British Academy booklet shows how society can 'prosper wisely'

A new British Academy booklet aims to show how the social sciences and humanities can help build a society which combines prosperity with wisdom.

February 16, 2014

From reforming the structure of financial institutions to addressing inequalities in healthcare, clarifying the precise role of the monarch in the event of a hung parliament and even reducing tension on the border between India and Pakistan, British academics bring their insights and expertise to bear on many crucial national and international challenges.

Prospering Wisely: How the humanities and social sciences enrich our lives, launched at the House of Lords on 12 February, uses many such examples to demonstrate how these disciplines can help us live better and maintain “a healthy, open democracy”, while also “fuelling prosperity and growth”. It also draws extensively on interviews with eleven prominent fellows, which have just been published in the latest issue of the British Academy Review.

Even seemingly obscure research can illuminate public policy-making. For Diarmaid MacCulloch, professor of the history of the church at the University of Oxford, “one of my proudest achievements was to complicate the debate [on gay marriage] in the House of Lords.”

He recalls hearing from traditionalists in the debate “that there was a thing called ‘traditional marriage’ which was under threat”. So peer Viscount Colville of Culross – who happened to be one of Professor MacCulloch’s television producers -  “used the script we had created to show how complicated the history of marriage actually is”.

Recent British research, adds Vicki Bruce, professor of psychology at Newcastle University, has shown that facial recognition does not rely on three-dimensional images but on “much simpler 2D patterns of lights and darks”, which “makes it possible to remember specific pictures very well, but can confound memory in more natural conditions”.

These unexpected findings have already been “heavily influential in the way that CCTV images and memories of faces are now used in criminal justice”.

Lord Hennessy of Nymphsfield, who also retains a foot in the academy as Attlee professor of contemporary British history at Queen Mary, University of London, told Times Higher Education at the launch of Prospering Wisely that “Whitehall is now much better at calling academics in”.

“The report says we [academics] already do a lot of such work – and we’re very much up for more,” he said.

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

Mitch Blunt illustration (23 March 2017)

Without more conservative perspectives in the academy, lawmakers will increasingly ignore and potentially defund social science, says Musa al-Gharbi

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate