Launch of Making the Case 4: Crime
The fourth ‘Making the Case for the Social Sciences’ booklet - on Crime - was launched on 29th June to a packed room at the BIS Conference Centre in Westminster.
Professor Cary Cooper, Chair of the Academy, introduced the event and thanked all those involved in producing the publication: the advisory group of Professor Mike Hough (Birkbeck, UL) and Dr Charlotte Harris of the BSC, Dr Andrew Millie (University of Glasgow, Professor Adam Crawford (University of Leeds), Professor Nick Tilley (UCL), Cressy MacDonald or the Ministry of Justice, and Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard of the BPS. The British Psychological Society, British Society for Criminolgy and SAGE publishers were thanked for their financial support.
Speaking at the event, The Rt Hon Lord McNally (right), Minister of State for Justice and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, spoke about the considerable influence that social science research has on his department. He said that the social sciences can play a critical role in making criminal justice policy, and that they are consumers of social science research as much as commissioners. He said he was delighted to attend the launch of Making the Case for the Social Sciences 4: Crime and to endorse it.
Lord McNally talked about the ‘Breaking the Cycle’ consultation, which was being discussed in the Commons. He said the proposals made were not developed in a vacuum and that it relied heavily on social science research; indeed, the Green Paper was published alongside an evidence report.
Referring to the inherent challenge of tackling offending behaviour successfully, he said that social science is crucial in understanding these complexities. He pointed to the vital role the social science community place in understanding and evaluating how the policies being implemented are working or not. He said:
"In the current economic climate, when everything we spend has to meet a strict value for money test, it is even more important that we make good use of the social sciences as they can play a critical role in helping us to make decisions on criminal justice policy.
Proposals we have made were not developed in a vacuum. We have drawn heavily on our knowledge of the trends in offending and reoffending and also what works and what does not work, both in this country and elsewhere. This is why the Breaking the Cycle Green Paper was published alongside an Evidence Report which drew together our knowledge – much of it derived from social science research – about what currently works with offenders and why."
In discussion after his presentation, Lord McNally was asked about the conflicting voices of popular opinion and research based evidence. Acknowledging 'immense tensions' and the need for government to listen to public opinion, he stated his belief that policies formed from evidence gained from research were better able to stand the test of time. Nonetheless, he wondered if any modern government would have the courage to ban capital punishment in the face of popular opinion as was the case in the 1960s. He hoped that social scientists would be able to influence public opinion through the quality of their research and the provision of the facts. Politics, he reminded the audience, is a 'rough trade' and it will always be necessary to press one's case.
He was then asked about the legalisation of drugs debate, where similar tensions lie between popular understanding and the evidence from research.The war against drugs has undoubtedly failed but it is not yet clear which alternative approach should be taken. He saw that success probably lay in a series of incremental changes and improvements. He ended by stressing the importance of social science work saying, 'I need you more than you need me'.
Professor Mike Hough (right), President of the British Society of Criminology, and Director of the Institute for Criminal Policy Research at Birkbeck, University of London, echoed the need to understand complex problems. He picked up what had been discussed about the difficulties of dealing with the drugs problem, referring to ‘contradictory certitudes’: the fact that we are all convinced we are right. Social research helps to test these contradictory certitudes and also helps to provide perspective for the problems. During 15 years of research at the ICPR he had found, however, that the receptivity of government departments and administrations to research findings varied considerably.
Professor David Farrington OBE (left), Professor of Psychological Criminology at the Institute for Criminology, Cambridge University, shared the extensive work he has been involved in on risk-focussed prevention strategies. Like a common approach to Public Health, he has worked on identifying effective risk interventions for crime, many of which have been adopted by successive governments over many years.
A lively panel discussion followed between Mike Crockart MP (2nd left), Liberal Democrat Member for Edinburgh West and former police officer in Lothian & Borders Police; Frances Crook (below), Director, The Howard League for Penal Reform; David Farrington and Mike Hough. The panel threw up further interesting questions, including the challenges of identifying the right government contacts to speak with, and the difficulty also for policy makers to find academics with a broad systemic view of problems. The value to government of cost-benefit analyses of programmes was also stressed and a plea was made for social researchers and economists to work together across disciplines to achieve this broader approach.
One closing thought was how can social sciences get the resources to point out bad reporting on social science research – the sciences have this with Ben Goldacre and his Bad Science blog: how can we do this for the social sciences?
Earlier issues of Making the Case are available to download from the Academy website Publications page, or as hard copy on request from Vicky McGuinness, the Academy's administrator: firstname.lastname@example.org