"Minister set to reform Australia's universities" (January 31, 2002)
    So reads the headline over Peter Pockley's article in today's issue of Nature (415: 460 (2002)). It's interesting reading particularly when coupled with Nature's editorial in the same issue, "Summits that matter:  The European Commission has made good progress in gathering support for its new programme of basic and applied research. Now Europe's industries and heads of state need to fulfil promises made two years ago."
    In his article Pockley opens with, "Australia's hard-pressed universities can expect no financial relief from the new government until May of next year at the earliest, says Brendan Nelson, the country's new minister for education, science and training [DEST]," and is immediately followed with, "[He] pledged to enact reforms that will help Australian universities to carry out internationally competitive research." At this point you may be wondering if Dr. Nelson ought to be known as the "Wizard of DEST" because it sounds... to good to be true? No fear. Dr. Nelson continued, "The universities have been reviewed to death we know what the problems and challenges are." And while eschewing yet another review per se he intends to set up a consultative panel which will "propose concrete changes in university governance, working conditions and the way in which specialist strengths are split between universities" to help him prepare a university-reform package to take to cabinet. It may engender additional funds following the May 2003 budget. Here we have yet another minister who gives every appearance of believing that the foremost problem of our university system is one of incompetent management. Funding gets mentioned as a secondary consideration. It appears to be a view very similar to that espoused to the Senate committee looking into the matter of the Australian university system's competence to do its job by Michael Gallagher, then first assistant secretary, higher education division of Dr. David Kemp's old Ministry.

Senator Carr (Labor)-- Professor Chubb [ANU Vice-Chancellor who previously told the committee that the university system was in crisis] says that... when your infrastructure is eroding and when you see all your equipment and your capacity to provide the resources you need for the staff to do the work that they want to be able to do slowly but surely degrading, then that does not make you very happy at all. How do you respond to that proposition? Is it an exaggeration?


Mr Gallagher--  ...I do not think it is surprising that a committee set up like this one to review the higher education system will draw disaffected submissions from various parts of the sector, including--


Senator Carr-- We are talking here about the vice-chancellors.  At Sydney, there were five vice-chancellors putting this position, representing some of the most prestigious institutions in this country. They are hardly what you would call a disaffected group or disaffected individuals. These are not your normal run-of-the-mill agitators--heaven help us.


Mr Gallagher-- They are making up for lost time, by the looks of it.


Senator Carr-- But is it not, therefore, a concern to the department that we should have such a widespread collection of opinion coming to us saying that the system is in deep crisis?


Mr Gallagher-- I put it back to you again that the people who are advocating that position to you are possibly looking for an easy way out rather than fronting up to their management responsibilities.

            [Monday, 13 August 2001, Canberra. Senate Committee—References EWRSBE 1350-51]

    And a final point which may leave you wondering just what our part time Chief Scientist and the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council  are supposed to be doing. Pockley writes, "Nelson pledges to appoint a scientific adviser in his office 'who will have credibility in the science community and will live and breathe science.'"  That's all the universities need right now, another internecine governmental turf war.
    Oh yes, that editorial. It opens with,

Few occasions would seem to be more remote from the everyday concerns of researchers than meetings of heads of state. Give researchers the prospect of significant funds to pursue their interests, and the autonomy to do it in the way they think is best, and you'll get their attention. Issue summit communiqués about the need to increase competitiveness and they'll nod off. But both approaches are now on the agenda in Europe, and both have the potential to boost scientists' scope for action.

Science Minister Releases Research Priorities List for ARC. (January 29, 2002)
    The Minister for Education, Science and Training, Dr. Brendan Nelson today announced research priority areas for the Australian Research Council’s (ARC’s) 2003 funding round under the National Competitive Grants Program, to wit:

- Nano-materials and Bio-materials
- The Genome-Phenome Link
- Complex systems
- Photon Science and Technology

A third of the ARC's funds for 2003 will be allocated for these areas earmarking about $170 million for "up to five years." Dr. Nelson went on to say without elaboration, "The priority research areas have been adopted on the advice of a working group of the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council following deliberations of the ARC’s own Expert Advisory Committees and the ARC Board."


While studies in nanotechnology are very much in the preliminary stage it is believed by many core researchers that significant advances in computing, the design of molecular motors and ultra small sensors will be products of the research while research into biomaterials are perceived to be fundamental to Australia's health and agricultural sectors.
    Undertaking studies of the paths followed in translating the information stored in the genes into the living organism's characters which interact directly with its environment (its phenotype) has become known as the genome-phenome link. It is no place for the fainthearted, under skilled or under resourced.
    Similarly the analyses of complex systems is inherently exceedingly difficult. The attraction is that  real-world systems are almost always made up from a large number of interacting components.
    On the other hand research in photonics is relatively well advanced and is leading to an increasing array of  of industrial and consumer products.

As is so often the case with Governmental announcements, the devil will be in the detail. For example, potentially useful research in the genome-phenome link and in complex systems requires for a start, not only adequate long term funding but also a sound academic and research infrastructure. Whether that is the case has been the subject of much, sometimes heated, contention. When a Senate committee entitles its report on the matter Universities in Crisis, the Australian public has the right to question whether or not our university and research infrastructure as well as our intellectual resources are appropriately equipped to carry out useful research and development in these areas. If the foundation isn't sound, assuredly the superstructure will be unstable. So far the Federal Government has come up woefully short in sustaining and developing that foundation.

The European Union May Be Growing Meaningful in More Ways Than Introducing the €. (January 28, 2002)
    The concept of a European Research Area (ERA) has been bandied about in various popular and scientific publications for several years. This past week the journal Science (January 18th issue) devoted three pages to the matter giving space to the Secretary General of the European Science Foundation, Enric Banda, the president of Sweden's Karolinska Institutet, Hans Wigzell, the CEO of the MRC, UK, George Radda, and Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, president of the  Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG. Banda succinctly sums up the case for the ERA, "No single country in Europe is able to compete with the American research effort, but working together and in the right way, we should be at least on par with our American competitors and colleagues." None of his colleagues argue against that summation; intense discussion, however, centres on the precise implementation of the ERA. Banda doesn't advocate eliminating current national science funding policies per se but he does contend that, "Europe must show its best face in setting up the structures that it needs for its research and development. It has done so in the past with the far-sighted vision of cooperative science exemplified in European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), European Southern Observatory (ESO), and European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). What it now needs is the same far-sighted vision in creating a European support structure for science."
    The Karolinska's Hans Wigzell continues noting that while the so-called Framework programs have been useful, though considered by many scientists to be high handed, politically driven and a bureaucratic Loch Ness monster, they have served a purpose noting that, "Particularly relevant have been the programs supporting scientists so that they can spend time in other European laboratories, [as well as] various collaborative projects encompassing several research groups across many countries. [Nonetheless] the time has come to split the Framework Programmes and to create a more conventional European Research Council (ERC), an organization more clearly under control by scientists. It should be used to support elite centers, large technical projects, and collaborative research projects using clear peer-review protocols."
    Greorge Radda on the other hand argues against setting up yet another body, "Is an administrative structure like the ERC truly necessary? In modern biomedical science, networking and working jointly across borders are already intrinsic parts of leading-edge research. Few scientists need encouragement to form alliances with colleagues in other countries, and scientists will choose quality in preference to geography in seeking partnerships."
    Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, however, is a strong advocate for a European Research Council pointing out, "The global quest for scientific excellence has intensified enormously in recent years." and urging a strong European approach in order to be able to compete with the US, Japan and China... one [proposal] activity under discussion aims at the creation of high-level European junior research groups, headed by top-quality junior scientists, who would set up mixed European research groups in a country that is not their own."

The important message from this discussion is that there is a strong move toward consolidation for the EU to be able to compete collectively on a par with the big players so that its people can maintain/improve their living standards. To this end research including basic research as well as development are of fundamental importance. United they prosper, divided they will wane.
    But where does this place Australia. Note George Radda's comment, "scientists will choose quality in preference to geography in seeking partnerships." Taken together with the increasing drive for European consolidation in research and development it would seem prudent for us to up the quantity of our research quality through upgrading our institutions in all respects and quickly. In so doing we place ourselves in a position to attract better collaborations and joint ventures, and on better terms for the Nation, with any of "the major players".

Taiwan Takes a Broader and Longer Term View Toward Academe. (January 28, 2002)
    Frank Shu was born in southern China. His family moved to the United States while he was still a child. Shu trained at MIT and Harvard then joined the Berkeley faculty in 1973 and in 1998 was named one of a handful of University Professors. His theoretical work on the structure of spiral galaxies and, more recently, on star formation, "has played a leading role in making star formation a major field," according to Anneila Sargent, current president of the American Astronomical Society which Shu headed in 1995.
    What makes Shu's "progrss" of interest is that he has been offered and has accepted the presidency of Taiwan's National Tsinghua University, Hsinchu, adding to the list of prominent ethnic Chinese scientists from abroad who hope to build Taiwan into a scientific and technological powerhouse. Dennis Normile, writing in Science says Shu "decided to take the job 'because I realized I can make a bigger difference in Taiwan than by remaining in the United States.' But he admits he faces some significant challenges in raising the quality of Taiwan's universities. In addition to tapping private sources to supplement government funding, Shu also hopes to change a culture in which resources are shared equally to one in which academic stars receive the support they need to shine. 'There is a growing understanding [among government officials] that science at the forefront is an elitist affair.' "
    Considering that Taiwan is one of the most commercially oriented nations in the world perhaps Dr. Nelson as Minister for Education, Science and Training and the government he represents might at least give consideration to Professor Shu's views and the fact that he is prepared to take a very large step to move out of his "comfort zone." Whatever the Taiwanese Government said to him, it must have been convincing.

The Secret Life of the Brain. (January 28, 2002)
    Last week the first episode of a five part television series was aired on the US Public Broadcasting Service titled The Secret Life of the [human] Brain. The journal Science only rarely reviews TV series but in this case the January 11th issue devotes a full page. The programs deal progressively with the brain's "progress" during fetal development, then its maturation through childhood, adolescence and adulthood and finally old age. So for example, "Episode one unfolds with neuroscientists Susan McConnell and Carla Schatz explaining, with the help of computer animation and videomicroscopy, the staggering demands placed on the developing fetal brain. Every minute, 500,000 new neurons are produced that must migrate to the correct location and form connections with their neighbors at the rate of two million per second."
    Let's hope it won't be too long before the programs are televised in Australia.

Dr. Nelson Stubs His Toe Trying to Find His Way. (January 23, 2002)
    After six weeks in the job as Minister for Education, Science and Training, Dr. Brendan Nelson got the media's attention in a big way even though he said little of substance and what he did say that got students, parents, teachers and the Labor party to sit up appeared, when read in full, reasonable -- in part. Certainly the mere fact that individuals do or don't complete the final year of secondary school oughtn't to be an overriding factor determining their self-esteem or how others value them.
    Nevertheless, that said, the novice minister leaves the impression that what he's really engaged in is launching a trial balloon for a cost minimisation exercise to see how much flak it draws. Tom Allard writing in today's Sydney Morning Herald refers to  Dr. Ian Morgan, head of the ACT's Parents and Citizens' Association, who views Dr. Nelson's remarks as engendering a dumbing down of high school students' aspirations. "Instead of addressing long-standing funding issues for schools and universities, he has argued that fewer students should complete secondary school," Dr Morgan went on to say. "This is an astounding proposition. Australia's population is already relatively under-educated compared to the OECD average." And cogently Dr. Morgan pointed out that early school-leavers were extremely vulnerable to unemployment and transient employment in later life.
    Allard also obtained the views of the "deputy director of the Australian Council for Educational Research, Dr John Ainley, [who] said year 12 completion rates weren't the definitive measure of educational attainment." But followed that up with, "there was much merit in encouraging vocational training, especially giving students the option of doing some of these courses while still at high school, a more comfortable environment for many compared with 'more adult institutions' like TAFE." [emphasis ours].

