Science, Trust and Policymaking

In early 2022, the UK Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology (CST), the main science advisory body to the Prime Minister, commissioned an independent review from the British Academy of science and public trust within the policymaking system. The project brings together analysis of the existing literature with newly commissioned research and in-depth engagement with stakeholders from research and policy communities.
Project status

Latest report

Public trust in science-for-policymaking

This independent report sets out findings and initial recommendations on understanding the conditions under which the public view science as relevant and trustworthy in policymaking; and exploring what policymakers, researchers and knowledge brokers can do to enhance the role of science in public policy debate in the UK.

Key findings: Public trust in science-for-policymaking

Science increasingly plays a central role in public debates on policy, raising key questions about trust in the science informing policymaking. This makes it vital to understand the factors influencing public interest and trust in science-for-policymaking. To that end, the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology commissioned the British Academy to carry out an independent review on public trust in science-for-policymaking.

  • Policymakers (both elected and unelected) play a central role in framing policy and the place of science in informing it.
  • Policymakers should not underestimate the public’s desire for nuance and transparency in the use of science-for-policy: by being open where there are uncertainties, while indicating how knowledge gaps will be addressed; by recognising that more information will not in itself increase trust in the use of science for policy; and by avoiding a simple 'follow the science' approach, instead acknowledging the diversity of considerations and evidence, including lived experience, shaping policy development.
  • Policymakers, researchers and knowledge brokers should deepen their engagement with different publics to build trust in science. This should be done in a way that preserves the integrity and independence of the scientific process. Clearer principles should be developed to ensure transparency and accountability in both science-policy and science-public engagement.

Additionally, the report identifies wider reflections that need to inform the use and communication of science in political debate. Critically, this includes risks that where publics are mistrustful of politics, this can spill over into scepticism about scientific findings used to justify policy. Other implications are drawn out in the report.

Evidence hub

Two research projects were commissioned as part of this project. The findings reports of each of these projects are available.

Exploring citizens' responses to science in public policy through natural language processing and conjoint experiments

Under what conditions is science viewed as authoritative and trustworthy in policy-making? Our evidence suggests public willingness to engage with scientific content. On a nationally representative scale, polarisation around science appears to be driven less by anti-science sentiment and more by the perception that other forms of knowledge should also matter. Public participation in the production of science and clearer local relevance of research may mitigate ‘epistemic inequalities’ between experts and citizens.

Under what conditions is science considered relevant and authoritative in policymaking?

Questions about the role of science in decision-making have come into sharp focus since the Covid-19 pandemic. Perceptions about science and decision-making vary widely amongst the public, and amongst scientific and policy communities themselves. What then can be done to create conditions which support greater trust in science in decision-making?

Research projects

A: Exploring citizens' responses to science in public policy through natural language processing and conjoint experiments

This project, led by Dr Laszlo Horvath (Birkbeck, University of London) investigated public expectations and beliefs with regard to the role of science in policymaking using two main methods. The first was natural language processing of a substantial text corpus drawn from the print media and parliament, to investigate how public discourse draws on scientific sources in making claims about specific public policies. The second method involved conjoint experiments, analysing the impact of different kinds of scientific evidence on citizens’ policy support relative to other determinants of support, such as political consensus, the extent of public consultation, and public opinion.

B: Under what conditions is science considered relevant and authoritative in policy-making?

This project, led by Dr Kathryn Oliver (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) synthesised existing scholarship on trust in science and policy to identify key influencing factors. It explored these factors through three case studies (genetic modification, clean air zones, and mpox) to generate hypotheses about what can be done to promote trust in science. The ensuing hypotheses were tested through a series of workshops with policy communities.

Engagement & deliberations

Engagement and deliberation with a community of stakeholders, including researchers, policymakers and practitioners, has played an important part in this project.

Deliberations were led by a Working Group of British Academy Fellows and experts. They convened regularly over the course of the project to review emerging findings and provide direction to the project team where required to identify gaps and questions. They also play an important role in the synthesis strand of the project that brought together the findings.

Beyond the working group, a series of workshops and meetings were held with a range of stakeholders:

  • Roundtable on 'The Use of Science in Policymaking', October 2022
  • Roundtable on 'Trust in Science', October 2022
  • Roundtable on 'Publics and Engagement', October 2022
  • 'Science, Trust and Policy Synthesis' workshop, February 2023
  • 'PERITIA Knowledge Exchange' workshop, July 2023
  • 'Science, Trust and Policy Report Synthesis' workshop, September 2023


Following the publication of the project report, further deliberations and workshops are planned to explore the application of the findings. We are interested in hearing from policymakers and science-advisers to discuss this application and encourage interested stakeholders to get in touch.


The project is led by the Academy's Public Policy team. The team can be reached on [email protected]. We welcome suggestions or proposals for joint events.

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