News & Views - July 2002 


The Federation Fellowships: 2nd Round. (July 30, 2002)
    The Australian Research Council (ARC) and the Minister for Education, Science and Training, Brendan Nelson, yesterday announced the names of the eleven individuals awarded Federation Fellowships this year. This brings to 25 the number of Federation Fellows. Dr. Nelson also announced that funds will be available for 25 additional fellowships to be available in 2003.
    This past April TFW in an editorial pointed out that although 25 fellowships had been made available for the first round attracting 181 applications, only fifteen had been considered of sufficient calibre to win one. As it transpired one for the 15 fellows declined the award (Monash graduate Tadeusz Molinski, Professor of Chemistry, University of California, Davis has remained there) thereby leaving 11 fellowships vacant. They have now been filled with 8 resident Australians and 3 expatriates chosen from 81 applicants.  

There are several matters that should disquiet the Ministers for Education, Science and Training, and Science as well as the Australian Research Council.

There can be little question that the Federation Fellowships are a positive contribution to Australian science but equally it must be said it is a small one, and on the international stage clearly it has not attracted a swarm of expatriates to return and has had a just visible impact on attracting "outstanding overseas researchers".  And it should be compared to our fellow member of the Commonwealth who is funding an additional 2000 research chairs at its universities. From December 2000 to June 2002, 627 research chairs have been awarded. Their distribution is shown in the pie chart below.

In short, so far Canada has filled 85 research chairs with candidates recruited from outside the dominion and 542 from within.
[Canada's population: 31,700,000.  Australia's Population: 19,500,000]

Unless there is a remarkable change of direction by the Coalition Government at what it has designated as the Higher Education Crossroads, while we may get 200 medals at the Commonwealth Games, we're not looking too flash in the academic Olympics.

Over to You Mr. McGauran. (July 27, 2002)
    The Minister for Science, Peter McGauran, is in the process of determining what priorities should be set for Australia's research community. Note the preposition for not by. However, leaving that aside, Bob Park, the American Physical Society's man in Washington reports an interesting fillip for those tough sciences.

NSF Director, Dr. Rita ColwellMONEY: PHYSICS GETS A BREAK ON CAPITAL HILL. After a dismal decade, math and physical sciences got better news this week from Senate appropriators, who increased NSF's MPS [mathematics and physical sciences] account by almost 15 percent. DOE also got some relief, as the House began work on Rep. Judith Biggert's (R-IL) science authorization bill. The goal of doubling the Office of Science budget was supported by Nobelists Jerome Friedman and Richard Smalley, who testified before the Energy Subcommittee. Terrorism, the possibility of war with Iraq, and a tanking stock market seem to have persuaded Congress that it's time to support the physical sciences.

What may make this bulletin of more than passing interest is that the Director of the Nation Science Foundation, Rita Colwell, is due in Canberra for talks toward the end of August. Perhaps Mr. McGauran will take the opportunity to talk to Dr. Colwell on substantive matters. Having a few scientists sitting in might also be worthwhile.

"Facing the Challenges in Financing Australian Higher Education." (July 25, 2002)
    "The financing of Australian higher education is one of the most debated aspects of the current Review of higher education." So opens the media release from The Minister for Education, Science and Training, Brendan Nelson. It is arguably the most important of the three issues papers released so far because it gets to the matters of the mold that will be used to configure Australia's 38 public universities, who should pay, at what proportions and by implication how much. In his forward, Dr. Nelson quotes the following anecdote, "Outside the Queensland University of Technology, I asked a woman unconnected with it what she thought of universities. She reflected for a moment and replied, 'I don’t know. I applied to go to one once and didn't get in. But if you're going in there you can tell them this for me. I work hard and my taxes help pay for what goes on in there. But when they come out and apply for the same job as me, they’ll get the job.'" Dr. Nelson doesn't disclose his reply but admonishes the universities, "[U]nder no circumstances should the public resources provided by hard working everyday Australians be demanded of them without confidence that they are being invested in a sector that is academically, managerially and financially efficient." The concern that comes immediately to mind -- defining the phrase, academically, managerially and financially efficient, because it is just as applicable to how well or how clumsily  those who are placed in the position of overseers, the Minister, his department, and the Cabinet undertake their roles. How well the Government has learned the lessons from the past fifteen years of destructive oversight remains to be seen.

