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University of Nottingham

UOA 41 - Sociology

RA5a: Research environment and esteem

The Institute for Science and Society (ISS) was founded in 1998 as the Genetics and Society Unit (GSU) within the School of Sociology and Social Policy (SSP). This group – 1 Professor and 2 lecturers – were returned with SSP in 2001 and highlighted within that unit’s grade 4 for Social Policy.

Shortly afterwards, the GSU team led an interdisciplinary consortium which was awarded a £1.2 million Leverhulme Programme grant (2001-06). This produced a major change in operating scale, funding 6.5 new academic posts, mostly seconded to the programme from partner units (English, History, Law, Philosophy, Politics, and Psychology). The GSU was reconstituted as the Institute for the Study of Genetics, Biorisks and Society (IGBiS), an independent, interdisciplinary, organizational unit, and its mission extended to cover the social, legal, cultural and ethical dimensions of all areas of bioscience and biotechnology.

The programme’s success led to a further reconstitution in 2006 as the Institute for Science and Society (ISS), with a HEFCE-funded core of 3.5 academic staff (two Professors, one Reader and one Lecturer) further extending their mission to cover any area of science, engineering or medicine. This group are supported by 12 research fellows - of whom 5 are RAE-eligible, 1 Special Professor, 1 Special Lecturer and an 0.4 professorial secondment (returned to Panel I36) from the Business School.

Since 2001 the Institute has become internationally recognised for its innovative interdisciplinary research in key areas, including: the role of metaphor in science communication; the organizational dimensions of knowledge transfer regimes; the dynamics of expectations in innovation; and the politics of science policy. Its early-career team is making a significant contribution to the renewal of the academic profession. This team draws from sociology, political science, applied linguistics, history and anthropology, with active partnerships in organizational, socio-legal and linguistic studies, linked to the university’s 5-rated schools in business, law and English. There are also close links with many STEM departments, particularly in microbiology, nanotechnology and regenerative medicine. This new scale and orientation justifies an independent return to Panel J41.

Progress against 2001 objectives

  • Financial Security  Institute staff have been awarded approximately £4.6 million in competitive funding from the Leverhulme and Wellcome Trusts, ESRC, NERC, MRC, EPSRC, BBSRC, EU and various NHS/NIHR programmes, and in commissions from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the Food Standards Agency. RA4 understates this achievement because of ISS’s collaborations, which credit spending elsewhere, and growth path, which means awards have yet to become expenditure.
  • Stimulate Output  The 9 Category A staff have 170 eligible publications: 61 are ISI listed with 239 citations, averaging 3.92 per publication with an average impact factor of 2.26. Research staff on RAE-ineligible contracts have contributed approximately another 120 units. An estimated additional 140 units from the Leverhulme programme are associated with staff returned elsewhere because they have rejoined partner units (three) or left Nottingham (two).
  • Successful Graduate Programme  ISS is ESRC-recognized for 1+3 and CASE awards in STS. It has recruited 52 graduate students since 2001, awarding 14 PhD, 11 MA by Research (PGR) and 14 MA Research Methods (PGT). All PhD students completed within 4 years. ISS has obtained scholarships from ESRC (18 including 2 NERC/ESRC and 1 CASE), Wellcome (7), Leverhulme (6), EPSRC (1) and the Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness (1). RA3a figures include supervision outside ISS. RA3b shares scholarship credit with partner schools.
  • Career Progression  ISS graduate students and early-career researchers have been awarded 9 competitive postdoctoral fellowships from Wellcome, ESRC, MRC/ESRC and DoH. Five fellows are being returned as Category A staff.
  • International Networks  ISS staff have undertaken joint research and published articles with scholars in Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Spain and the US. Staff and students have been visiting fellows at Harvard, British Columbia, Queensland, Lund, Singapore, Copenhagen, and the American Bar Foundation. Visitors have included Harold Garfinkel (UCLA), Renee Fox (Penn), Paul Slovic (Oregon), Barbara Katz Rothman (CUNY), Clinton Sanders (Connecticut) and Bert Kritzer (UW, Madison). ISS has also hosted visiting students or fellows from the US, Canada, Germany, France, and the Netherlands

