Roles of science in political, social and economic policy

Module details

  • Offered to 4th & 5th Years in specific departments only**
  • Thursdays 16.00-18.00
  • 2 term module worth 6 ECTS
  • Degree Credit only

**See info at the top of the following webpage: 
4th & 5th Year Undergraduates (6 & 7.5 ECTS)

Degree credit module options by departmentHow to enrol

Scientific and medical advice has been at the forefront of political rhetoric during the COVID-19 pandemic. But can science tell politicians what to do? Should it?

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.

*The module specification above is subject to final committee approval and is therefore subject to change.*

Information blocks

Learning outcomes


By the end of this module you will be better able to: 

  • Understand the differences in needs between policy makers and scientists evidenced through class debate.
  • Appreciate the role played by social and ethical values, alongside scientific evidence, in evidence-based policy making, evidenced through class participation.
  • Use self-directed primary and secondary research to inform a mock parliamentary debate on key science funding issues.
  • Summarise complex scientific research and relate it to policy issues in a science policy briefing.
  • Analyse science policy topics and persuasively communicate complex concepts through completion of an analytical policy essay.

Indicative core content

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  • The machinery of the state and the relationship between government and science.
  • The multiple streams approach to policy making
  • The potential impacts of Brexit on UK science
  • Funding and innovation
  • The Haldane principle
  • Data science and democracy
  • The philosophy of science
  • The roles of the scientist in forming policy (including the pure scientist, the issue advocate the science arbiter and the honest broker approaches)
  • Evidence based policy making
  • Policy during times of uncertainty and risk
  • Media influences on policy making
  • The precautionary principle
  • Policy and ethics
  • Policy and activism


  • Coursework: Briefing paper - 1500 words (30%)
  • Coursework: Essay - 3000 words (50%)
  • Practical: Class participation - Engagement in class discussions, participation in debate, effective use of Blackboard, evidence of preparation and effort in class exercises. (20%)

Key information

  • Requirements: You are expected to attend all classes and undertake approximately 110 hours of independent study in total during the module. Independent study includes reading and preparation for classes, researching and writing coursework assignments and preparing for other assessments.
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 6 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."