The crucial role of social science

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Social science underpins many of Britain's most successful public policies from poverty alleviation, macroeconomics to crime prevention. Conversely, a lack of social science and the evidence it provides often leads to failed policies. Wishing to increase the impact of social science, a distinguished panel will discuss  how research can strengthen its involvement in policymaking as part of the Economic and Social Research Council's (ESRC) Festival of Social Science (12-21 March).

The event 'Towards a better tomorrow - the Crucial Role of Social Science' is organised by the British Academy and the publisher SAGE and will take place at the Royal Society. Speakers include:

  • Prof Ian Diamond, Chief Executive, ESRC
  • Prof Harvey Goldstein, Prof of Social Statistics, University of Bristol
  • Prof Sir Michael Rutter, Prof of Developmental Psychopathology at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London
  • David Willetts, Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills, and MP for Havant

The event is chaired by Polly Toynbee, columnist at The Guardian, and participants will be welcomed by SAGE's Publishing Director Ziyad Marar.

There are numerous examples of high-quality social science providing the private and public sectors with the necessary evidence to set effective and successful policies. From crime prevention, poverty and re-employment to healthy diets and child wellbeing, social science has identified new policies and practices that have subsequently improved people's quality of life.

There are also risks of setting policies without adequate research evidence. Policies that have not been guided by social science often fail because, through a lack of understanding of complex social issues, the policies focus on activity that has no positive impact on the social issue.

Today the value of social science remains under-recognised. The panel discussion will debate how social scientists must convince policymakers about the contribution social science makes to addressing the many national and international challenges of our age - exploring the human and social implications of scientific breakthroughs, analysing the consequences of proposed new policy directions and bringing the searchlight of high quality, evidence­based scrutiny to bear in seeking ways to improve our quality of life.

Members of the public are invited to participate in the event and seats will be allocated on arrival. The ESRC Festival of Social Science celebrates some of the country's leading social science research, showing how the work of social scientists makes a difference to all our lives. The panel discussion is also part of a range of partnerships and events organised by SAGE this year to celebrate the social sciences and commemorate the publisher's 45th anniversary.

For further information contact

ESRC Press Office:

Notes for editors

  1. 'Towards a Better Tomorrow? The Crucial Role of Social Science'
  2. About the speakers:
    • Prof 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.
    • Prof Harvey Goldstein FBA is Prof 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.
    • Prof Sir Michael Rutter FRS,FMedSci, FBA is Prof 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.
    • David Willetts MP is Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills and MP for Havant. He has worked at the HM Treasury, the Number 10 Policy Unit, the Centre for Policy Studies and served as Paymaster General in the last Conservative Government. He is a member of the Council of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and has written widely on economic and social policy, including his book on Modern Conservatism.
    • Polly Toynbee is a political and social commentator for the Guardian. Previously she was the BBC's Social Affairs Editor. Her most recent book, written with David Walker, is Unjust Rewards. She has won the George Orwell Prize and the British Press Awards Columnist of the Year.
    • 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).
  3. The Times Higher Education (THE) is the events media partner. THE 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.
  4. The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council which runs from 12 to 21 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 the Festival website.
  5. 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. You can now follow updates from the ESRC on Twitter, including new funding calls as they are posted, press releases, events and more.  
  6. 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.
  7. 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.