The University’s Research Strategy has been directed towards raising Nottingham’s visibility and international research reputation. The University operates a budgetary model under which units benefit directly from success in research funding and has created a multi-tiered support structure to promote research. This includes central funding to support new researchers, to enhance external fellowships and to facilitate participation in international meetings. The University Research Committee determines overall strategy and objectives, which are operationalized through sub-committees. ISS reports to the sub-committee for humanities and social sciences, but also contributes to sub-committees for food, agricultural, veterinary, environmental and rural research, and for engineering and physical sciences. This structure is supported by Research Innovation Services, who provide contract management and research intelligence to ISS through the Humanities Research Centre. ISS also benefits from the Graduate School’s personal and professional development programmes, and co-ordination of dealings with the Research Councils, and from the University’s membership of the U21 international group of research universities.

The University has invested in physical and informational infrastructure to support research. In 2003 ISS moved into a new SRIF-funded social science research building, where staff and students enjoy secure, high-quality modern offices. Library and journal holdings have been developed to support its research agenda. There has been regular renewal of IT and other equipment. ISS has its own administrative staff experienced in grant costing and administration, supported by the Humanities Research Centre. This allows academics to focus on the scientific aspects of the research process and contributes to the Institute’s high success rate in gaining external funds.

The Institute has a flat and flexible structure, rather than a formal system of research groups, appropriate to its operating scale and facilitating cross-boundary working and interdisciplinary collaboration. However, there is an established division of leadership among the core staff around their principal theoretical interests: Professor Dingwall on sociological and socio-legal issues related to work, organizations and interaction; Dr Martin on the sociology of expectations, innovation and commercialization; Professor Nerlich on the applied linguistics of discourse and communication; and Dr Raman on the politics of science policy and public engagement.

The Leverhulme programme on Biorisks and Society, led by Dingwall and Nerlich, was the main focus from 2001-06. The programme empirically investigated the ‘risk society’ thesis and alternatives to the ‘deficit’ model of public understanding of science. These were linked by an interdisciplinary study of ordinary people’s framing of biorisks, both as a basis for their own actions and for their response to accounts of those risks offered by relevant sciences. Areas of inquiry included:

  • the conceptualization of risk, both cultural and philosophical;
  • the psychology of risk decisions;
  • the cultural history of biorisks, with particular reference to responses to epidemic disease and to concerns over the quality of the national gene pool;
  • the contemporary management of biorisks, examining the role of science in policymaking, responses to emerging risks like anti-microbial resistance, the impact of new social movements, resistance to vaccination and media treatments of biorisk.

Elements of this programme received additional support from other funders, particularly an ESRC grant (£135K) to Nerlich to extend her work on infectious disease to the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak.

The programme found:

  • no substantial evidence to support claims of a marked change in societal responses to risk in the recent past;
  • the notion of ‘risk’ in the ‘risk society’ thesis was conceptually muddled;
  • more attention needed to be directed to the mundane perceptions of risk held by citizens rather than to the preconceptions of those purporting to speak for them.

This work has been further developed by: Nerlich on risk communication and infectious disease (ESRC: £140K), and on the cultural framing of nanotechnology; Raman (transferring from Politics) on issues around risk governance; Hobson-West (moving from a Leverhulme studentship to a Wellcome Fellowship) on risk and trust in debates about animal experimentation; and Dingwall on institutional responses to new climatic and disease risks. The latter is conducted jointly with Vassy, who joined the Leverhulme group in 2002 on secondment from CRESP in Paris, examining the impact of new diagnostic technologies on managing the risk of giving birth to a Down’s Syndrome child. Vassy, Dingwall and Murcott are now examining the 2003 heatwave in France and England, building on the programme’s studies of infectious disease to investigate the adequacy of early warning systems for mortality crises. This work has been funded by the French Ministry of Health and is the basis for new studies of the perceived threat from pandemic influenza, discussed below.

