Experts aren’t just for emergencies: How COVID-19 is changing evidence-based policy making for the better

 

 

This blog post was written by Anthea Terry, Interim Head of PolicyBristol and was originally published Universities Policy Engagement Network (UPEN) blog. Read the original article.

Michael Gove famously said in 2016 that ‘people in this country have had enough of experts’, and with social media ‘bubbles’, fake news, and the media desire to present opposing viewpoints – however marginal – it can often feel this way.

But the actual public perception of experts and their work is more nuanced. A 2018 survey by the Wellcome Trust found that 82% of people said they were fairly or very interested in health research, up from 77% in 2015, and 75% in 2012.

The value placed on experts by policymakers has always been variable and hard to measure, ‘evidence-based policymaking’ has been around for decades, and for almost as long, the perhaps inevitable cynicism about ‘policy-based evidence making’. We have incredible success stories about research influencing policy (my favourite being the research on CFCs that led directly to the Montreal protocol and recovery of the ozone layer), yet the combined weight of almost all the world’s climate scientists fails to enact sufficient policy change.

One of the many unique features of this time is the level of public discussion about research and the role of experts in policy making. I can’t remember another time when the membership of expert advisory groups such as SAGE was mainstream news. Similarly, a call for participants in a Covid-19 vaccine trial in Bristol was shared on neighbourhood WhatsApp and Facebook groups, and I’m talking to my family about R-numbers and logarithmic growth curves whilst lamenting the lack of supermarket delivery slots.

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What impact will COVID-19 have on drug markets and users?

Josh Torrance (PhD student and Assistant Teacher, School for Policy Studies)

Much of this research is based on personal emails and conversations with the police and other agencies. As such, not all of the facts presented are referenceable.

Covid-19 will present a major challenge to both drug users and drug treatment agencies over the coming months. There are 320,000 problematic drug users in the UK, many of whom have weaker immune systems than the general public – and therefore a diminished chance of recovery from the virus. People who inject drugs and street homeless communities are at particular risk; viral infections spread quickly through these populations. On the face of it, the pandemic might seem like a fantastic opportunity for problematic users to become drug-free, but the reality is much more complex.

A used needle left on grass.

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Extinction Rebellion uses tactics that toppled dictators – but we live in a liberal democracy

XR protesters getting carried away. Image: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA.

Oscar Berglund, University of Bristol

After occupying parts of central London over two weeks in April, Extinction Rebellion’s (XR) summer uprising has now spread to Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds and Bristol. All these protests involve disruption, breaking the law and activists seeking arrest.

Emotions are running high, with many objecting to the disruption. At the same time, the protests have got people and the media talking about climate change. XR clearly represents something new and unusual, which has the power to annoy or enthuse people. But what led it to adopt such disruptive tactics in its efforts to demand action on climate change? Continue reading

Loneliness Across the Life Course – highlighting the need for community-led action

‘Old? What is old? I don’t feel old! Old is nearly dead. Look at me, do I look nearly dead to you?!’

“Skype is a wonderful invention! I was one of those people who said I don’t understand computers, I don’t want to stare at a screen; but it’s marvellous – you feel so connected!”

These are two extracts from ‘ALONELY’, a powerful and emotive set of monologues, developed by community researchers and based on real-life experiences, and one of the research projects tackling the subject of loneliness. Continue reading

From Meatless Meat to Trustless Trust – can Blockchain change the way that we work together to create Knowledge in Smart Cities?

By Stephen Hilton

Smart Cities apply technology, connectivity and data to the urban experience, but they could easily become Fake Cities. Their factories still produce things – but they are staffed by robots. Their cars still take you where you want to go – but they are driven by autonomous systems. You can hold their digital products in your hands – but only via a smart phone.

In the worst case, Smart Cities trade down authentic human experiences for something artificial, virtual and ersatz. But can the Smart City ever trade-up and improve on the original? Continue reading

A Day in Parliament: Kate Oliver STEM Finalist 2018

Image Credit: STEM4Brit

A day in Parliament: Kate Oliver, STEM Finalist 2018

On the 12th of March I went to Parliament, for the second time in my life, this time accompanied by a rolled up piece of A1 paper. I was going to ‘the major event bringing early career researchers and parliamentarians together’, STEM for Britain*.

This poster session, now in its 21st year following its founding by Eric Wharton MP, invites around 50 exhibitors in each of Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Engineering and Biological sciences to explain their work to the employees of Parliament and a panel of expert judges. Five of us from Bristol had been selected to present – around a third of applications are successful – all in different categories, and we had been preparing our two-minute pitches for a few weeks, with the help of our supervisors, university support staff, and patient friends. Continue reading

Help us put the Bristol dialect on the map!

By Katiuska Ferrer Portillo


An intuitive description of the term Bristolian would define it as, the linguistic variety of English spoken in the Bristol area. However, the homogeneity and scope of this dialect’s strongholds within the city, if any, are a far more complex and understudied matter, which constitutes the central focus of my PhD research at the School of Modern Languages, and will reflect critically on what Bristolian really is, both in the way it is perceived, in its use across the city, and perhaps even further afield. Continue reading