Tag Archives: Chief Scientist

Infographic: the National Energy Guarantee at a glance

The Conversation

Madeleine De Gabriele, The Conversation; Michael Hopkin, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, The Conversation

The federal government today announced its long-awaited energy policy. As expected it has scrapped the Clean Energy Target proposed by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, and has instead adopted a National Energy Guarantee, which focuses on ensuring electricity supply and putting downward pressure on energy prices.

Here’s what you need to know:

The ConversationRead more: How the National Energy Guarantee could work better than a clean energy target

The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Madeleine De Gabriele, Deputy Editor: Energy + Environment, The Conversation; Michael Hopkin, Environment + Energy Editor, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, Deputy Multimedia Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reblogs

Finkel’s Law: robots won’t replace us because we still need that human touch

The Conversation

File 20170822 22321 13gxwmx
The rise of the ChiefBot. Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Alan Finkel, Office of the Chief Scientist

By now, you’ve probably been warned that a robot is coming for your job. But rather than repeat the warning, I’ve decided to throw down a challenge: man against machine.

First, I’ll imagine the best possible robot version of an Australian Chief Scientist that technologists could build, based on the technologies available today or in the foreseeable future. Call it “ChiefBot”.

Then I’ll try to persuade you that humanity still has the competitive edge.

Read more: The future of artificial intelligence: two experts disagree

Let’s begin with the basic tasks our ChiefBot would be required to do.

First, deliver speeches. Easy. There are hundreds of free text-to-voice programs that wouldn’t cost the taxpayer a cent.

Second, write speeches. Again, easy. Google has an artificial intelligence (AI) system that writes poetry. A novel by a robot was shortlisted in a Japanese literary competition. Surely speeches can’t be so hard.

Third: scan the science landscape and identify trends. Watson, developed by IBM, can already do it. Watson is not just history’s most famous Jeopardy! champion: he’s had more careers than Barbie, from talent scouting for professional sport to scanning millions of pages of scientific reports to diagnose and treat disease.

Fourth, and finally: serve on boards and make complex decisions.

ChiefBot wouldn’t be the first robot to serve in that capacity. For example, an Australian company now sells AI software that can advise company boards on financial services. There’s a company in Hong Kong that has gone one step further and actually appointed an algorithm as a director.

So, there’s ChiefBot. I admit he’s pretty good. We have to assume that he will capture all the benefits of ever-advancing upgrades – unlike me.

But let’s not abandon our faith in humanity without looking again at the selection criteria for the job, and the capabilities on the human resume.

Man vs machine

Start with the task we’re engaged in right now: communicating in fluent human.

We’re sharing abstract ideas through words that we choose with an understanding of their nuance and impact. We don’t just speak in human, we speak as humans.

A robot that says that science is fun is delivering a line. A human who says that science is fun is telling you something important about being alive.

That’s knowledge that ChiefBot will never have, and the essence of the Chief Scientist’s job. Chalk that up to Team Human.

Here’s another inbuilt advantage we take for granted: as humans we are limited by design. We are bound in time: we die. We are bound in space: we can’t be in more than one place at a time.

That means that when I speak to an audience, I am giving them something exclusive: a chunk of my time. It’s a custom-made, one-off, 100% robot-free delivery, from today’s one-and-only Australian Chief Scientist.

True, I now come in digital versions, through Twitter and Facebook and other platforms, but the availability of those tools hasn’t stopped people from inviting me to speak in person. Digital Alan seems to increase the appetite for human Alan, just as Spotify can boost the demand for a musician’s live performances.

We see the same pattern repeated across the economy. Thanks to technology, many goods and services are cheaper, better and more accessible than ever before. We like our mass-produced bread, and our on-tap lectures and our automated FitBit advice.

But automation hasn’t killed the artisan bakery. Online courses haven’t killed the bricks-and-mortar university. FitBit hasn’t killed the personal trainer. On the contrary, they’re all booming, alongside their machine equivalents.

Finkel’s Law

Call it Finkel’s Law: where there’s a robot, we’ll see renewed appreciation for the humans in the robot-free zone. Team Human, two goals up.

