Monthly Archives: November 2014

Australian Science – If it was just more like sport!

Science  (Noun): the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

Science Is To Be Ruled & Managed

In Australia lawyers, economists and accountants rule, while the media (journalists, bloggers, talk back radio and others) filter and shape opinion (see The Corporate Classes). Scientists do not rule and are therefore ruled. Hence, science is not judged in the non-scientific community by the peer review of other scientists but by those in power – the lawyers, economists etcetera. The media love an Aussie winning a science prize because for just a few minutes it seems like sport.Then it is back to business as usual. This situation is made easier for the public by one important characteristic of science. That is despite all the benefits science has delivered, including economic, health, lifestyle and aesthetic, it is not directly associated with most of the benefits. People do not look at their iPhone and see all the amazing science that was done to make it possible or for that matter the engineering. What most people do see is a consumer product defined by it’s function, ‘Apple’ PR & marketing and popular culture. (Medical science may be an exception because of certain characteristics – more on that later.)

Is Science Progressive?

Science by it’s nature implies progression and change and the possibility that what we now believe to be true is possibly wrong. Could it be that at the heart of science is a ‘progressive’ philosophy? Could it be that political conservatives conflate the ‘progressive’  nature of science with a ‘progressive’ political view – and if so, then if you are a scientist, you are by definition a ‘progressive’ and so you might as well be a lefty. Is it any wonder that conservative Australians, starting with the conservative government, treat science with suspicion – especially any ‘soft’, social science (it’s even worse for disciplines not considered science such as philosophy, history and art which can be openly mocked). Until science has been bought under managerial control, evaluated using managerial values (e.g. efficiency, productivity, profitability etc.) and turned into ‘moneytorised’ technology or activity it is treated as a marginal, lefty activity for nerdy eccentrics and the socially challenged with no legitimate experience of the real world. Only when plainly obvious to an investment banker how research will create financial benefits does it become of value.* This is not done at all well in Australia (2011 OECD rankings: 21st for R&D expenditure,26th for % large firms with new to market products and only 2.6% of innovations are University research related). Business and University partnerships are much touted by governments but in reality are very shallow. As such many if not most opportunities are lost or taken up by other countries including areas such as solar power and renewable energy.

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