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Australia’s Big Science Vision – an eco-green form of sustainable mediocrity.

Where is the vision?

The Australian Government have reissued their research priorities for science. Sadly it’s infected with the eco-virus. There are seven “sustainables”,  and ten aspects of “change”. When it comes to maximizing our competitive advantage, the first point is the development of “reliable, low cost, low emission energy.” Say no more. After applying a wheel-clamp to the economy, we’re paying scientists to figure out how to drive cars with wheel-clamps on.

The Australian Academy of Science “welcomes the release” which tell us exactly how useful they are. They think this is a “long-term, strategic vision for Australia”. I think this is an eco-pop wish-list of bland mediocrity on a dead-end road. It’s time for real scientists to ditch the current associations, which have forgotten what science is, and start some new ones.

What should Australian public funded scientists be discovering?

I envisage priority number one as stopping the ravages of disease and misfortune, conquering cancer, and the common cold, or at the very least, reducing asthma and diabetes. As a bonus we’d sell the products for trillions to a clamouring world, to make us rich beyond our wildest dreams, the envy of the world, and a top destination for productive people and very wealthy tourists seeking the hearts and livers they used to have.

The Australian government has other ideas. Their top priority for Australian scientists, is, wait for it…. to “help Australians live in a changing environment” — something Australians have been doing for nigh on 40,000 years. (And we wonder why school children think science is irrelevant?) The Big Vision here is to try to help people and plants cope with a climate that is already about as good as it gets — a warm patch amongst bone-crunching ice-ages. Right now there are no super volcanoes, the big asteroids have missed, the black plague is not common, and hardly anyone is starving in Australia. It doesn’t get much better than this.

New  Strategic Research Priorities (PDF)

(The new Research Priorities my quick web page copy with the media release)

The environment is number one

The list:

Australia is so overrun by the global-warming religion that our number one priority is the environment, and the first goal is ecological sameness: “Research will identify the level of environmental change human and natural systems can tolerate before fundamental ecological processes are irreversibly changed”.

Ominously the word “behaviour” crops up in all three of the top environmental themes. Apparently, one of our most pressing aims is to “Enable societal transformation to enhance sustainability and wellbeing”. So who voted to be transformed? And “Sustainability” has a double meaning. On the one hand, it’s a motherhood statement that hardly anyone disagrees with. I mean really, who would tick the box “I want to ruin the country for the grandkids”? But the dark side of “sustainability” comes with baggage. It’s code for set of political ideas. Who defines what level is sustainable, or what method is the best way to get there? It sounds like a call for the Psychs to apply for grants to help recalcitrant voters see the light. The minister would no doubt deny this, and hide behind the benign motherhood definition. Actual ARC funding begs to differ: on some science topics, if you aren’t a green voter, you are a… denier.

Health research?

There is no big-sky medical advance aim here, no attempt to catch the medical revolution sweeping across the world: the stem cells, the telomeres, the gene therapy. This is small time, tin-tack, sociology medicine. The government’s Big Idea, is to wonder how to make our medical system “sustainable” (that word again). How about we try inventing and discovering medical things here instead of trying to buy them later from the nations who are doing the real research now? The PBS would be affordable, wouldn’t it, if Australians owned the patents?

And I wonder why we are boosting “population” health and not so much, individual health. Resilient communities is all very well, but what about healthy people? It may seem picky, but the Nanny State mindset is trying to treat groups and communities. That’s not the government’s job, it’s the job of the people in those groups and communities.

What happened to “Breakthrough science”?

In the old version there was a category called “breakthrough science” and “frontier technologies” and astronomer, Roberto Soria, laments that there is no room in the new version for most of what Astronomy does:

“…the old item 3.1 (“Breakthrough science”) has now disappeared, and the new topic is much more focused on applied research. Pretty much every astronomy ARC application ticked the old box 3.1 (breakthrough science to understand some fundamental physical processes in nature, etc ) as well as 3.5 (with this project we will attract and train new students in science and maths, and they will then be able to work as engineers for the new economy etc). I know it was a bit of a stretch, but that was all we could do, and review panels understood that. Now even the fig leaf of “breakthrough science” seems to be gone, so I don’t know where quantum physics, astronomy and other pure research proposals are supposed to fit in. It’s clear from the new priorities that in this government’s mind, the role of a good scientist should be to change society’s behaviour (or shall we say, to provide academic justification to those political interests who want to change society’s behaviour), rather than old-fashioned pursuits such as observing and understanding how the forces of nature work.” — Dr Roberto Soria


New  Strategic Research Priorities (PDF)  |  Australian Research Priorities (my quick web copy)  | (The former priorities)

Has anyone seen the Coalition science plan?

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