for Science and Technology, October 2008. www.cst.gov.uk/cst/reports/files/academia-government.pdf Back
International excellence: Valuing International Scientists and
engineers, report from the Campaign for Science and Engineering
in the UK (CaSE). Back
Nick Hall, CaSE News no 58 December 2008. Back
As above. A Core recommendation to Government, page 16. Back
Research Fortnight, 21 May 2008
A response to the DIUS consultation document from the Academy
of Social Sciences. Can be found under Consultations on www.acss.org.uk Back
As above, Recommendation 3 page 20. Back
Developing Dialogue: Learned Societies in the Social Sciences.
21st Century Society, Vol 3 Supplement December 2008 and