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16 May 2023

Public show support for academic research involving MPs

New research has found significant public support for academic studies involving Members of Parliament in the UK, even if those studies involve an element of deception.

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When surveyed about their views on the freedom of academics to involve MPs in their research, the public showed consistently strong levels of support across a range of different experimental designs, some of which involved deception.

The findings were revealed in a study co-authored by Professor Peter John, head of the School of Politics and Economics at King’s College London; Kristina Kim (University of Edinburgh), and Luis Soto Tamayo (King’s College London).

As part of the study, researchers carried out a survey of more than 8,000 residents in the UK in 2021, asking them to rank their level of support for conducting research on MPs. Respondents were asked to rank on a scale of 1-7 (one being strongly disagree and seven being strongly agree) their support for a series of five hypothetical experiment designs.

On average, responses to scenarios averaged 5.5, with little difference between the different proposals, including those in which the experiment caused upset among MPs and those which involved fictitious constituents.

The researchers said: “In the quest for balance between research aiming for knowledge and freedom of researchers to decide this and respect for consent, our study found support for the independence of research and approval of more audit and accountability of politicians.

“UK citizens do not discriminate whether studies use identity deception, have a debriefing, deploy confederates or get pre-agreement from MPs: the high level of approval is the same. Citizens are also glad that their MPs participate, with greater willingness in studies that use identity deception than those that deploy confederates.”

You can read the full study, published in the Journal of Experimental Political Science, here.

In this story

Peter John

Head of the School of Politics and Economics and Professor of Public Policy