Stephen Hawking's 60th Birthday Bash. (January 22, 2002)
    "When [his colleagues] gathered in Cambridge this month to mark Dr. Hawking's 60th birthday with a weeklong workshop titled 'The Future of Theoretical Physics and Cosmology,' the ideas spawned by his calculation and its aftermath often took center stage." So writes Dennis Overbye in opening his New York Times science piece today. That 1973 calculation, Hawking considered so outlandish that at first he thought he'd made a mistake and held off publishing it for a year. He determined the microscopic properties of black holes, objects so massive and dense that not even light can escape from them, and he discovered to his incredulity that they leaked.
    And black holes continue to perplex cosmologists and quantum physicists. One conundrum, the equations describing the disorder (entropy) in black holes. Of sufficient complexity Stephen Hawking told his guests that he wanted the formula for black hole entropy engraved on his own tombstone.
    Dennis Overbye's article makes a lively read and for a bit more detailed news about the "birthday party" check out the web site.

President Bush Releases Names of Bioethics Council Members. (January 18, 2002)
   Rick Weiss of The Washington Post reported today the White House has finally  released the names of 17 philosophers, medical experts, lawyers and theologians who will make up the newly created President's Council on Bioethics, the day before its first meeting which will focus on human cloning and human embryo research.
    Weiss' extensive report is worth reading in full to gain an understanding of the
academic and political background for the council's deliberations.  For example, "the council's membership includes several well-known scholars with conservative leanings. Until Bush named him to chair the council, Kass was a leading figure in the Bioethics Project, a think tank chaired by William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, who this week said he would devote most of his political energy to getting the Senate to pass a total ban on cloning. Kass has already made clear that he sees the creation of human embryo clones as a threat to 'humanity's humanity,' and the group's executive director, Dean Clancy, is a 'proclaimer' for the Separation of School and State Alliance, which favors home schooling over compulsory public education in order to 'integrate God and education.'
Other conservatives are Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins University; James Q. Wilson of the University of California at Los Angeles; Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer (who several months ago called for Kass to be named surgeon general); and Princeton theologian Robert P. George, who has said that, when it comes to such things as the integrity of Christian doctrine, 'there is, I'm afraid, an "us" and a "them." ' "
    There are a few more liberal members
including Rebecca Dresser of the Washington University School of Law and a handful of respected scientists including Janet D. Rowley of the University of Chicago and neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga of Dartmouth.
    All in all the councils' deliberations may in the ensuing months provide interesting and informative reading. Some additional information and a full list of the committee members is given in the New York Times' article by Sheryl Gay Stolberg.

Maths From the Bottom Up. (January 17, 2002)
    "Mathematical ability is not confined to a tiny segment of the population. Virtually all of us have the ability to do high-level mathematical thinking. For proof of this statement, one need look no further than Project SEED, an exemplary mathematics program that has, for almost 40 years, successfully taught college-level algebra and calculus to primary schoolchildren in the United States." That's what Wayne Patterson, a professor of computer science and senior fellow at the Graduate School of Howard University, Washington, DC writes in his SMH opinion piece/ movie review today. The Film, A Beautiful Mind stars Russell Crowe as the mathematician John Nash who shared the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economics.
    But this N & V is about Project SEED Not the film (yet to be released in Australia, it got mixed reviews from mathematician-critics). Conceived in 1962 by William Johntz Project SEED utilizes the Socratic method of questioning to develop the latent ideas of pupils. The claim on the project's web site is straight forward; referring to the initial experimental courses  "Even though these elementary students had previously tested at or below the national average, they quickly grasped the concepts Johntz taught. By the end of the semester, both high school and elementary level students had mastered advanced algebra concepts, and the elementary students, in particular, had improved in other courses. The foundations for a love of learning and of mathematics were set in place." Today the project has a presence in a number of US cities, works with universities to get qualified mathematicians to teach kids.
    Perhaps some of our educators might take a look to see if the approach merits use in Australian schools.

