Roles of science in political, social and economic policy

Module details

  • Offered to 3rd & 4th Years
  • Thursdays 16.00-18.00
  • 2 term module worth 7.5 ECTS
  • Extra Credit or Degree Credit where your department allows
Degree credit module options by departmentHow to enrol

Where are all the white coats in Westminster?  Can science tell politicians what to do?  Should it? In this module we will investigate how your science could go on to inform policy and how both government and company policy impact on research.

We’ll cover topics including the Haldane Principle, models of policy-making, public and political credibility, scientific uncertainty and risk, the precautionary principle, the role of social, ethical and political values, and the various ways that scientists seek to influence public policy. We will explore these ideas through case studies where science and policy interact such as the BSE crisis, abortion law, stem cell research, drug funding and climate change, looking at the balance of power between the media, public opinion, social norms and scientific evidence.

This is a multi-disciplinary module which will cover the aspects of philosophy, ethics, sociology and media studies which form a background to how science policies and science informed policies are made. The module is taught in an interactive discussion-based format and there will be set readings podcasts, short videos or other preparation to do for each lecture, 20% of the mark is set aside to reward students for active participation.

Information blocks

Learning outcomes


  • Appreciate of the role played by social and ethical values (alongside scientific evidence) in science policy making
  • Awareness through class debate of the strengths and limitation of evidence based policy and evidence based medicine
  • Integrate concepts using self-directed primary and secondary policy research
  • Apply key concepts, research and feedback to write a policy briefing paper 
  • Develop and integrate briefing paper work into a class policy presentation
  • Ability to analyse science policy topics and persuasively communicate complex concepts through completion of an analytical policy essay

Indicative core content

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  • An introduction to science, policy and politics
  • Science and the media 
  • Kansas v. Darwin 
  • Debate on science and the media / Kansas v. Darwin
  • EU science
  • The UK Parliament: the role of select committees and how they use scientific evidence
  • Science in the United Nations
  • The science budget
  • Writing a policy briefing 
  • Science policy and the policy process
  • Evidence-based policy 
  • Making policy in a climate of uncertainty
  • Risk, uncertainty and precaution 
  • Science policy and health
  • Science activism: taking policy into your own hands 
  • Science advocacy: modes of scientific engagement
  • Innovation and public policy
  • Science futurism and the art of the crystal ball
  • Careers in science policy


  • Participation: engagement in class discussion, constructive peer feedback, effective use of Blakboard, evidence of preparation and effort in class exercises (20%)
  • Science briefing (30%)
  • Analytical essay (50%)

Key information

  • Requirements: You are expected to attend all classes and undertake approximately 2-3 hours of private study or reading each week in addition to the assessment
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 5 course. See Imperial Horizons level descriptors [pdf]
"Extremely happy with this course. Fantastic teacher who really understood the subject and had a passion for it."
"The lecture topics were varied and therefore engaging."
"The course was very varied, giving some insight into many areas of science's interaction with policy."
"Excellent structure and delivery of teaching sessions. I really liked the format of giving us an introduction to the topic, and then promoting lots of group discussion."