Dr Martin continued the GSU interests in Genetics and Society. His work focuses on the dynamics of expectations in biomedical innovation, and the social and ethical issues presented by emerging biotechnologies, including genomics (ESRC: £183K), pharmacogenetics (Wellcome: £117K), stem cells (ESRC: £246K), tissue engineering (EPSRC: £184K). These studies have questioned the existence of a ‘biotechnology revolution’ and mapped the promissory nature of many novel therapies, exploring the role of the ‘future’ in shaping biotechnology as a new field of hope. ISS has also established Europe’s largest group of social science researchers working on adult stem cells and tissue engineering. Busby completed doctoral research on blood banking, supported by Wellcome, in 2004. She is now examining novel forms of tissue banking, supported by a Wellcome Fellowship, and further grants from ESRC and Wellcome to examine the banking of cord blood stem cells - currently the subject of intense professional, commercial and consumer interest, as a possible key to future regenerative therapies. Weiner’s ESRC-funded doctoral research, completed in 2006, explored whether expectations about genomic medicine, both scientific and social scientific, were being realised. She now holds an MRC/ESRC fellowship to investigate professional discourses around the geneticisation of coronary heart disease. Kraft joined as a research fellow in 2002 and was co-applicant on Martin’s ESRC project on the dynamics of stem cell innovation before being awarded an ESRC CBAR Fellowship in 2006 to develop her own work on the historical translation of basic research from bench to bedside in the context of adult stem cells.

Since 2004, ISS has also established a major programme on Organizations, Knowledge and Technology Transfer in collaboration with Professor Currie who is seconded part-time from the Business School. This was initially based on a DoH grant (£750K) to Dingwall and Currie to examine the movement of genetic knowledge into mainstream NHS practice. Further grants have supported work on the re-use of single use medical devices in NHS operating theatres (NHS: £115K) and on network forms of organization in health and social care services for children (SDO: £388K). This area was strengthened by the transfer of Parry’s DoH Postdoctoral Research Capacity Development Fellowship from I-WHO (Panel I36). Parry’s work draws on, and contributes to, technical advances in the scientific study of clinical communication, and their transfer into everyday practice.

Staff and Student Development
A particular challenge for a new interdisciplinary field is sustaining a flow of able, interested and committed recruits. Responses to this challenge also contribute to the renewal of the ageing UK academic profession. ISS offers a structured pathway into research careers. This begins with a highly competitive summer internship programme, where 4-6 undergraduates from any discipline gain paid experience as research assistants. ISS then searches widely for potential research students: about half of those recruited have a first degree in natural science. It aims to exceed ESRC minimum standards, particularly in terms of accommodation, equipment and opportunities to present at international meetings, including the American Sociological Association (2 presentations), the Society for Social Studies of Science [4S] (5), European Association for Studies of Science and Technology (8), and the Law and Society Association (6). Students have also benefited from U21 fellowships to study in Singapore, Lund, and Queensland (2). All students, and staff, present at least once per year at the weekly Institute seminar (attended by 20-30 people), which is organized by graduate students and modelled on typical conference formats so that everyone is well-rehearsed in presentation skills. The seminar programme also regularly incorporates contributions from leading national and international scholars. Six former students now work at ISS, four on RAE-eligible fellowships. Other graduates are employed at LSE, Birmingham, Sheffield Hallam, Northern British Columbia and in Law and Community Health Sciences at Nottingham, as well as in science policy organizations such as Sciencewise. Students are encouraged and supported in applying for postdoctoral fellowships from ESRC or Wellcome, to enhance their professional formation through publication and participation in the University’s early career programmes. ISS is increasingly focussing on preparing postdoctoral fellows for leadership roles in existing areas, and in developing new ones, bringing them into internal planning processes previously confined to the core team. Current core staff are seeking funding in larger tranches, to achieve greater resource stability, while mentoring early-career staff to generate smaller grant applications, as appropriate to their own professional development, and to establish success records and managerial skills to sustain the team’s future. Mentoring has been particularly supported by Murcott, who has visited ISS regularly since 2001 to offer consultation independent of line management to postgraduates and early-career researchers, particularly supporting writing for publication. The university also offers an extensive developmental programme to increase the participation of women in leadership, from which both Nerlich and Raman have benefited: Nerlich was one of the first Nottingham academics to be promoted to a personal chair from a background as a part-time career researcher.

