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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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

Brexit: can research light the way?

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Cressida Auckland, a Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) Fellow

Cressida Auckland, a Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) Fellow

Chandy Nath, acting Director of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)

Chandy Nath, acting Director of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)

What could Brexit mean for UK science? What impact will it have on UK fisheries? Could Brexit be bad news for emissions reductions? These were just some questions discussed at a Parliamentary conference last week, organised by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), the Commons Library and Parliament’s Universities Outreach team.

MPs researchers, Parliamentary staff and academic researchers from across the country came together to consider some of the key policy areas affected by the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

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Scientific research and the European Union – how UK science may be affected if we choose to leave

Dr ewan fowler

Dr Ewan Fowler, Research Associate in the School of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience, University of Bristol

The referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU is fast approaching and as the debate intensifies, science is a topic that remains very much overlooked, despite its importance to the UK economy.

I have recently begun to consider the scientific relationship that Britain has with the EU and how UK science may be affected if we choose to leave.  This relationship is not trivial, according to OECD figures the EU produces around 1.7 million scientists, which is more than either China (1.5 million) or the US (1.3 million).

To facilitate this each member state contributes towards a fund called Horizon 2020, which the European Research Council (ERC) distributes to research and infrastructure projects.  The expected budget of Horizon 2020 from 2014-2020 is over €80bn, an increase from the previous incarnation called Framework Programme 7 which had a budget of €53bn from 2007-2013. For projects involving international collaborations a single application to the ERC is required removing the need for separate applications to national funding agencies.

The UK received €8.8bn under Framework Programme 7 from 2007-13, amounting to 3% of total research spending.  This may seem small however it is just shy of charity-funded research (5%) and is typically viewed as a main source of funding for biomedical research.  The UK is highly competitive in obtaining funding as it is currently awarded the greatest number of grants under Horizon 2020, and achieved the second greatest number under Framework Programme 7.

Credit - JISC, Creative Commons

Credit – JISC, Creative Commons

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Why do people reject science? Here’s why …

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Psychology

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Psychology

The State of Science: Why do people distrust science? Why do some of us reject consensus on a whole range of scientific findings? As Professor Stephan Lewandowsky explains, it often comes down to the way we look at the world.

Before the warning labels became mandatory in the US, some 500 cases were reported annually; today, less than a handful of cases are reported each year.

What does Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity have to do with the human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV)?

What does acid rain have to do with the fact tobacco smoking causes lung cancer?

What does Reye’s syndrome have in common with the CFCs that caused the hole in the ozone layer?

And what do all those issues have to do with the fact our climate is rapidly changing due to human greenhouse gas emissions?

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