Roles of science in political, social and economic policy

Module details

  • Offered to 3rd & 4th Years
  • Thursdays 16.00-18.00
  • Planned delivery: On campus (South Kensington)
  • Two-term module, worth 5 ECTS
  • Available to eligible students as part of I-Explore
  • Extra Credit, or Degree Credit where your department allows
Degree credit module options by departmentHow to enrol

With guest lecturers from Silicon Valley, politics, think tanks and activist groups, this module explores the intersection between science and policy using multidisciplinary methods.

We explore the question of why policy does not always ‘follow the science’ using case studies where science and policy interact such as abortion law, stem cell research, AI development and climate change, looking at the balance of power between the media, public opinion, social norms, and scientific evidence.

We also take a deep dive into innovation policy. How do governments and companies foster innovation in science and technology? What is the secret sauce that has made Silicon Valley so successful?

This module is taught interactively, requiring students to be engaged and active throughout, whether verbally or in a support role. Two sessions are completely student led.

Please note: The information on this module description is indicative. The module may undergo minor modifications before the start of next academic year. 

Information blocks

On successful completion of this module, you will be able to:


  • Appreciate the role played by social and ethical values, alongside scientific evidence, in evidence-based policy making.
  • Use self-directed primary and secondary research to inform debate on key science funding issues.
  • Summarize complex scientific research and adapt it to the needs of policy makers.
  • Analyse science policy topics and persuasively communicate complex concepts

man shoveling coins

In this module you will learn about the relationship between government and science. We will cover the Haldane principle, multiple streams theory and the roles of the scientist in forming policy. Important theorists covered include Roger Pielke Jr and JD Bernal. We will study both policy for science and science for policy. This will include in depth analysis of funding and ‘innovation’ policies from various governments and companies. We will also interrogate a variety of case studies analysing the use of scientific evidence to form policy and how various actors utilise rhetoric around scientific evidence. We will use the tools of ethics, media studies, philosophy and policy studies to analyse a range of case studies which may include scientific and political controversies such as BSE, badger culling, pandemic response and drug policy. Particular areas of interest include, how media, public opinion and activism can influence policy and how scientific uncertainty and risk are treated by various actors.

Teaching and learning will be interactive and will involve lots of group and class discussions and activities, hypotheticals and a simulated ‘British Parliamentary Rules’ debate as well as some excellent guest lecturers, from activist groups and think tanks. Case studies will be our primary route into theoretical approaches to policy. We will make use of podcasts, YouTube videos and documentaries as well as primary and secondary written sources. Where possible, these will be available on the module VLE. There will also be room for student-directed learning within the module. In the autumn term, students will direct part of a lecture on Brexit and in the spring term a lecture is left free for you to suggest a topic, which will be worked on collaboratively between the lecturer and students.
Formal feedback for your assignments (from first and second markers) will be available on the VLE within two weeks of submission. You will also receive feedback for your work verbally, by email and on the VLE where appropriate.
  • Coursework: Science briefing - 1,000 words (30%)
  • Coursework: Analytical Essay - 2,000 words (50%)
  • Practical: Module performance (20%)
    Contribution to all activities on the 20 week module assessed in four core areas:
    Contribution to online research tasks
    - Contribution to class and group discussions
    - Contribution to a formal debate
    - Contribution to short infomal class presentations.

    Students are able to prioritise two of these areas to be weighted more highly in their assessment.
  • Requirements: You are expected to attend all classes and undertake approximately 85 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 module. For an explanation of levels, view the Imperial Horizons Level Descriptors page.‌‌
"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."