Relations with Users
ISS’s main audiences are policy elites, planners and managers. Its staff have made significant contributions to national policy debates: Martin’s consultancy for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society contributed to rebutting pressures for major reform of the pharmacy curriculum to focus on genomics, and his work on forensic uses of DNA was endorsed by the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology. Dingwall’s work on biorisks and public health was featured on Radio 4, leading to invitations from both the Department of Health and Roche Pharmaceuticals to join planning processes for pandemic influenza. Both have been appointed to BBSRC advisory groups, shaping research policy in biosciences. Nerlich’s work on foot and mouth disease for the ESRC Science and Society Programme has regularly been highlighted by that programme in its interactions with policymakers, particularly from DEFRA. In addition, staff regularly engage with local citizen groups such as branches of the British Association and Rotary, and with practitioners and users of health services, as with Parry’s work for professional bodies in physiotherapy and Busby’s work with the Anthony Nolan Trust to support a new cord blood stem cell bank. Hobson-West is a member of the Boyd Group of key stakeholders in the use of animals in scientific research. ISS members have been particularly active in Nottingham’s Café Scientifique and frequently appear on local and national radio and TV to talk about their work, including appearances on Newsnight, the Today programme, the Material World, and the World Service.

At the end of the Leverhulme Programme, ISS reappraised its future strategy in discussion with the University Research Committee and Management Board. The successful programme on biosciences and biotechnology is being extended to address other emerging challenges in science policy and science studies. The Institute will build on its success in creating a genuinely multidisciplinary and highly collaborative research environment through further engagements with the university’s strengths in STEM disciplines, and continue partnerships with high-rated units like Law, Business and English. Finally, ISS will become more involved with the University’s international research programme through its campuses in China and Malaysia, to increase awareness of the importance of science and society studies in rapidly developing economies and to bring back other perspectives on science/society interactions to challenge and inform its own agenda.

The key areas for future development are:-

a) Regulation and Governance in Science and Society
This embraces two sub-themes:

i) The Governance of Science
Hobson-West is currently investigating ethical conflicts over the regulation of animal experimentation in the UK and analysing implications for the governance of biomedical science and technology. In collaboration with Dr Kate Millar (Animal Physiology/Centre for Applied Bioethics), she is developing further plans for work on animals and society in partnership with the University’s new Veterinary School. ISS hosted the inaugural meeting of the new BSA Animals and Society Study Group in 2006 and will host this group’s joint meeting with a parallel RGS group in 2007. Dingwall is working with US colleagues on a sociological analysis of the rise of bioethics and its evolution into a system of regulation, extending from the natural sciences and clinical medicine into the social sciences and humanities. Busby is reviewing the supply of legitimacy to science through her work on the sourcing of human tissues for biotechnological research, which depends on the development of successful strategies for securing social acceptability. These include the management of intersections between ‘public’ and ‘private’ sectors, and the strategic deployment of gift regimes.

