Joint seminar held with the Campaign for Science and Engineering

8 October 2014

In partnership with the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), the Campaign for Social Science hosted an expert seminar to inform its upcoming pre-election report: The Business of People: The Significance of Social Science Over the Next Decade.

A collection of natural scientists, social scientists and government officials met to discuss opportunities at the interface between STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and social science subjects.

The seminar featured presentations from Professor Bernard Silverman FAcSS, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Home Office, Professor Andrew Stirling from the Science Policy and Research Unit at the University of Sussex, Dr Ian Scott, Principal facilitator of UCL Grand Challenges as well as Dr Sarah Main, the Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering.  The seminar was chaired by Professor James Wilsdon, Chair of the Campaign for Social Science.

Participants at the seminar underlined the fundamental need for all science disciplines, including the social sciences, to work together effectively. Cross-disciplinary collaboration is beneficial to intellectual understanding as well as instrumental advantage: after all, challenges in the world rarely fit within disciplinary boundaries.

Many at the seminar noted that governments would do well to listen better to interdisciplinary insights when forming policy. For instance, one contributor referred to the large amount of money wasted in unnecessary vaccinations during the flu epidemic because the initiative was under-informed by social science. The critical ability of social science, as part of a broader research mechanism, to articulate problems lucidly, transform these into opportunities and present solutions was heeded.

Seminar participants did not balk at the challenges of this endeavour. Institutional biases and disincentives to producing engaged interdisciplinary, policy prone research abounds; and government decision-making processes frequently sideline social scientific perspectives. In light of this, seminar participants suggested a number constructive actions that could be taken by funding bodies, by government, by the social science lobby, by higher education institutions and through research assessment. These included:

  • Ring-fencing resources for interdisciplinary initiatives within government
  • Increasing the capacity of funding bodies to review interdisciplinary funding proposals, featuring a range of reviewers with expertise across many fields
  • Decreasing the amount of jargon used by social scientists
  • Seeding interdisciplinarity in the minds of PhD candidates by encouraging interdisciplinary conversations and by holding summer programmes like the UCL Grand Challenges program at Higher Education Institutions
  • Rewarding interdisciplinarity through the REF, by allowing individuals to submit to more than one panel and potentially giving them extra credit for doing so

The next working group meeting for the Campaign’s pre-election report will be held on 29 October.

Details of the working group’s members 
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