The real Chief Scientists, Alan Finkel, dancing with a robot. Australia’s Chief Scientist, Author provided

Let me suggest a third advantage: you and I can be flexible and effective in human settings. In our world, AI are the interlopers. We are the incumbents. It’s the robots who have to make sense of us. And we make it extraordinarily hard.

Think, for example, of a real estate negotiation. We could rationalise it as an exchange of one economic asset for another. In reality, we know that our actions will be swayed by sentiment, insecurity and peer pressure.

In that swirl of reason and emotion, the art of the real estate agent is to anticipate, pivot and nudge.

The human real estate agent is the package deal. She can harness AI to sharpen her perceptions and overcome cognitive biases. Then she can hit the human buttons to flatter, deflect or persuade.

That human touch is hard to replicate, and even harder to reduce to a formula and scale. Team Human, three goals to nil.

Here’s a fourth argument for the win. We humans have learned the habit of civilisation. Let me illustrate this point by a story.

The human future

A few years ago, some researchers set out to investigate the way that people interact with robots. They sent out a small robot to patrol the local mall.

That robot had a terrible time – and the villains of the story were children. They kicked him, bullied him, smacked him in the head and called him a string of indelicate names.

The point is not that the children were violent. The point is that the adults were not. They restrained whatever primitive impulse they might have felt in childhood to smack something smaller and weaker in the head, because they had absorbed the habit of living together. We call it civilisation.

Read more: Surgeons admit to mistakes in surgery and would use robots if they reduced the risks

If we want artificial intelligence for the people, of the people and by the people, we’ll need every bit of that civilising instinct we’ve honed over thousands of years.

We’ll need humans to tame the machines to our human ends. I’d say that’s Team Human, in a walkover.

Together, these points suggest to me that humanity has a powerful competitive edge. We can coexist with our increasingly capable machines and we can make space for the full breadth of human talents to flourish.

But if we want that future – that human future – we have to want it, claim it and own it. Take it from a human Chief Scientist: we’re worth it.

The ConversationThis article is based on a speech Alan Finkel delivered to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) international conference in Sydney earlier this month.

Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Office of the Chief Scientist

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

1 Comment

Filed under Reblogs

Australian science making some progress amid the march of ministers

The Conversation

John Rice, University of Adelaide

The appointment of Senator Arthur Sinodinos as the new Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science means there have now been four ministers responsible for science in Australia in the little more than three years since the Coalition won government in 2013.

Five, if you were to count nobody as a minister for the period from September 2013 to December 2014 when there was no minister for science. In fact, nobody would be the longest serving of them.

This kind of churn reflects poorly on government. It is ripe for a few episodes of the ABC satirical comedy Utopia, and given the National Science and Innovation Agenda (NISA), we are talking about nation building.

More order, less chaos

Despite the constant change the government seems now to be generating order in the science and industry portfolio rather than chaos.

Whether it is individual ministers or their departments is not easy to tell. But the government seems much clearer on its approach to and support for science, industry and innovation.

The previous Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, was the most vocal and energetic advocate for a strategic approach to science and innovation, for better government co-ordination and for holistic policies that would engage science and industry in the national interest.

It would appear that ministers and departments have got behind this agenda, and by working with it have avoided the potential incoherence that multiple changes of minister might bring.

As Science Minister, Greg Hunt engaged the sector energetically, and sought to evolve the science and innovation system with better structures and better support.

Challenges for the new minister

Sinodinos has a good opportunity to maintain this sense of direction.

The announcement of the latest round of Cooperative Research Centres before February would be a good start. The review of R&D tax concessions is on the minister’s desk awaiting a response.

It was understood that Hunt intended to make a statement on science and industry in the next few months. It would be a great thing if Sinodinos could see that through.

Sinodinos is on record in parliament advocating the path to increased productivity through more investment in technology and innovation, and better commercialisation mechanisms. He appears to embrace the general ideas of NISA.

But it is clear that at the last election voters were not persuaded that science and innovation would deliver them the much promised “jobs and growth”.

