Scientists advise, ministers decide? The role of scientific expertise in UK policymaking during the coronavirus pandemic

Nikolas Koch, Bill Durodie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (SciVal)
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Abstract

COVID-19 has been a transformational crisis, uprooting everyday lives and causing some of the most significant health, social, and economic challenges in recent memory. Similarly, coronavirus has also forced significant political change, refocusing attention on politics and policymaking structures during a time of crisis. This shift is exemplified by scientific advisers’ role at the forefront of governmental decision-making. Scientific advice has provided vital knowledge and insight into the government’s pandemic responses.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has also highlighted the complex nature of combining science with politics, as well as the difficulties involved in distinguishing between expert advice and political or moral choices. Such complexity warrants a reconsideration of science’s impact on policymaking. Namely, from a long-term view, the growth of governmental experts started well before the coronavirus pandemic. Partly, this proliferation is driven by a desire to improve policymaking, given that there is a clear need to effectively consult, consider, and act on the advice of experts in all fields of government.

Nevertheless, societal changes like a declining trust in government also mean that expert advice can increasingly be used as a tool to legitimate or depoliticise debates. Considering the complexity of fighting a global pandemic, this belies that advice must be effectively scrutinised within broader contextual or operational considerations – a government cannot simply ‘follow the science’. Coronavirus highlights the need for a renewed focus on the interplay of expertise and policymaking, considering who, why, and on what basis governments are advised – as well as what lessons they draw from it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1213-1222
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Risk Research
Volume25
Issue number10
Early online date1 Sept 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2022

Keywords

  • COVID 19
  • Expertise
  • Policy Making
  • Advice
  • Authority
  • Accountability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Communication
  • Cultural Studies
  • Health(social science)

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