Vice-Chancellor, it is my pleasure to present to you Dr Claire Craig, The Provost at The Queen’s College, University of Oxford. Claire graduated with First Class Honours in Natural Sciences from Newnham College, Cambridge, followed by a PhD in Geophysics at St John’s College, Cambridge. After research in the Institute for Geophysics/Center for Space Physics, at the University of Texas, Austin, she worked at the Home Office, at McKinsey & Co, and as Commercial and Marketing Director of “At-Bristol”, a public engagement focused science centre.
Claire joined the Civil Service to run Foresight, a programme of science-based strategic projects, looking up to 100 years ahead. Supporting the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Foresight enabled academics and policy makers to identify and act on scientific and strategic challenges, working with partners across the world. In 2006, Claire was awarded a CBE for her leadership of Foresight. She subsequently became Director of the Government Office for Science and a member of the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, working on Capability Reviews of the Ministry of Defence and Cabinet Office.
In 2016, Claire became Chief Science Policy Officer at The Royal Society, working with Fellows and other experts to develop and promote independent and timely advice to UK and international decision makers on issues including Artificial Intelligence, genetic technologies, the implications of Brexit, and the future of education. She worked on The Royal Society’s reports on AI and data governance, which informed the creation of both the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, and the Ada Lovelace Institute. As a member of the AI Council, Claire continues to advise on the development and implications of AI. A key focus of the Council is on developing public understanding of AI and, with Sarah Dillon at Cambridge, Claire has just published a book on “Storylistening: narrative evidence and public reasoning”. The book argues for the need to take stories seriously in order to improve public reasoning. The challenges of presenting and using science, and narratives around science, in the public realm are significant. As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, stories can both influence and help make sense of public understandings and public policies. In previous years, this graduation ceremony was held in the Bath Assembly Rooms but, given the pandemic, we have moved on campus. The Assembly Rooms were built to give fashionable members of Georgian society a place in which to meet and exchange stories.
In turn, as Claire notes, the storytelling of Jane Austen, who drew on her experiences of the Bath Assembly Rooms in both “Persuasion” and “Northanger Abbey”, gives us today an understanding of at least some aspects of the public realm in early 19th century England.
As Claire argues, stories may sometimes be the only way we can collectively think about the potential behaviours of complex systems. A story does not generate scientific knowledge, but stories can enable reasoning about things about which there is no scientific knowledge and provide alternative perspectives on things that are known through science.
As we, individually and collectively, wrestle with the scientific and societal challenges of our day, from the role of AI to our response to a pandemic, we will need more and more the kind of perspective that Claire brings to public understanding of, and reasoning about, science and its impacts.
Vice-Chancellor, for outstanding services to science and learning, and for her contributions to engaging both the public and their representatives with science on matters of significance to us all, I present to you Dr Claire Craig CBE, who is eminently worthy to receive the Degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.