Therefore the biggest political challenge for Industry, Innovation and Science is to negotiate a climate in which research, education and industry demonstrate collectively to the voting public that they do.

It is worth repeating over and over that an economy capable of generating and implementing commercialisable ideas doesn’t arise by having research done somewhere, the ideas picked up by someone else, and the magical appearance of a workforce with the skills to develop them.

An innovation based economy works through an evolving interplay between research, innovation and education.

More than two thirds of Australia’s scientific research occurs in its universities. The funding arrangements for research in universities are one of the biggest impediments to a productive Australian innovation system.

The funding

The underfunding of research creates significant distortions to the whole system of research, education and industry engagement.

The government missed a huge opportunity just before Christmas with its plan to take the A$3.7bn Education Investment Fund away from the university sector to pay down debt and fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Properly designed, a research infrastructure fund built on this money could have a massive influence on the university research system. The Clark Infrastructure Review and the Go8 both proposed such use of the Fund.

Perhaps Sinodinos could consider it both a challenge and an opportunity to turn this decision around, if only in part, and bring in a new force to support the growth of Australian science and the development of its innovation system.

The ConversationJohn Rice, Adjunct Professor, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission).  Read the original article.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reblogs

Chief Scientist’s address to the National Press Club: The voyage of science and innovation

The Conversation

Alan Finkel, Office of the Chief Scientist

Below is a transcript of the speech given by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel AO, at the National Press Club on 2nd March 2016.

Lessons from a lost ship

Let me start with a story about a small nation with middle-power ambitions.

It’s a nation in transition. Its population is growing. Its commodity-based economy is booming, on metals and minerals and grain.

That growth is supported by a strong financial sector and a sizeable migrant workforce. It is underpinned by landmark tax reform bedded down a few decades ago.

But this small nation is well aware of its uncertain place in a strategic region at a volatile time.

So it embarks on a bold exercise in next generation defence procurement: a flagship for its navy and a statement about its place in the world. The construction and financing is a public-private partnership.

The work is outsourced to a foreign company. That company subcontracts in turn to an international consortium of SMEs.

And then they head into an old-growth forest to source the materials. A forest – because this ship will be built of oak.

The setting is Sweden, four hundred year ago, in 1625.

Big dreams, epic failure

Now this was no ordinary ship that the Swedes contracted the Dutch, who subcontracted the Germans, Danes and Finns, to build.

This was something that no-one in Sweden had ever attempted before: a 135 foot warship with two decks, each bearing 36 cannons. And it had to be built on the keel of the 110 foot, one-deck warship the contractors were initially instructed to build.

That ship was half done when the King changed his mind – inspired by the thought of an extra deck, with extra cannons.

So the builders set to work, and they did their best to adapt the keel, while the King went off to fight his war with Poland.

By August 1628 the ship was ready.

All of Stockholm gathered at the harbour for the launch of this mighty symbol of Swedish pride. And all of Stockholm was still there when, 20 minutes after the launch, tilted by the gentle nudge of a light sea breeze, it sank – less than one nautical mile from dock.

This ship – the Vasa – has sailed into business school history: as the textbook case in innovation done wrong.

  • Project specifications that changed at political whim.
  • A workforce of 400 people, the largest workforce ever engaged in a single project in Sweden, split up into five autonomous project silos.
  • No evidence of design plans.
  • No prototype before the full-scale model was built.
  • No appetite for frank and fearless advice – the giving or the receiving of it.
  • No testing until the very last stage – and then no courage to halt the launch when the tests confirmed the outcome would be catastrophic.
  • Money squandered on vanity projects – including 20 busts of Roman emperors facing off against some ornamental mermaids.
  • And above all – not enough science.

The ship and 53 lives were lost as a result.

When investors say they are risk-averse, here’s the reason: No-one wants to go down with the two-deck ship.

Learning to innovate – intelligently

You might say it’s risky to start a speech with failure. But I’ve never been afraid of risk. And I can tell you that no modern engineering team would build the Vasa today.