The Minister for Science Moves to Stage Two of His Search for Research Priorities. (July 24, 2002)
   The announcement on the Minister for Science, Peter McGauran's Research Priorities submissions page begins, "We would like to thank everybody for their first round of submissions on the framework and nominations for the national research priorities... The framework is currently being amended in light of the feedback we have received... We look forward to your more detailed nominations...[and] encourage you to provide them after you have examined the final framework which will be posted on this website in late July 2002."  The first round, which dealt principally with the "process" for identifying national research priorities, elicited 164 submissions. In addition views were garnered by two teams sent round the traps from anyone who wanted to front up for what could be best described as brainstorming sessions (brainstorm in the business rather than medical  sense) and a number of selected focus groups.
    In his submission (No. 19) the Director of the Evolutionary Genetics Laboratory at James Cook University, Professor Ross Crozier opened with what should be a predominant consideration for anyone engaging in such prioritisation:

I write to express my concern at the likely costs to the nation's scientific productivity of the priority-setting exercise, and to suggest general ways to monitor and reduce these costs.

The costs can briefly summarized in the observation that any implication of non-merit criteria [such as priorities] in funding grants will mean that some proposals which would have been funded on merit will now not be funded and some proposals insufficiently meritorious to be funded on merit will receive funding. Hence, there will be a loss of productivity because some excellent researchers will have funding withdrawn and some less productive ones will be funded instead.

Australia gains a great deal from its broad scientific base, having a ready availability of active researchers in a broad array of fields, any one of which can unexpectedly turn out to be important. These researchers are our eyes and ears to the world outside, and our seed corn for new projects, as it were. Damage to this resource must be held to a minimum, preferably avoided altogether.

We can only hope that the shallowness exhibited by Federal Cabinet in its previous approach to setting priorities for the funding of research programs won't be repeated. The wide-ranging canvassing set entrain by Mr. McGauran is of itself no guarantee against it.

As Sydney University Sees It. (July 23, 2002)
    The University of Sydney put in its submission to Dr. Nelson's review of higher education the other day U of Sydney V-C Gavin Brownsuggesting that it may be but a first salvo, "The national [higher education] consultation framework is paralleled by interactive discussions within the University so that this submission must necessarily use a broad brush and be preliminary in nature, as, indeed, is the Departmental discussion paper, Higher Education at the Crossroads."
    Preliminary or not there was the clear stamp of Sydney's Scottish V-C, Gavin Brown on the short document:

What we insist upon is that we partner with first rate universities worldwide and what we find is that our resource base viz, our ability to attract and retain world class teachers and researchers, and the physical facilities necessary to support them, is precariously low in relative terms, forcing us to punch above our weight simply to retain a place at the international table.
Good governance is fundamental to institutional health and the University conducted a major review in the latter half of 2001... The resolutions reinforce the fundamental principle that governance is vested solely in the Senate through the collective action of Fellows, presided over by the Chancellor and supported and advised by the Vice-Chancellor. Moreover, Senate’s primary role is accepted to be in the area of policy and not operational management.
Our capacity for further reform and development in research, including outreach through industry partnerships, is being hampered by lack of essential infrastructure and by an increasing tendency for support funds to be provided for government-earmarked projects with a matching requirement. It is obvious that this is inimical to strategic planning at university level.
It is a... concern... that research receives no effective mention in Higher Education at the Crossroads because research activity, not merely research training, is fundamental to our University and to its contribution to Australia. This major aspect of our work must live in balance with other programs which cannot therefore be discussed in isolation...
    Perhaps the most important single outcome from the Review would be a realisation of how much research infrastructure investment is required and a confidence in government that it will be well deployed by the leading universities. Such infrastructure is now critical for high quality research-led teaching...
    In a related area we believe that mechanisms to support public-private partnerships should be developed. It is often asserted that universities such as ours are asset rich but fail to deploy them aggressively. We look to work with Government to find ways to make it feasible to deploy them at all.

