School of Social and Political Science

Knowledge, Expertise and Policy


In the contemporary world, scientific expertise is increasingly central to policy making (over climate change, stem-cell regulation, synthetic biology, ‘big data’ and robotics, for example).

In this course you will explore how experts relate to political power and policy-making in contemporary societies. It bridges political science and STS (science & technology studies) by using case studies to investigate how science and policy are linked (or fail to connect) in such areas as climate policy, innovation in life-sciences and the ethics of science and technology.

The course will be organised in blocks:

  1. Expertise in contemporary society: this will focus on the nature of expertise and on ‘science for policy’ (how research feeds into policy making).
  2. The character of public controversies over scientific and technical topics (with case studies such as BSE and climate change).
  3. Public participation in science and technology and the civic dimensions of scientific citizenship. This will also encompass normative aspects relating to democratic theory.
  4. The globalisation of science and technology governance, looking at regulation, harmonisation, the WTO and other international scientific bodies.

Themes include:

  • How scientific experts help shape regulations
  • The rise of the idea of ‘evidence-based’ policy
  • Should politicians always listen to expert advice?
  • Public controversies about science & technology
  • Public participation in the governance of science
  • What counts as ethical expertise?

By the end of the course, you will have:

1. Developed a critical understanding of the main areas of study linked to the character and policy-uses of expertise.

2. Engaged critically with the work of STS (science and technology studies) and Political Science scholars on expertise and governance, and evaluate their arguments.

3. Assessed competing claims and make informed judgments about current complex issues in the governance of emerging, innovative technologies.

4. Developed an ability to present – in written and verbal form – coherent, balanced arguments surrounding the social and political roles of experts.

5. Used a range of research skills to plan and execute an original essay using one or more case-studies relating to expertise, policy and governance. 

This is a level 10 course with 20 credits

There will be 1 two-hour session per week (1 lecture & 1 tutorial per week) in Semester 1