I’m assuming, of course, that at least one member of the team would have come within spitting distance of Newton’s Laws of physics in the course of their training.

But the Vasa was about six decades too early for Isaac Newton. The shipmasters did not know about force vectors and how they sum, or the significance of the centre of gravity. So they were effectively blind, where modern science gives us the power to see.

The more we know – thanks to science – the more we can achieve through innovation. And the more efficient the path we take to get there.

Elizabeth and I visited the Vasa museum in Stockholm in January. When I heard the story, I immediately knew that I would have to include it in my maiden voyage as Chief Scientist at the National Press Club.

The first thing that the story of the Vasa says to me is this: if we want bold solutions in this century then we need science – and plenty of it. As important as it is, though, science is not enough. We need to think about interactions, unexpected consequences and the management of risk.

If we were to build nothing new before we were absolutely certain we knew the best way to do it, that would be the end of progress.

And even if we did figure out the quantum world tomorrow – even if we did have a grip on the fantastical complexity of the human brain – even if we did crack nuclear fusion…

There would still be questions about the practical ways our knowledge might be applied.

Take self-driving cars.

Now I’m not drawing a direct parallel here to the Vasa – I know which of the two I’d rather travel in, and it’s not the one with ornamental mermaids. But I will put it to you that we are in our own way launching an untested craft into unknown waters, with consequences that we can only foresee in part.

There are plenty of benefits: mobility for the elderly, fewer accidents, freedom to talk on your mobile phone…

But is it that simple?

  • Say you’re in the city to attend a meeting. Do you pay for the car to park – or do you just send it round and round the block for the duration of your meeting? Congestion would skyrocket.
  • Say it’s 8:00AM on a school day. Do you carpool – or pack the kids off and wait for the car to return… again, and again? More congestion!

But the harder questions for government only proceed from there.

  • How do we deter people who think like me from adding to traffic congestion?
  • Who do we allow to own or direct these cars?
  • What happens to all the people who today drive things like trucks and taxis for a living?
  • Who builds, and then who takes responsibility, for the sophisticated networks of sensors to support the cars?
  • And given that orderly traffic flow depends on the interconnections between the cars and the traffic management software, what happens when a car hits an internet blackspot? Potential catastrophe.

These are but a fraction of the issues attached to one technology in the immediately foreseeable future. To solve them, we need not just science, but research. Where research is the investigatory collaboration between science, technology, sociology, economics and the like.

In all of the complex challenges that technology will bring, the humanities, arts and social sciences are critical to our research endeavour and we neglect them at our cost.

Combine these research elements, and we will reap the benefits:

Gridlock – gone. Crashes – avoided. Carparks – repurposed. Designated drivers – extinct. Backseat drivers – forever silenced.

And if you can imagine that self-driving car – then you can also imagine a low-emissions electricity grid supplying electric vehicles. Connected to fantastic arrays of solar panels in the outback. Travelling through an ever more exciting world.

Perhaps by then we’ve made progress towards bionic eyes for the vision impaired. Or launched trips into space for tourists. We could be living in an Electric Planet. A zero emissions world.

How much progress could your lifetime contain?

We decide – and not just by the scope of our ambition but by the breadth of our research, the quality of our planning and the calibre of our leadership.

So science is vital; and innovation takes hard work – two lessons that a shipwreck can teach.

Learn them, and we will prosper in our own remarkable times. With great science we will create great research outcomes. With clever innovation we will turn those research outcomes into societal and economic benefit.

With great science and clever innovation combined, we can discover how truly remarkable we might be.

Applying the lesson to public policy: the vision and the path

As a student, researcher, innovator and investor, I’ve always tried to keep the doors of opportunity open.

I’ve reflected a great deal recently on what chasing opportunity means for public policy.

After all, Australia has embarked on one of the most ambitious public sector innovation projects we have ever attempted.

Its aim is set out in the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

We are seeking the design specifications for a very different sort of country: a country with the scientific potential, the industrial capacity and the start-up culture to thrive in the decades ahead.

Above all, it’s about thinking and operating at scale.

If you recognise a problem is big, you will be more likely to develop appropriately large-scale solutions.