Improve US Math and Science Education, NSF Gives a Lead. (January 15, 2002)
      "It's going to take years and years, and there are no magic bullets," says Judith Ramaley, who took over the National Science Foundation's US$975 million education directorate in August. That's how Science reported in its January 11th issue the US$160 million research initiative whose guidelines are to be published this month at http://www.nsf.gov/cgi-bin/getpub?nsf02061. The operative concept is one of partnership between university scientists and local school districts and it's the latest turn being taken by the NSF in a decade-long "systemic reform" effort to upgrade the teaching of maths and science in US primary and secondary schools. Teaching colleges currently train most US pre-university teachers, and relatively few students who major in science or maths go into teaching. That's contributed to a generation of teachers with inadequate training in science and maths. The situation is not dissimilar to the situation in Australia and problems foreseen by Judith Ramaley in achieving significant and lasting improvement are relevant to us. As she told Science, "We've learned over the past decade that you need sturdy leadership, clear goals, and hard evidence that guides your intervention. But we haven't learned how to disseminate good practices, [scale up] prototypes, and sustain the effort in the face of leadership transitions, departing teachers, high student mobility, and competing political agendas." While Margaret Cozzens, vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Colorado, Denver points out, "Creating a sustainable partnership between [university scientists and the schools] is not a trivial exercise."
    Science concludes that the NSF hopes after 5 years they will have a "database of exemplary practices that local districts will mine. But some researchers worry that intense political pressure to show immediate gains in student performance will push NSF to favor tried-and-true remedies rather than innovative approaches."
    Whether any significant pronouncements concerning these issues will come forth from the responsible Australian ministers and shadow ministers (Dr. Nelson, Mr. McGauran, Ms Macklin, Senator Carr, Senator Stott-Despoja) remains to be seen.

The Federation of Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS) Releases Its Top Ten List of Matters of Urgency. (January 14, 2002)
    It's still three weeks before the 40th Federal Parliament convenes but FASTS decided it should get in early and issue a media release on what it sees as the most important issues facing the nation with regard to science and technology this year. Below is the release in full:


    Australia's peak body for working scientists and technologists today (Monday) said it was time for the Government to announce the second stage of its plans for science and technology.
    Professor Chris Fell, President of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS), said the Government itself recognises there is more to be done.
    "We welcomed the Prime Minister's statement on innovation last January as promising start," he said.  "Subsequently Mr Howard said the job wasn't complete, and we agree with him."

"Now it's time to announce the second step."

Professor Fell was launching FASTS' annual 'Ten Top Issues' list.  The list has suggestions to Government on ways it can increase the impact and profile of science in Australia.
    He said that some would cost very little to implement, such as removing the unfair HECS burden on science and mathematics teachers.  But he warned more overall funding would be needed.
    "We cannot escape the hard cold fact that Australia's investment in science and research is well below that of comparable countries," he said.
    "Unless we take positive action, our expertise, our capacity for top science and our best people are going to fade away.  The process is slow at first, but leads inevitably to a low-income, low-skill economy with a high proportion of the population on social security.
    "Australia will not join the league of countries like the USA, UK, Finland, Ireland, and Singapore that have successfully adapted their industries to the new economy, thereby preserving jobs."
    Professor Fell said Australia should be aiming to get more young PhD graduates working in industry, to encourage greater invention and to reduce dependence on imported technology.
    "Singapore attracts new companies to locate there by offering to pay the salaries and expenses of any young PhD graduates they employ for the first two years.  We suggest Australia should be doing the same, but for Australian companies as well as international ones," he said.
    Other suggestions include: … Bring forward new investment in science and research announced by the Government's last year, so scientists can get to work creating new industries and new jobs.

