Against Excellence

Talk by Jack Stilgoe at the Joint Research Centre (4 December 2015)

In science policy, excellence is everywhere. Following the Research Excellence Framework, the UK’s Universities are all rushing to take credit for their ‘excellence’. The UK Government’s recent science and innovation strategy talks about “the importance of achieving excellence”. Who’d be against that? If quality is good then surely excellence is better? In November 2014, the ‘Rome declaration’ was published as part of Italy’s presidency of the European Union. The statement calls for Europe to embrace ‘responsible research and innovation’, in the service of big social problems of global health, environmental sustainability, and securing food, energy and water supplies. Few would disagree with the principle of responsible research and innovation. But it remains unclear what it would mean in practice. Taking RRI seriously means thinking about its tensions with the way in which we talk about scientific ‘excellence’. If we are to nurture genuinely responsible research and innovation, I argue that ‘excellence’ needs a radical overhaul.

With discussant: Sjoerd Hardeman (CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis in The Hague, NL).

Jack Stilgoe

About the Speaker:

Dr Jack Stilgoe is Senior Lecturer in Science and Technology Studies at University College London. He has spent his professional life in the overlap between science policy research and science policy practice, at the think tank Demos, the Royal Society and at UCL, where he teaches courses on science policy, responsible science and innovation and the governance of emerging technologies. He is a member of the Government’s Sciencewise steering group and the Research Councils UK Public Engagement Advisory Panel and he is on the editorial board of Public Understanding of Science. Among other papers, pamphlets and other publications, he is the author of The Public Value of Science (Demos, 2007) and Experiment Earth: Responsible Innovation in Geoengineering (Routledge, 2015).

Contro Corrente is a series of seminars with renowned scholars and practitioners of science and technology studies, aiming at raising awareness of science and technology studies and how these types of reflexive activities can help with scientific practice at the Joint Research Centre.

For more information, please visit:

Like what you read? Give jrc-sts a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.