Professor Brown would be well aware of the UK Office of Science and Technology  report that it had commissioned from JM Consulting, Ltd, Bristol, entitled Study of Science Research Infrastructure, and that thus far nothing comparable has been undertaken by Dr. Nelson's department.

Government Support for R&D: a Second Screening. (July 22, 2002)
    The budget papers were released just three months ago. Perhaps it's a good time to have a second glance at the government's commitment to research and development, particularly with Science Minister Peter McGauran's, recent rebuke of Australian industry for insufficient support for R&D (see N&V immediately below).
    According to the Minister's media release industry contributes $4.83 billion while the budget papers give a figure of $5.11 billion for the Federal government's 2002-03 support.
    On May 22nd The Australian published Dr. Peter Pockley's analysis of the budget as it pertains to research and development in which he pointed out that additional funding was up $235 million, an increase of 4.8%. $104 million of that is the first installment on the replacement Lucas Heights nuclear reactor leaving a $131 million increase for all other government funded R&D.  The CPI over the year was 2.75%. Therefore, to keep pace with the CPI the government would have had to put in an additional $133 million, a mere shortfall of $2 million. So much for Backing Australia's Ability or perhaps it's the Government's way of giving the R&D sector a swift serve. Of course there has also been a fair amount of moving money out of one R&D pigeon hole and putting it into another - the approach is to point out where you're putting the funds but neglect to mention where they're coming from. All things considered it would be understandable if industry were to view Mr. McGauran's chide regarding support for R&D as the pot making disparaging remarks about the kettle's complexion.
    And quite apart from any environmental issues surrounding the installation of the replacement nuclear reactor, there is yet to be put forward a convincing case for Australia requiring a nuclear reactor. It bears a certain similarity to the US commitment to the International Space Station. On the other hand it may be Australian science's way of bolstering the Argentine economy.

Peter McGauran Announces an Initiative that Could Have Far-reaching and Worthwhile Consequences if Considered Seriously. (July 21, 2002)
    The Federal Minister for Science, Peter McGauran,  announced on Tuesday the terms of reference
for a parliamentary committee's inquiry into the Australian business community's commitment to research and development. In making the announcement he made the comment, "The latest ABS figures indicate business expenditure on R&D in 2000-01 was $4.825 billion, an increase of 18% over 1999-2000. However, the expenditure as a percentage of GDP is significantly lower than countries like the United States, UK, Sweden and Japan."*
    The minister has asked House of Representatives Standing Committee on Science and Innovation to consider matters such as what gets small and medium sized enterprises to undertake research and development. One hopes that means that the committee will determine what incentives are required and make concrete recommendations as to getting on with it and which will include the big end of town as well as small and medium sized enterprises. Whether or not it is to be just another empty exercise of little consequence remains to be seen.
    According to chairman Gary Nairn (Lib) the committee will explore

What would be the economic benefit for Australia from a greater private sector investment in R&D?;

What are the impediments to business investment in R&D?; and

What steps need to be taken to better demonstrate to business
the benefits of higher private sector investment in R&D?

Mr. McGauran announced the formation of this standing committee on March 13th this year. It will be interesting to follow the progress of its first significant effort.
*According to the Australian Government's National Investment Agency our GDP was US$394 billion, at US$0.55 = A$1; GDP is A$716 billion.  So business investment in R&D = 4.825 / 716 = 0.67% of GDP. Total investment in R&D is 1.40% of GDP. Therefore, total non-industry investment in R&D is 0.73% of GDP or A$5.237 billion (the 2002-03 budget papers give a figure of $5.111 billion for government funds). On these figures all other support for R&D would be about $126 million.