ii) The Contributions of Science to Governance
This examines the emergence of new technologies of surveillance and intervention. Martin will extend previous work on the forensic uses of DNA and elements of an ESRC seminar (2005-07) programme on neuroscience and society, organized jointly with BIOS from LSE. He is focussing particularly on the growing use of biometrics in population surveillance and, in collaboration with the University’s Brain and Body Centre, on the use of neuroscience and imaging data in attempts to predict and manage behaviour: for example, one PhD student (co-supervised with Law) is examining new lie detection technologies and two others are looking at aspects of human enhancement. The work has been taken up by the One Nottingham Local Strategic Partnership, which is seeking to develop new strategies for early childhood intervention. ISS has also been engaged, through the University’s Crime, Security and Defence Group, in plans to investigate the privacy consequences of ubiquitous computing and locational devices, in collaboration with colleagues from civil engineering and computer science. Dingwall, Nerlich and Raman will continue their work on the societal challenges presented by new infectious diseases, and by the decay of traditional technological responses to old ones. A PhD student (co-supervised with Law) is, for example, examining the tensions between contemporary thinking on human rights and effective public health management of epidemic disease.

b) The Translation of Science into Practice
ISS has long been involved in what is now known as translational research, particularly through Martin’s work on innovation and change in the biopharmaceutical industry and on technology transfer in regenerative medicine, and Dingwall and Currie’s collaboration on the incorporation of genetic knowledge into mainstream NHS clinical practice and on the use of new technology in operating theatres. The latter are currently collaborating with the Centre for Healthcare Acquired Infections, to investigate how developments in microbiology can be transferred into organizational and professional practice. Martin will continue his work in the field of genetics and neuroscience to explore how both scientific visions of the body and novel clinical practices are being reshaped by new knowledge. Weiner is contributing to a European network looking at the social, ethical and organisational issues relating to screening for common, treatable genetic conditions and, with the support of Nerlich and Murcott, is planning to extend the concept of translation to the movement of science into domestic environments. Kraft will focus increasingly on translation from a historical perspective, using nuclear medicine since World War II as a case study to examine previous attempts to reshape the relationships between industry, universities and the public sector, and accelerate uptake of innovations. Parry will work on knowledge transfers into established areas of clinical practice, particularly in relation to elderly patients, where there is an established policy concern that practitioners have been slow to take up findings from both biomedical and psychosocial research, with adverse consequences for the quality of care.

c) Communicative Interactions between Scientists and the Public
This continues Nerlich’s Leverhulme work on the cultural and linguistic framing of scientific developments and popular responses. She has recently published a study of the power of the nanobot image, which traced its evolution in science fiction, from Jules Verne, through Fantastic Voyage, to contemporary media articles and promotional literature. She is seeking support to extend this work on science, discourse and culture, particularly in the context of nanotechnology, with colleagues from English and Physics. Communication is also a dimension of other programme areas. Nerlich has recently been awarded £80K from ESRC for work on the communication of food/health benefits in relation to probiotics, which will complement Weiner’s work on mundane translation, and her group are working with Busby on communicative issues around tissue banking. Raman has a well-established interest in citizen/scientist dialogue and is currently developing proposals with colleagues in Geography and Environmental Sciences to examine sustainable technologies, particularly in relation to water, carbon capture and energy use. She is also co-ordinating a group recently awarded a £25K contract by BBSRC to evaluate a forthcoming public dialogue on stem cell research. This theme will feed into the translational studies, where traditional linear models have failed to allow for feedback from users to scientists in considering how innovations can be developed to fit social and organizational environments, rather than demanding that these be reshaped, and how novel possibilities identified by users can be incorporated and developed in future cycles of innovation.

For this strategy to be realised, ISS must confront the recognized challenge of securing the careers of its best staff, both those returned here as postdoctoral fellows and others currently employed on ineligible contracts or completing PhDs. While some will, of course, wish to move on, and ISS has a responsibility to supply a wider market, others wish to make career investments in ISS. The combination of fEC payment for PI salary costs and a wider base of QR funding will make a significant contribution. A third element is likely to be increased undergraduate teaching, particularly in partnership with science schools around the ethical and social issues raised by technoscience, primarily to continue driving recruitment into the field and permit further expansion of the graduate programme. With this greater security, ISS will work closely with the university’s staff development unit to prepare early career staff for professional leadership. Above all, the Institute will seek to further develop a genuinely interdisciplinary research culture that unites researchers from social science, the humanities and the natural sciences to work together on key problems in contemporary science and technology.

