Science Funding is monopsonistic, one-sided and poses a real threat to science. Governments are strangling research. The more money governments throw at politicized science, the tighter the deadly grip.
Read the cutting commentary from Don Aitkin — the former vice-chancellor of the University of Canberra and foundation chairman of the Australian Research Council. There’s a vested interest here, rarely discussed, that has ballooned in the last thirty years to billions of dollars.
In The Australian and on Aitken’s blog
The engine works this way. There is strong pressure on all academics to bring in research grant money for the department, the faculty and university. Those who do it well find their careers advancing quickly. To assist them there are media sections in universities whose job it is to frame the research work of academics in a way that will gain the attention of the media. Such media releases will come with as arresting a headline as the media section can devise. Buzzwords like ‘breakthrough’, ‘crucial’, ‘cutting edge’ and ‘revolution’ will be used. If possible, the staff members will appear on television, with the accompaniment of familiar stock images of laboratories and machines. The staff members will also be aware (or made aware) of the opportunity they have to advance their careers and names through writing another version of their published journal article for The Conversation, a website in which academics can write in more accessible language for an inquiring lay readership. Free from the requirements of journal house-rules, the staff members will be able to lard up their findings, call for urgency in funding and, where that is apposite, demand political attention. The output of the engine is heightened recognition of the name of the university, the academics and their area, and of course the likely prospect of more research money. All those in the engine-room think that they are just doing their jobs. The engine did not exist thirty years ago.
None of this is much of a problem in the more recondite areas of academic research, string theory in physics, for example, or advanced econometrics in the social sciences. But it is a problem, and a rapidly growing one, in areas of research where what is actually the case is contested vigorously by others. An eye has to be kept on the source of the money going to higher education research, which in our country is overwhelmingly the Australian Government. In 2014, not quite four billion dollars was available within the higher education system for research, all of it from the Commonwealth. In addition universities made another billion or thereabouts from consultancy and research for other funders. That is a lot of money. As the last Chairman of the Australian Research Grants Committee in 1987 I had a little over $30 million to parcel out. The engine has been most effective.
To have people such as Ridd decrying the hyperbole with which some research has been couched is obviously to imperil future grant money, and it would be understandable if academics within JCU have appealed to their vice-chancellor to shut Ridd up.
Something like this was presumably the reason Bob Carter, an internationally distinguished geologist at JCU who died in 2016, was stripped of his adjunct status (which meant he could not use the university library’s resources, a real penalty). Carter, like Ridd, was concerned to point to the errors of balance and rigour in research and publication on the reef.
There is no likely good outcome from this. Early on, I wrote to the JCU vice-chancellor to suggest she move to settle the issues quickly and away from the court.
JCU’s reputation can only worsen as the trial continues…
Read it all and comments at both The Australian and Don’s blog.
h/t to Jennifer Marohasy and Bob Fernley-Jones.