For example, although Australia has the largest rate of rooftop solar installations in the world, the total contribution to our electricity needs is just 2.1%. Electricity itself only represents about a fifth of our total energy consumption, so the contribution of solar today is still tiny.

We’ve done wonders with solar from a virtual standing start in 2010, but to get to where we want to be we need to move faster, with bigger ambitions. Operating at scale is not just about distributing money. The goal has to be to create an environment that encourages success.

Take red tape. It’s the gift-wrap for opportunity. For example, our existing regulations make it easier to test unmanned aerial drones in Australia than it is for developers to test them in the United States.

So we have an opportunity to be a leader rather than a follower in the use of drones for media, mining, retail and sport.

Our regulations also support an efficient, world class clinical trials industry, a national asset we ought to celebrate. Every year, around 1,000 new clinical trials commence in Australia, capturing a A$1 billion dollar investment.

But we don’t create the same supportive environment for manufacturers of medical devices. Why not aim to win on all fronts, in the interests of consumers as well as workers and investors?

Beyond regulation, we need a highly educated workforce, and tax regimes that are simple, reasonable and fair. We need to ensure that the Government’s contribution to the innovation system is not too complex.

And when designing an environment to encourage innovation we need to declare in advance how we will measure success. We are capable of creating this environment; and where we succeed, good things happen.

Let me give you some examples from my first month on the job. I do not take credit – but I do take note, as should we all. In basic science, we’ve observed gravitational waves. Easy to say – but so difficult to do that Einstein himself thought we’d never crack it.

To me, this was the most exciting announcement in physics in my lifetime. It rounded out Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The event was observed by an instrument, to which Australia made important contributions, that is the most sensitive combination of physics and engineering ever contemplated.

Most important, we now have a whole new way to observe the universe.

More than 400 years ago Galileo improved the optical telescope so that he could use it to prove that the Earth revolves around the sun. In the 1930s, the radio telescope was invented and eventually used to discover pulsars, quasars and the cosmic microwave background radiation. Now, the optical telescope and the radio telescope have been joined by a gravitational telescope.

With it, we will discover things we never imagined.

Back on Earth, in the marketplace, we’ve seen Australian science in translation, in the form of a A$730 million licensing deal in which the pharmaceutical giant Merck acquired rights to a new drug to treat lymphoma, sickle cell anaemia, lung cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer.

And then Atlassian powers on, after sparking the dreams of a million ambitious young people when it listed on the US stock exchange and reached US$5.8 billion dollars overnight.

It’s a classic story of two Sydney science and IT students who developed planning tools for software developers, a product that was so good that it sold itself without a sales force.

Good news. Good news across the spectrum from scientific discovery to commercial success. Good news that stimulates the imagination.

And if you think we’ve exhausted the tank, if you think we’ve optimised the policy settings, it you think this is as good as we can get – you’re wrong.

How many women give up on promising careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics? Women comprise more than half of science PhD graduates and early career researchers, but by their mid-30s a serious gender gap starts to appear. We are improving – but we have a long way to go.

And how many businesses don’t engage with universities or research agencies? Enough to rank us at the bottom of the OECD for cross-sector collaboration.

How many researchers were never encouraged to think about working in industry or creating a start-up in the course of their training? Too many – because we still set PhD students’ sights on academic careers, even if for the majority we can’t possibly satisfy the expectations we create.

And how many good ideas might be waiting to be turned into products or processes in our research facilities? We’ve got great universities – but none in the Thomson Reuters list of the Top 100 University Innovators.

We rank 9th in the Global Innovation Index for the calibre of our science institutions – but 72nd for innovation output.

I’m telling you all this bad news because there’s a silver lining. Just think what this country might achieve if we address these issues. Then Australians can get on with bringing the future into the present.

Linking to my agenda

“So what are you doing about it, Alan?” you might ask. “Lots”, is the short answer. “Enough to weigh down a speech like 36 cannons on a seventeenth century ship”, is the longer one.

So let me signpost some of the work to expect from my office in the year ahead.

