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  Dr Robert Huber  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Scientific thinking has long influenced democratic politics. Since the Age of Enlightenment, two central pillars of modernity have been science and democracy. The core argument is that democratic societies put forward favourable circumstances for science to progress by promoting freedom of speech, rationality and reason (Merton 1942; Polanyi 1962; Popper 1966). Therefore, purely correlational, we observe that democratisation is often accompanied by scientific progress (Schwarcz 1986). Evidence- and expertise-based policymaking rather than individual preferences of an undemocratic leader is thus a core feature of this development. At the same time, scientific knowledge has grown exponentially (Bornmann and Mutz 2015). Yet recently, this relationship between science and democracy received cracks. Humanity appears to be in the midst of a post-truth era resulting in debates about crucial societal issues to be framed in terms of appeals to emotion and identity by diverse anti-science movements (Kienhues, Jucks, and Bromme 2020). This increased anti-science thinking among the population within several topics, inducing debate about whether science can function as an impartial actor in the formulation of policymaking. As a result, recent crises such as climate change or the global pandemic related to COVID-19 re-iterate the calls for “evidence-based policymaking”. For example, the BBC (2020) reported that the British government did not follow scientific evidence put forward by the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies. Instead, they deviated from the scientific evidence in their policymaking and only followed recommendations selectively. This research project thus aims to shed light on the relationship between science, the general public, and politics and how it can be improved. We do so by focusing on one of the most crucial global transformations: climate change. Scientific evidence on climate change and its mitigation have put forward clear guidelines for decades. Climate change mitigation refers to “human efforts to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases” (IPCC 2014). Mitigation can take a variety of forms and tackle a variety of policy sectors such as infrastructure, mobility, housing, energy production, land use, etc. For example, policy makers could invest in the introduction of more renewable energy sources (e.g. solar and wind), mandate or incentivize energy efficiency in buildings, invest in alternative transportation systems (e.g. metro systems or bicycling lanes), create a more sustainable transfer, disposal, and recycling of waste, or consider more environmental factors when planning green spaces (Hughes 2017). Yet, policymakers did not (fully) follow these approaches partly due to a lack of public support and opposition. Typical examples for counter-movements are the Gilet Jaunes (Douenne and Fabre 2020). Importantly, climate mitigation is a major global transformations (Creutzig et al. 2019), with profound consequences for democracy and governance more generally. Climate change is a major threat to humanity. Hence the political discourse is often framed in terms of the adverse effects of climate change. Thus, this overarching frame may affect different actors’ desire for expert inclusion. This gap between scientific evidence and public support puts policymakers in a difficult position. They must trade-off their responsibility to act and follow through on scientific evidence and the popularity of measures suggested by this evidence (Mair 2009). Critics argue that governments should rely more on scientific evidence for policymaking. However, can we expect governments to solve every policy problem with scientific evidence? Can we anticipate that they consult with experts on every policy matter? Cairney (2016) identifies important supply and demand problems with this view. Scientific evidence, and expertise more generally, may not be available, targeted enough, or policymakers may not pay attention to evidence or are not interested for other reasons. Similarly, citizens may criticise politicians for neglecting or listening too much to experts. The politics of evidence in policymaking is at the core of this project. It thus scrutinises three central actors in the policy process, experts and scholars, politicians, and citizens. The following questions guide this research: Why do policymakers decide (not) to use scientific evidence in the realm of climate and digitization policy?, Under which circumstances do citizens demand politicians to use scientific evidence? Furthermore, how do experts seek influence in policymaking?

Funding Notes

Applications will be considered for a Reading University studentship.

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