Government should bring back social science post

25 July 2012

Tony Crook

25/7/12  The Campaign for Social Science has welcomed a second House of Lords report to call for the restoration of the post of Government Chief Social Scientist.

The Lords Science and Technology Select Committee report into behaviour change says that the Government should reintroduce the post, removed in 2010, as ministers are often unaware of relevant research that would help them reach better decisions.

“Where ministers are unaware of relevant evidence, this is a failure of the process by which the Government are informed about research finding,” the report, released in July, says.

“We were given a number of reasons for the breakdown of this process: a lack of significant involvement of Government social scientists and economists; an absence of adequate mechanisms for communication between policy makers and external researchers; an inadequate understanding of behavioural research by policy makers; and an absence of adequate mechanisms for sharing knowledge within Government.

“Government scientists and social scientists have an important role to play in facilitating the translation of behaviour change research and in remedying the problems with translation which we have identified. We recommend therefore that, at the earliest opportunity, the Government appoint a Chief Social Scientist (CSS) who reports to the GCSA [Chief Government Scientific Adviser] and is an independent expert in social science research to ensure the provision of robust and independent social scientific advice.”

Professor Tony Crook, Chair of the Campaign for Social Science, said: “Central government is an important user of social science research, but nowhere in its structure does social science come together in any holistic way.

“We are very pleased that this is again acknowledged in the Lords select committee report. The Lords share our belief that only a senior social scientist, trained in research methods and in touch with the profession on the latest thinking, can bring the oversight of the social science that the Government so obviously needs.

“Departmental scientific advisers tend mostly to be experts in the physical, life and medical sciences, but inevitably this restricts their ability to draw on the insights that the social science community can offer.

“Social science makes important contributions to some of society’s most pressing and costly issues, including climate change, wellbeing, social cohesion, children and ageing and it is too important not to have a seat at the top scientific adviser table. We call on the Government to follow the Lords’ recommendation and reinstate the post of Chief Social Scientist.”

This is the second House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report to recommend the reinstatement of the post: it issued a report last February calling for this after examining the issue of government departmental advisors. The Academy of Social Sciences, which set up the Campaign for Social Science, gave evidence to the Committee.