Science, Policy & Pandemics: Episode 11 - Building Trust Between Politicians and Scientific Advisers


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The role of scientific advisers to government is under the spotlight as never before. It is easy enough to talk of “speaking truth to power” – but as governments’ efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic demonstrate – the science is often evolving and uncertain. At a time when politicians are relying on scientists not only to inform decisions but also as trusted communicators – what is the nature of the authority and power of science advisers?

In this week’s episode of Science, Policy & Pandemics, our host Dr Rob Doubleday and guest host Salma Shah explore how the relationship between scientists and policymakers works in practice. With guests Lord Alistair Darling and Professor Frank Kelly, they discuss how ministers and their scientific advisers can build relationships based on trust, and how the nature of decisions, the personalities of the people involved, and the wider political context can shape those vital relationships.

CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast is a production of the Centre for Science and Policy at the University of Cambridge. This series on science, policy and pandemics is produced in partnership with Cambridge Infectious Diseases and the Cambridge Immunology Network.

Our guests this week:

Salma Shah was Special Adviser to the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, from 2018-19. She was responsible for strategy and communication across the Department. She has served in Government since May 2014, in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG). Prior to this, Salma was a journalist at the BBC, producing the Today programme on Radio 4.

The Rt Hon. Lord Alistair Darling, Baron of Roulanish is a Labour Life peer, and he previously served as a Member of Parliament from 1987 until 2015. He served continuously in the Labour government’s cabinet from 1997 to 2010, in posts including Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Secretary of State for Transport, and Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Professor Frank Kelly is a Professor of the Mathematics of Systems at Statistical Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. His main research interests are in random processes, networks and optimization. From 2003 to 2006 he served as Chief Scientific Adviser to the United Kingdom's Department for Transport.


CSaP: The Science & Policy Podcast is hosted by CSaP Executive Director Dr Rob Doubleday, and is edited and produced by CSaP Communications Coordinator Kate McNeil. If you have feedback about this episode, or questions you would like us to address in a future week, please email

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