A campaign to fight for the future of social science in the UK was launched today at the House of Lords. Initiated by the Academy of Social Sciences, the campaign aims to highlight the vital role that social science pays in modern society.
The launch event was chaired by Professor Cary Cooper, chair of the Academy, who reminded the audience of politicians, journalists and academics that most of the issues in the news are ultimately about social science. He concluded that the global challenges we face mean there is a need for more social science, not less.
Sir Howard Newby, president of the Academy, emphasised that the campaign would demonstrate both the value of social science and the quality of social science in the UK. He called for a sustained campaign of public engagement, with social science at the heart of the new knowledge economy, not on the periphery.
Lord Giddens, formerly head of the London School of Economics, highlighted the importance of social science research to policy-making. He stated that evaluating the effectiveness of policies is part of the wider role of our universities, and commented that the recent Browne report on university funding does not recognise the public role of universities.
Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, made the point that his organisation exists to help society manage differences – and it needs the evidence provided by social science research to know where to focus its efforts and resources. He said that evidence helps them “make a difference, not just a noise”.
Professor David Rhind, chair of the Nuffield Foundation, picked up the theme of social science research as a basis for policy formulation, implementation and evaluation. He emphasised that social science can help policy-makers make good decisions, and has a role to play in holding governments to account. He questioned whether ‘evidence-based policy’ had fallen out of fashion at a time when social research is being downgraded.
The Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee described herself as a “populariser of social science”. She highlighted the importance of the UK Longitudinal Studies as a global resource and an example of the best that social science research has to offer. She questioned how any government could “govern blind”, and noted that the Campaign for Social Science is urgently needed if we are to avoid a “social deficit that could prove worse than the fiscal deficit”.
The Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts MP, stated that the strength of universities in the UK lies in the diversity of the disciplines they offer. He said that evidence-based policy is very important to the coalition government – not least because every policy has to be explained and discussed at length before it is agreed. He assured the audience that the situation for social science in the UK is more robust and encouraging than people might think, that the shift in policy on funding university teaching is “subject neutral”, and that the “science ringfence” of £4.6bn includes social science. The minister expressed his support for the campaign, and stated that “there is no reductionist belief in government that physical sciences should be pursued to the exclusion of social sciences and humanities”.
The next stage will be a series of regional events designed to engage the wider social science community with the campaign’s aims. Further information will be available on the campaign website and here on socialsciencespace.