SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

How can science and democracy be reconciled?

On Friday 16th February 2018, Professor Andy Stirling  gave a Keynote presentation at the 2018 Melbourne School of Government Conference.

The conference, titled ‘A Crisis of Expertise? Legitimacy and the challenge of policymaking’, explored how - at a time when economic, social and environmental governance are facing growing challenges - there is a decline in public trust in experts and established institutions. Taking place over two days, it focused on three themes - Knowledge and Society, Policy in Practice and Innovation and Experimentation - and how they manifest in practical policymaking.

The subject of Professor Stirling’s talk was ‘Expertise and Democracy from adversarial crisis to mutualistic renewal’.

He explored the growing tension between the interests of science and expertise with those of human wellbeing, fairness and democracy. In the world of science and technology, expert-based institutions and infrastructures are increasingly striving for worldwide impact and control on a global scale. These ambitions spare little thought for ordinary people and their everyday experience, especially those who are marginalised. As a result, democracy itself is threatened, as it is increasingly seen as less valuable or a ‘luxury’ that cannot be afforded. Similarly, the use of science and expertise frequently justifies many political decisions, yet it can be presented in a way that is intentionally misleading or one sided.

In his presentation, Prof Stirling explored how to reconcile the relations between science and democracy, with a particular focus on sustainability, and the importance of challenging authority, inclusion and transparency in science and expertise instead of control.

Further information

Visit the Melbourne School of Government Conference 2018 page to find out more about the conference and to watch Prof Stirling’s presentation in full.

Listen to a podcast recorded at the event with Professor Stirling and Professor Matthew Kearnes from the Environmental Humanities group at University of New South Wales, in which they discuss policy-engaged research, policy expertise and activism as well as ideas from the conference in more detail.


Image sourced from Melbourne School of Government website.