First, there’s my role at Innovation and Science Australia under chairman Bill Ferris, to help lead the development of a 15 year plan for investment in science, research and innovation. It’s the strategic plan for the country; and it will be critical to coordinate the many moving parts in play.

Second, Bill and I will be joined by John Fraser to undertake a review of the R&D Tax Incentive.

Yes, it’s been reviewed several times. But as we gather more data from the operation of the program there is an opportunity to further refine the incentive to ensure that it is effective at encouraging R&D that would not otherwise take place.

Third, I will be leading the development of a roadmap for our future national research infrastructure. This term “research infrastructure” is a little clunky because when we hear “infrastructure” we usually think of the everyday things – the bridges, ports or railways we know so well.

We don’t think of the infrastructure that maps the cosmos, images the brain, explores the oceans, and archives our history and stories. But we should – because it enlarges our capacity to reach for the future.

If endorsed, the proposed new infrastructure identified in the road mapping exercise will power Australian research in coming decades. And if history is our guide, powering science translates to fuelling industry, and putting Australian innovations out to the world.

Fourth, there’s the work of the Commonwealth Science Council, for which I am the Executive Officer.

We will measure progress against the nine National Science and Research Priorities, so we can answer to the expectations of Australians. We will identify our most transformational research; and we will scope the big future opportunities for Australia.

Finally, a word about education. I came to this role with the experience of creating three ongoing education programs, two in schools and one for early career researchers.

So it makes sense that, building on the Office of the Chief Scientist’s existing capability, I intend to present the data that will help to elevate our ambition for Australian schools. We must reverse the slipping rankings of our students in international tests.

In 2007 we were ranked at around 10th in the world. By 2011, these numbers had deteriorated and Australian students were significantly outperformed by 18 countries in science and 17 countries in maths. Being out of the top ten is bad enough, but being on a downward trajectory is even worse.

What can we do to reverse this trend? Numerous concerned individuals, institutions and companies have created extracurricular activities to try to stimulate interest in science.

My Office has just published a listing of the extracurricular STEM initiatives around the country and during the course of this year we will work to make it available as a dynamic database accessible to all teachers, students and parents.

But this will not be enough. The scale of the challenge is huge. We need to enhance our in-curriculum teaching capacity. We need to ensure that students learn deep content, not just how to learn. And we need to challenge our students and support them to meet those challenges.

All up, a three year term as Chief Scientists doesn’t seem quite long enough. But as a travelling engineer I have learned to pack efficiently.


I began with the Vasa gunship. I’ll end with its postscript.

It sat on the bottom of the harbour for 333 years. Then it was raised in 1961 – almost perfectly preserved, ornamental mermaids and all. Raising it was a phenomenal feat of ingenuity and engineering.

It was installed in a purpose-built museum, where more than a million people every year line up to see it. To Sweden, the Vasa is now a great source of national pride.

Because Sweden didn’t give up on building ships. They built two-deck gunships. They built three-deck gunships. Gunships that became the pride of the Swedish military for the next thirty years. They helped to usher in the age the Swedes call stormaktstiden – the Great Power Period.

Failure – repurposed as a symbol of success. But we don’t have to get there from the bottom of the harbour. Let’s take the direct path to our own stormaktstiden, our Great Power Period.

Thank you.

The ConversationAlan Finkel, Chief Scientist for Australia, Office of the Chief Scientist

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.


Leave a comment

Filed under Reblogs

Alan Finkel to be Australia’s new Chief Scientist

The Conversation

Tim Dean, The Conversation

Engineer, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Dr Alan Finkel, is expected to be declared Australia’s new Chief Scientist.

He will take over the role once the sitting Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, finishes his five-year stint in the job on December 31 this year.

Finkel was most recently Chancellor of Monash University, a post he has held since 2008. He is also the President of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE).

Finkel is an outspoken advocate for science awareness and popularisation. He is a patron of the Australian Science Media Centre and has helped launch popular science magazine, Cosmos.

He is also an advocate for nuclear power, arguing that “nuclear electricity should be considered as a zero-emissions contributor to the energy mix” in Australia.

