Science, Trust and Policy

In spring 2022, the UK Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology (CST) commissioned the British Academy to investigate the conditions under which the public view science as relevant and trustworthy in policymaking. 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

The project is led by a Working Group of British Academy Fellows and experts. They convene regularly to review emerging findings and provide direction to the project team where required. They also play an important role in the synthesis strand of the project.

It is organised into two elements: research, and engagement & synthesis. These are explained in more detail below.


Two research projects have been commissioned as part of this project.

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) is investigating public expectations and beliefs with regard to the role of science in policymaking using two main methods. The first is 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 involves 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) synthesises existing scholarship on trust in science and policy to identify key influencing factors. It explores these factors through the three case studies (precision breeding, clean air zones, and Mpox) to generate hypotheses about what can be done to promote trust in science. The ensuing hypotheses will be tested through a series of focus groups with members of the public and with policy communities.

Engagement & synthesis

Engagement with a community of stakeholders, including researchers, policymakers and practitioners, is an important part of this project. This engagement helps to identify current trends and provide a mechanism for testing emerging insights and findings.

A series of roundtables led by Fellows of the British Academy covered three core topics: (a) The Use of Science in Policymaking; (b) Publics and Engagement with Science-based Policy; and (c) Trust in Science. Further engagement opportunities are planned.

The project is employing a collaborative approach to synthesis of the findings. This includes workshops and regular meetings of the working group that help to bring together the conclusions. This process continues throughout the project's lifecycle.


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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