Australia's Chief Scientist

A social compact: Advancing the value of STEM

Download a copy of the eighth bulletin here (24kb).

4 September 2013

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are critical to our future, however they are not the only source of insight and illumination in human affairs. STEM practitioners have no special status in respect to the moral dimensions of the utilisation of STEM; this is the province of society as a whole.

“Science does not replace moral judgement. It just extends the context of knowledge within which moral judgements are made. It allows us to do more but it doesn’t tell us whether doing more is right or wrong.” 1

While preparing our country for a future ever more dependent on STEM, we cannot forget that the community must be prepared for what is done – effectively in its name. This means that we must take care to explain to the community what is done, why it is done and what the benefits and any risks may be if we follow a particular path.

This is the context within which STEM practitioners work, and without a deep understanding of this context, the value of STEM will be diminished.

Maximum benefit from STEM will only accrue if it relates to valuable work in the humanities and social sciences, both of which are critical to our understanding and recording of our world, our cultures, our knowledge of society and relationships within society.

“…the benefits of science will only be exploited through a renewed compact between science and society, based on a proper understanding of what science is trying to achieve.” 1

As we plan the national STEM strategy, we need a refreshed social compact that articulates the responsibilities and obligations that the key parties – STEM practitioners, governments and the community – have to each other.

Each must play its part.

An Australian compact requires STEM practitioners to be open in communicating their work and its significance to society; they will make clear the professional integrity of STEM practices, the ethics of STEM and the commitment of STEM practitioners to contributing to societal benefit – their part in building a better Australia.

In return, a receptive society with confidence in STEM and an understanding of the how, the what, the where, and importantly the why, will accept the need for adequate resourcing to enable the practitioners to do their job.

Governments for their part will commit to a considered, strategic and adequate resource base for STEM that is predictable and recognises the effort, foresight and investment necessary to discover and apply new knowledge. They will do so with the support of the community.


1. Blair, T. 2002. Speech on scientific research to the Royal Society: