MSc Science and Health Communication

Year of entry: 2022

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Course unit details:
Science, Government & Public Policy

Unit code HSTM60592
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine (L5)
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course provides an introduction across four themes or areas:

Policy for science: Introduction to the key issues involved in public policy towards the funding and conduct of science (What is public policy? Who makes it? And how? What is distinctive about science policy?); Rationales for the public funding of science; Challenges stemming from the growth of publicly funded science (setting priorities, selecting projects and working out who to fund, and the push for commercialisation and ‘impact’).

Science for policy: key issues involved in science for policy: roles of expert knowledge and scientific experts in public policy and government regulatory processes; issues around scientific advice; understanding and communicating risk and uncertainty; scientists in and around Whitehall

International dimensions: science as a collaborative enterprise; mobility and migration; science diplomacy

Current/emerging issues in contemporary science policy, including the challenges of communicating science policy: fraud and misconduct in science; equality, diversity and discrimination in science; international dimensions of science policy; Science 2.0?; Upstream engagement in science policy.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Major Themes in HSTM HSTM60511 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Introduction to Science Communication HSTM60561 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Communicating ideas in STM HSTM60571 Pre-Requisite Compulsory

Students will in parallel be registered for credit on modules Museums and Public Events (HSTM60582), Science, Media and Journalism (HSTM60602) and Science Communication Research (HSTM60612) and  will be attending the day-schools for all four modules. 


Science and technology have become central to the policies and to the self-image of modern advanced states such as the UK and USA, whilst less developed countries seek to mobilise S&T to meet their own needs. This course will explore how and why this has become the case and what the implications are for our society, our polity, our economy and for the still growing and increasingly globalised scientific enterprise itself. The course provides an overview of the relations between the state and science, taking the UK (and to a lesser extent the US) as a core example but considering similarities and differences among Western developed economies and between these and less developed/rapidly developing economies.


To achieve this, the course unit aims to:


1.       Introduce and problematize the notion of public policy and how it is made and implemented (including the role of scientific knowledge and expertise, and scientists) in these processes


2.       Outline the key issues in policy for science and science for policy


3.       Identify and reflect upon selected emerging issues in science policy and their implications.


4.       Explore the communication of and public engagement in/with science policy.

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

  • A good understanding of the policy process and how it has been understood by scholars
  • An understanding of how the State became involved in funding science, and the changing rationales used to justify that funding, and associated debates
  • An appreciation of the specificities of science policy and the key challenges that stem from these features
  • An understanding of the wider role played by science in public policy and regulation, and associated debates
  • An appreciation of key contemporary issues in science policy



Intellectual skills

  • Ability to recognise, critically evaluate and deploy as appropriate relevant theories and concepts
  • An understanding of the role of interests and ideologies in shaping the positions taken by actors in relation to public policy debates
  • Ability to undertake research reflexively and responsibly
  • Ability to engage critically with others’ research, as well as respectfully and constructively
  • Ability to see the ‘big’ picture in contemporary as well as historical problems



Practical skills

  • Ability to identify and interrogate the positions taken by actors in debates and discourses around science policy, understanding the interests and motivations that come to play
  • A practical appreciation of how to engage with policy processes
  • Ability to communicate clearly about science policy for both a scholarly and a policy/public audience



Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Oral and written communication skills for specialist and generalist audiences
  • Ability to analyse and synthesise theoretical and practical information


  • Understanding public policy
  • UK Government institutions and structures: Government versus Parliament
  • The Social Contract: Why do the taxpayers fund science?
  • Challenges stemming from the growth of publicly funded science (Prioritisation, selectivity, commercialisation, impact)
  • International dimensions of S&T – collaboration, competition, mobility, migration
  • International dimensions of S&T - Science diplomacy and soft power
  • “Just following the science”? Experts, expertise, policy and risk regulation
  • Science and Democracy
  • Public participation in S&T related decision-making
  • Is Science broken? Current issues in S&T policy
  • Open science? Slow science? Responsible science? Towards a new Social Contract?

Teaching and learning methods

Although this will be an academically rigorous course unit with high expectations in terms of theoretical understanding and critical thinking, the purpose of the unit is to provide relevant theories and critiques coupled with a practical understanding of the processes and dynamics in question. Thus, students will be expected to read and critically reflect but also to apply the fruits of this reading and reflection to current issues and problems. To this end sessions will work flexibly within the timetabled two hour slot – a mix of ‘lecture’ and seminar discussion with some small group exercises and guest practitioner speakers. Preparatory reading and/or video or interactive material will be provided online using the Blackboard platform.

Given the unit is part of the MSc in Science Communication, the unit will aim to foster discussion and reflection on the issues and debates being considered based on current and recent journalistic coverage. This will allow the students to reflect both on the debates themselves but also on how they have been/are being covered.

Assessment methods

Essay (2000 words), questions will be provided by students may propose their own topic to the course co-ordinator. Weighting: 60%


Either a two-page ‘policy brief’ (600-800 words) or a 600-800 word journalistic blog post - on a current science policy issue selected by the student and approved by the course unit co-ordinator. Weighting: 40%


Feedback methods

Formative feedback offered on an essay outline; summative assessment via Blackboard and face-to-face on request. Peer feedback from fellow class members (non-assessed).


Recommended reading

Greenberg, D.S., 2001, Science, Money and Politics: political triumph and ethical erosion, Chicago University Press.

Irwin, Alan (1995) Citizen Science: a study of people, expertise and sustainable development, Routledge. Chapter 2.

Piekle, R.A., 2007, The Honest Broker: making sense of science in policy and politics (Cambridge University Press).

Hulme, M., 2009, Why we disagree about climate change: understanding controversy, inaction and opportunity, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


The extended reading list is available here:


To get the best out of this course students are encouraged to engage critically with science policy debates and especially with journalistic and social media commentary on science policy in preparation for these classes. Key old, new and social media sources you should keep a close eye on are:


Research Professional: 
and Research Fortnight:

Times Higher Education:




Guardian science policy blog (up to 2018):


Social media is an increasingly important place for debate and exchange in this field. Useful hashtags you should follow are:, and

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 24
Independent study hours
Independent study 126

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Kieron Flanagan Unit coordinator
Simone Turchetti Unit coordinator

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