… Have a regular call for "big science" projects.  Many excellent ideas missed out on funding last year, and the Major National Research Facilities program should be an annual event.

… Science and maths teachers are in short supply in Australia, but they still are forced to pay higher HECS fees than teachers in other subjects. This should be reduced.


        Speed up the new funding promised to science, so scientists can get to work creating new industries and new jobs.

        Australia's national investment in education is slipping behind other countries.  We are in danger of losing brainpower and ending up a nation of low-skill, low-pay industries.

        Meet half the cost of employing new PhD graduates, to encourage companies operating in Australia to compete internationally by employing our best and brightest talent.

        Science and maths teachers are in short supply in Australia, but they still are forced to pay higher HECS fees than teachers in other subjects.

        Call for new proposals for Major National Research Facilities each year, to allow "Big Science" proposals to be funded.

        Students studying for careers in science, mathematics and technology fields should not have to pay higher course fees than students studying economics, arts, humanities and social sciences.

        New and better products come from research and development.  Companies should be offered financial incentives to invest in more R&D, through a sliding scale of Government support.

        CSIRO has lost staff and funding over the last 10 years.  Renewed investment will help it carry out important new research for the national good.

        Help focus the national Parliament on innovation by establishing a Standing Committee on Science and Innovation, and by providing better high level scientific advice to Parliament.

        Allow scientists working in publicly funded research organisations like CSIRO to have a stake in their own research, through rewards for successful commercial ventures.

It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over. (January 6, 2002)
    It was just eighteen months ago, at what was probably the most publicised scientific press conference ever, that the obtaining of the draft sequence of the human genome was jointly announced by rival public and private organisations. And just under a year ago scientific publication followed. In the meantime much has been made of undertaking the next phase, i.e. elucidating the catalogue of proteins to which we are heir. However, spare a thought for the virtually unsung trolls working to convert the draft sequence of each of the 24 different chromosomes that make up the human genome to a finished sequence which is to be accurate to at least 99.99%.  So far that has been accomplished for three of the twenty-four but the work is now expected to accelerate and be completed in a little over a year. Many groups involving hundreds of individuals are taking part.
    The exercise to accurately sequence chromosome 20 was by no means trivial; some one-hundred individuals were involved. Many refinements were made which included quite major corrections of position as well as corrections in the sequence of  individual nucleotide units. Once a high degree of accuracy is realised,  research workers such as medical geneticists are in a position to analyze reliably for genetic diseases.

Human Chromosome 20 and positional changes that were determined between the draft sequence (top) and the final sequence (bottom). Taken from Nature (414, 854; 2001). The figure was prepared by Takehiko Ito, Mitsubishi Research Institute. Light blue, green and red lines indicate increasing magnitude of positional changes.

"Beware the Baited Hook." (January 6, 2001)
    In a recent letter to Nature (414, 843; 2001) Michele Pagano of New York University's School of Medicine took considered exception to a recent article in the journal (413, 113; 2001) which suggested, "that scientists who want their work featured in the media should learn how to package their discoveries by finding the right 'hooks' for the public." Pagano, though based in New York keeps up with Italian events by reading the Italian press and is often upset by, "My personal experience with the 'tabloidization' of scientific information [which] began when I moved to Manhattan...  Frequently, in the past few years, I have been approached by an Antonio, Giovanni or Marcello with 'Have you seen it in the news?'. 'No, what?' I answer. 'An Italian doctor has discovered a cure for cancer (or this or that),' is the reply... [And] many times, after yet another explosive report of a remarkable discovery, I have had to disillusion my... friends."
    Dr. Pagano asks the simple rhetorical question, "Is it really worth attracting a larger audience on one occasion, if the next time your credibility will be compromised? This is clearly a question for the media as well as for those scientists who like to promote their discoveries."
    While our media my not be as prone to hyperbole when it comes to publicising scientific "breakthroughs" as the Italian, it certainly isn't innocent of it. Far too often words such as "can", "may", "could" and "might" precede the breathtaking conclusion, and of course are lost on the lay public. While some scientists are undoubtedly driven by visions fame and fortune, as often as not it is an urgent call  for adequate resources that is at the root. Ultimately it's counterproductive but has, certainly as one central cause, the chronic under funding of research in Australia.

