Public Release: 

A bleak outlook for social science?

Outcomes of the 'Crucial Role of Social Science' debate

SAGE Publications UK

London (18th March 2010) - Social science is at the centre of every major challenge the world faces, yet faces a tough future, according to a panel of senior academics and politicians speaking in London this week. They were taking part in a debate hosted by the British Academy and SAGE to explore how social science research can strengthen its involvement in policymaking, increase its impact, and combat potential public expenditure cuts.

While the social science disciplines play a crucial role in contributing to a better quality of life, the tone of the discussion was markedly bleak, with large funding cuts looming, and an 'anti-research' mood within government.

Speaking on the panel Professor Ian Diamond commented that social science lies at the heart of understanding and tackling the complex challenges of society. His comments were supported by SAGE's Deputy Managing Director and Publishing Director, Ziyad Marar, who pointed to the government's cabinet office priorities, which identify globalization, ageing, family, crime, climate change, and wellbeing as key areas. "These are all profoundly social science problems," said Marar.

Professor Diamond also noted the fragility of the sector, due to a "grey and greying" membership, with the majority of active academics in several disciplines over the age of 55. His proposed solution for this was to support not just young career researchers, but to engage with the schools sector to make children want to become social scientists in the future.

A key message from all panellists was that role social science research can and does have direct relevance to policy making. Both Professor Harvey Goldstein and Sir Michael Rutter presented cases where studies on family and education have tested the validity of policies. A key issue was therefore how to ensure that the research outcomes were effectively communicated to policy makers.

Lord Richard Newby noted some of the issues facing social scientists, including the role of values in decision making, rather than evidence. He also cited the role of the public mood in influencing decisions. He viewed the current situation for social science as "pretty grim", with the recent controversies surrounding climate change data marking an 'anti-research' mood within government. The situation is also made worse by a current focus on physical science subjects, where the spotlight for funding has recently shifted.

While the future looks bleak, there was much support for the value of the social sciences, and discussion of ways social researchers can help to promote the value of their work. Professor Diamond promoted the need for strong formal training, which would in turn help to advance better methodologies and interdisciplinary collaboration; Professor Goldstein promoted the need for stronger statistical training to provide better evidence; and Lord Newby promoted the need to engage with the civil service more directly, as a route in to influencing ministers. Further comment from the audience included the increased alliances between social scientists and other sciences; and the need to engage with the audit commission to call government to account on their policy decisions.

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Towards A Better Tomorrow? The Crucial Role of Social Science took place on March 16th 2010 at the Royal Society, London. It was hosted by SAGE and the British Academy, as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science. Times Higher Education were media partners for the event.

Further information is available from http://www.britac.ac.uk/events/2010/tbt/index.cfm.

A video and audio recording of the event will be available from Monday 22nd March. For further information contact mithu.lucraft@sagepub.co.uk

About the Speakers:

Sir Roger Jowell is a Research Professor at City University London and is the Founder Director of its Centre for Comparative Social Surveys. Prior to that he was the Director of the National Centre for Social Research, which he started in 1969 and helped build into Britain's largest social research institute. He is an elected member of the International Statistical Institute, an Academician of the Academy for Social Sciences and was awarded a CBE in 2001 for services to social science. He is a recent vice-president of the UK's Royal Statistical Society and he was knighted for service to social sciences in 2007.

Professor Ian Diamond FBA, is Chief Executive of the ESRC, and RCUK Chief Executives' Champion of Research Careers and Diversity. He is a social statistician who has worked on many aspects of official and social statistics. He becomes Vice Chancellor of Aberdeen University on 1 April 2010 and he will remain as Chief Executive for the ESRC until 30 June 2010, where he will devote 20 per cent of his time.

Professor Harvey Goldstein FBA, is Professor of Social Statistics at the University of Bristol. He is a chartered statistician, has been editor of the Royal Statistical Society's Journal, Series A, a member of the Society's Council and was awarded the Society's Guy medal on silver in 1998. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Open University in 2001.

Professor Sir Michael Rutter FRS, FMedSci, FBA, is Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the Institute of Psychiatry. Previously he was honorary Director of the MRC Child Psychiatry and the MRC Social Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry research Centre. Currently he chairs a BA Working Party preparing a report on the contributions of social science to family policy issues.

Lord Richard Newby is the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman in the House of Lords. In his professional life he has been a tax policy adviser in HMRC, director of corporate affairs for a major property development company and now chairs a company which advises on corporate responsibility issues. He was chief executive of the Social Democratic Party and Chief of Staff to Charles Kennedy MP during his period as Lib Dem Leader. He is Vice Chair of the All Party Social Enterprise Group and Treasurer of the Associate Parliamentary Group on Corporate Responsibility

Ziyad Marar is Deputy Managing Director and Publishing Director at SAGE. During his career at SAGE he has built international publishing programmes in psychology and politics. His academic background is in philosophy and psychology in which he has written various articles and two books The Happiness Paradox (Reaction 2003) and Deception (Acumen 2008).

The Times Higher Education is the UK's most authoritative source of information about higher education. Designed specifically for professional people working in higher education and research, the magazine was founded in 1971 and has been online since 1995. More at: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/.

The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council which runs from 12th to 21th March 2010, alongside National Science and Engineering Week. Events from some of the country's leading social scientists the festival celebrates the very best of British Social Science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives - both now and in the future. The Festival of Social Science provides insight into research in a variety of formats; from traditional lectures and exhibitions to theatrical performances, film screenings and topical debates. The Festival of Social Science is aimed at a range of different audiences, including policy makers, business, the media, the general public and students of all ages. Press releases detailing some of the varied events are available at http://www.esrcfestival.ac.uk .

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research which impacts on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2009/10 is £204 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk. You can now follow updates from the ESRC on Twitter (http://twitter.com/esrc), including new funding calls as they are posted, press releases, events and more.

The British Academy is the UK's national body for the humanities and social sciences. Its purpose is to inspire, recognise and support excellence and high achievement in the humanities and social sciences, throughout the UK and internationally, and to champion their role and value. As a Fellowship composed of nearly 900 distinguished scholars, it takes a lead in representing the humanities and social sciences, facilitating international collaboration, providing an independent and authoritative source of advice, and contributing to public policy and debate. More at: www.britac.ac.uk

SAGE is a leading international publisher of journals, books, and electronic media for academic, educational, and professional markets. For 45 years, SAGE has helped inform and educate a global community of scholars, practitioners, researchers, and students spanning a wide range of subject areas including business, humanities, social sciences, and science, technology, and medicine. An independent company, SAGE has principal offices in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC. More at: www.sagepublications.com

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