Martin Parker Professor of Organisation Studies University of Bristol
Many people like to say that the coronavirus is teaching us a lesson, as if the pandemic were a kind of morality play that should lead to a change in our behaviour. It shows us that we can make big shifts quickly if we want to. That we can build back better. That social inequality is starkly revealed at times of crisis. That there is a “magic money tree”. The idea that crisis leads to change was also common during the financial crunch over a decade ago, but that didn’t produce any lasting transformations. So will post-COVID life be any different?
At the start of lockdown, in the middle of the anxiety and confusion, I started to notice that I was enjoying myself. I was cooking and gardening more; the air was cleaner, my city was quieter and I was spending more time with my partner. Lots of people started to write about the idea that there should be #NoGoingBack. It seemed that we had taken a deep collective breath, and then started to think about coronavirus as a stimulus to encourage us to think how we might address other big issues – climate, inequality, racism and so on.
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.