The Australian Academy of Science (AAS) President, Professor Andrew Holmes, has welcomed the expected appointment of Alan Finkel to the Chief Scientist’s role.

“The Academy is looking forward to the government’s announcement, but Professor Finkel would be an excellent choice for this position. I’m confident he would speak strongly and passionately on behalf of Australian science, particularly in his advice to government,” he said.

“The AAS and ATSE have never been closer; we have worked together well on important issues facing Australia’s research community, including our recent partnership on the Science in Australia Gender Equity initiative.”

Professor Holmes also thanked outgoing Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, for his strong leadership for science in Australia, including establishing ACOLA as a trusted source of expert, interdisciplinary advice to the Commonwealth Science Council.

“Since his appointment, Professor Chubb has been a tireless advocate of the fundamental importance of science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills as the key to the country’s future prosperity, and a driving force behind the identification of strategic research priorities for the nation,” Holmes said.

This story was edited at 4:25pm AEDT to reflect that the government has yet to make an official announcement of the appointment of the new Chief Scientist.

The ConversationTim Dean, Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reblogs

When science meets parliament

The Conversation

Olivia Carter, University of Melbourne

Boarding the flight back from Canberra felt like stepping back through the magic wardrobe from Narnia.

I had been attending the annual Science meets Parliament event on behalf of The Psychology Foundation of Australia. I was one of 200 scientists representing the “science” of everything from crystallography through to entomology.

As a research academic, you are always aware that your research – and in some instances your entire career – depends on the decisions and opinions of “the government.” But I have to confess that exactly what “the government” meant in this context was not something I had thought much about.

Sure I understood that there is no bottomless pool of money. Nor was I ever so deluded as to think that every good person and every good project could – or even should – be supported by public funds. However, the mechanics of how decisions are made and the role that different groups and individuals play in this process was totally foreign to me.

One of the main things I gained from my two days in Canberra was a greater appreciation of how hard our politicians work. Or more importantly, how many different demands they have on their time and their attention.

After a day of talks we were all invited to a Gala Dinner where we heard from both Ian Macfarlane, Minister for Industry and Science, and the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten.

The talks were interesting, but it was the conversation I had with the politician assigned to our table, Senator Christopher Back, that gave me a glimpse into the lives of our politicians. Just as our meal arrived, bells started ringing and lights started flashing – a signal for him to leave immediately to cast a vote. As he sat back down the bells went again and he was off one more time.

He explained that the bells (and the accompanying votes) continue from morning to late evening on each sitting day. More surprising was his comment that he is normally only able to spend 20 days a year in his local Perth office as he is either in Canberra or travailing for work the remaining time. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to perform the juggling act between work and family in the political setting.

Now, all of this is not to let the politicians off the hook. It does not reduce the need for good decisions. Rather, I now understand why we are so often encouraged to engage with the public and do everything we can to increase awareness and interest in the work being done by scientists across the country.

Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt is a vocal advocate for science and is able to connect with politicians at the highest level.
Source: AAP Image/Alan Porritt

We are competing against so many other stories and agendas that the first task is to break into the media cycle and simply bring an issue to the attention of the public and the politicians. To then maintain their interest long enough to actually inform or persuade them is only going to be possible through the exhaustive and coordinated efforts of strong leaders.

It was in respect to this last point that I was left feeling optimistic and genuinely inspired by the two people who are most visibly championing our cause at the moment: Australia’s Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, and Nobel Laureate, Brian Schmidt.

While it is unsurprising that our Chief Scientist is an outspoken advocate of Australian science, we should all be thanking the Nobel gods that they awarded The 2011 prize for Physics to a Canberra local, who is not only passionate about supporting science, but is also one of the rare bread that seems as comfortable talking to politicians as he does with scientists.

Now we just have to cross our collective fingers that by the time the budget is announced, Professor Chubb (and all of those behind him) have done enough to convince “the government” that science matters. Or, more importantly, that those doing it are a resource that add value to this country and are worthy of support.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

1 Comment

Filed under Reblogs