Given the high proportion of early-career staff in ISS, most esteem indicators are inevitably associated with the more established scholars. However, it is evident that many of the early-career researchers are already attracting attention for the quality of their professional work – their contributions are asterisked in the following list of specimen items:

a) Journals:
Dingwall was editor-in-chief (2001-06) of Sociology of Health & Illness. SHI consistently held the highest ISI ranking of any UK-edited sociology journal over this period. Nerlich is review editor of Historiographia Linguistica. Key editorial board memberships include: Sociology of Health & Illness (Martin 2006-9); Studies in Pragmatics (Nerlich); Food, Culture and Society (Murcott); New Genetics and Society (Martin); Social Epistemology (Raman); Surveillance and Society (Martin); Journal of Nano Education (Nerlich).

b) Membership of grant review panels
Food Standards Agency (Murcott); Wellcome Trust Biomedical Ethics programme (Martin); European Science Foundation (Nerlich); Genome Canada (Kraft*); Physiotherapy Research Foundation (Parry*, Vice-chair 2003-); Health Research Council, Finnish Academy of Sciences (Dingwall 2004-)

c) Organizing meetings
EURESCO/ESF ‘Mind, language, metaphor (Nerlich 2002); BSA Risk and Society Group (Raman and Hobson-West* 2004); ESF ‘Stem cell cultures in Europe’ (Nerlich 2006); Kennedy School of Government, Harvard ‘Animal–Human Boundaries’ (Hobson-West* 2006); Clinical Interactions and Conversation Analysis (Parry* 2007); ESRC seminar series on Neuroscience, Identity and Society 2005-07 (Martin).

d) Visiting Fellowships
American Bar Foundation (Dingwall 2003); University of Copenhagen (Busby 2007*); Harvard University (Hobson-West 2006*)

e) Awards
Chartered Society of Physiotherapy Robert Williams Award 2004 and Baroness Robson Travel Scholarship 2005 (Parry*)

f) Service to professional associations
Trustee, US Law and Society Association (Dingwall 2001-04); ISA RC15 Executive Board (Dingwall 2002-10); BSA Medical Sociology Group (Weiner* 2007- )

g) Invited contributions and keynote addresses
Conseil d’ Analyse Economique (Martin); Keynote speaker at first BioAlps Convention (Martin 2005); Plenary speaker to BSA Medical Sociology Conference (Dingwall 2006); Royal Society ‘Dilemmas of Science and Government’ (Nerlich 2002); Wellcome Trust/Cold Spring Harbor Pharmacogenomics meeting (Martin 2005); Invited speaker - Society for Research in Rehabilitation 2006 'Bridging the gap' symposium on qualitative and quantitative methods (Parry* 2006); Invited speaker - 'Training the Health Professions - Applying interaction research in health educational settings' University of Southern Denmark Odense (Parry* 2005); Invited speaker at opening of University of Nottingham Centre for Healthcare Acquired Infections (Nerlich 2007).

h) Other activities
Directorship of Nautilus Biotech (Martin); External examining for a wide variety of UK and European universities including Umea (Martin), Linkoping (Dingwall), Leuven (Nerlich), Helsinki (Murcott) and Brussels (Murcott); Department of Health Committee on Ethical Aspects of Pandemic Influenza (CEAPI) (Dingwall 2006-); BBSRC Science for Society Strategy Panel (Dingwall 2007-); Pandemic Advisory Council, Roche Pharmaceuticals, Basel, Switzerland. (Dingwall 2007-); BBSRC Synthetic Biology Sub-Group (Martin 2007- ); Clarke Inquiry into a Future Professional Body for Pharmacy (Dingwall 2007-).