Birkbeck University of London (UK) Birkbeck academics awarded British academy funding to research public perceptions on the role of science in policymaking

The research will be undertaken in collaboration with the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology.

Dr Laszlo Horvath, Professor Deborah Mabbett and Dr Chao-Yo Cheng, from Birkbeck’s Department of Politics are in receipt of a grant to investigate public perspectives on the role science plays in public policymaking.  

Global challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change have seen scientific experts increasingly thrust into the spotlight, resulting in much cultural debate about the legitimacy of their input into public policy. 

Seeking to address this, the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology (CST) and the British Academy (BA) are seeking to explore and address issues of citizen engagements, public interactions with science, and trust in policymaking. The collaboration has resulted in a funding grant being awarded for a Birkbeck research project entitled ‘Exploring citizens responses to science in public policy through natural language processing and conjoint experiments,’ to be undertaken by academics at Birkbeck’s Centre for British Political Life 

The project, which will be led by Dr Horvath, will explore responses to science in public policy through two sets of methods. Natural language processing will be used to explore how scientific evidence is covered in the news media, policy documents, and in parliamentary debates. Survey experiments will be used to explore the citizen response to science in policymaking. Updates on the project will be published on the Centre for British Political Life’s website.  

Dr Horvath commented: “Science can enrich public discourse, but the use of it in policymaking does not necessarily make the latter democratically legitimate. Science-based policy interventions like urban Clean Air Zones or vaccines are contested by large segments of the citizenry. Our research aims to explore both the positives and pitfalls of science based policies. The findings will have implications for both policy making and media organisations.”