Canadian Science Still on a Roll Though Somewhat Slowed. (January 6, 2001)
    The Canadian Government has allocated A$8.9 billion for science and technology for the financial year beginning April 1, up 8% from last year despite earmarking A$1.3 billion for the new category of counterterrorism initiatives. On a population basis that would be the equivalent of  an allocation of $5.6 billion by the Howard Government in its forthcoming budget. The most recent figure form the Government for R&D expenditure as of May 2001 was for the 1998-99 financial year, $4.67 billion, although unofficial figures for the 1999-2000 financial year placed the total at $4.4 billion. Had we spent on a par with Canada this past year, the Federal Government would have had to put in $5.2 billion. And of course as has been pointed out often before, we start considerably behind scratch, contrary to government protestations.

Science's Scorecard 2000 and Our Upcoming Budget. (January 6, 2001)
   The journal Science posts an annual scorecard for matters scientific -- one entry: "With the exception of the National Institutes of Health, presidential candidate George W. Bush's support for research during the campaign was AWOL this spring in his first proposed budget. But legislators repaired much of the damage, giving several science agencies more than they had requested. At the same time, research budgets in most of Europe and Asia were protected from the worst effects of a global downturn, because governments continue to see science and technology as a good way to bolster their long-term economic prospects."
    Our Federal Budget is due to be brought down on May 14th; how science and education will fare and if strictions of stringency because of the war on terrorism and the fending off of boat people will be invoked remains to be seen. If so, perhaps the Senate might look to the US Congress where, "legislators repaired much of the damage [done by the initial Bush budget]," and note that in many of our cohort nations', "research budgets... were protected from the worst effects of a global downturn, because governments continue to see science and technology as a good way to bolster their long-term economic prospects."

It Could Revolutionise the Political Interview. (January 3, 2002)
    According to a piece in Nature's "Science updates" thermal imaging techniques can show that those who lie "blush" sufficiently to be distinguishable with 80% confidence from those who tell the truth. While Nature emphasises its possible use for circumstances such as airport check-in security where polygraph tests (considered to have the same degree of reliability) would be too cumbersome to use, imagine a television interviewer such as the ABC's Kerry O'Brien questioning a Federal minister or shadow minister with the screen showing an inset of the thermal image of the interviewee's face.


The Cinderella Discipline Looks Like Finding a Prince Charming. (January 1, 2002)
    There's no Nobel Prize for outstanding contributions. Without it no modern science or technology could be carried out and yet it's seldom taken to the ball. But it looks now that at least so far as the US National Science Foundation (NSF) is concerned things are about to change even if with deliberate speed. the median NSF grant is A$160,000 per year, while for mathematicians it's about A$70,000 Philippe Tondeur, head of the NSF's mathematics division says pointedly, "it's a disgrace." Over a year ago the NSF's Director, Rita Colwell, a microbiologist by training, called for the  2001 mathematics budget of A$242 million to increase to just under A$1 billion by 2007. The 2002 budget increased funding by only A$40 million but it is rumored that 2003 could see the maths allocation rise to A$400 million. Currently the NSF accounts for about 70% of academic mathematics funding and only a small fraction of the field get NSF grants. The rethink in support of maths is expected to have a catalytic effect on mathematical research including interdisciplinary efforts. Philippe Tondeur says, "It's going to be a really adventurous period for the mathematical sciences; there's a growing perception that mathematics is an enabling discipline for science, technology and engineering."
    Perhaps the Australian Research Council will take note.