Just Possibly Tony Blair Meant What He Said. A$3.6 Billion Increase for Science by 2005-06. (July 19, 2002)
    The British summer finally arrived and the government announced a £1.25-billion (A$3.6-billion) increase in annual science funding over the next three years. That will bring the annual science budget to £2.9 billion (A$8.25 billion). According to the July 18th Nature "The science budget will grow by about 10% in real terms each year over the next three years compared with 7% in the 1998 and 2000 reviews." Nature goes on to quote activist Peter Cosgreave, Director of Save British Science, "There is substantial new money and importantly much of it is aimed at solving some of the long-term problems suffered by the science research base." At the moment what the scientists have is a promissory note, but Cosgreave believes the Chancellor of the Exchequer will back up the rhetoric with cash, "even under the most pessimistic predictions about the economy". Finally Nature also reported that "the research councils will also receive £120 million extra by 2005–06 to pay overheads for research grants, as well as new funding to help researchers set up spin-off companies. And the Department for Education and Skills will provide an extra £200 million annually, by the end of the period, for university equipment and buildings." If this sort of support gains momentum, that figure of 3% of GDP for research and development by decade's end will be met by Britain.
    Taking into account the increasing momentum behind the formation of a European research federation together with the whole of the EU espousing the 3% goal, the lack of urgency by our government as we remain mired at 1.4% of GDP in support of R&D becomes progressively more disquieting.

Finalists for the Australian Museum's Eureka Prizes Announced. (July 19, 2002)
    The finalists for the 2002 Eureka Prizes were announced yesterday. This year the national science awards consist of 18 prizes worth $180,000 in all. The museum announced that they had received 1,500 entries. In making the announcement the museum trust's president, Brian Sherman, said that the museum administered the awards because of the strong necessity "to raise the profile of science in the community." The names of the 70 finalists and descriptions of their projects can be accessed through The winners will be announced on August 13th.
    Although it has a long way to go to achieve the public awareness of the Archibald Prize, year by year that awareness is increasing. Holding the award dinner at Fox Studios this year might just be inspired perception.

SIDS Research at Monash Makes Science News (July 17, 2002)
    On June 28th Monash University put out a media release under the headline, "Monash researchers find brain steroid link to SIDS". The journal Science picked it up and in an item on its ScienceNOW website gave it star treatment on July 15th; "Steroid to Blame for Sudden Infant Deaths? Although a link between infections and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) has been previously suspected, this is the first time a clear mechanism has been found that might explain such a link."
  In a study on lambs physiology PhD student Saraid Billiards of Monash University found that even a mild bacterial infection can cause brain steroid levels to rise dramatically, leading lambs to become extremely drowsy and difficult to wake. In the brain, levels of the steroid allopregnanolone, known to have sedative and anaesthetic properties, increased two- to threefold. Were human babies to react similarly, even a mild infection could blunt the ability of infants to awaken. Ms Billiards pointed out, "If they develop breathing problems while they're asleep that cause their blood oxygen to fall, they don't have the appropriate arousing response that allows them to wake."
    And perhaps just as pleasing is that the announcement is not science by media release; the research has been accepted for publication in the journal Pediatric Research, i.e. it had been peer reviewed before Monash made the announcement.

Peter Hall Reports, "NSF To Double Number of Math Institutes." (July 15, 2002)
That headline, for a news item in volume 297 (12 July 2002) of  Science, was followed by,

American mathematics just multiplied itself by two. On 1 July,  the Division of Mathematical Sciences at the National Science Foundation announced the creation of three new mathematical sciences research institutes, bringing the total number of such NSF-funded institutes to six...' The three new institutes  are MBI (Mathematical Biosciences Institute), SAMSI (Statistical  and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute), and ARCC (American  Institute of Mathematics Research Conference Center).

Meanwhile, Last Thursday, 11 July, Australia's Chief Statistician called a meeting of statistical scientists from industry, government and universities, motivated by his own organisation's inability to find the mathematical statisticians it needs.

 That makes it 6-0 in favour of the US. Australian mathematicians have been trying for well over a decade to get federal funding for just one mathematics research institute, let alone six. By 1996 the move had gained so much momentum that it rated a chapter in a book-length report prepared for the Australian Research Council, by a working party appointed by the National Committee for Mathematics. But successive federal governments have turned their respective deaf ears to the call for a mathematics research institute in Australia. By way of contrast, five successive US administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have funded mathematics institutes in the US since 1980.

The main difficulty in Australia has been our governments'  'one size fits all' approach to science funding. In the past their rules for supporting a research institute have required each to be either linked closely to specific industries, indeed to specific companies producing identifiable and marketable products (the Cooperative Research Centres), or to address relatively narrow and cohesive research problems (the Special Research Centres). These approaches were perhaps fine if one wished to solve a particular problem using an expensive piece of equipment, but they completely failed to recognise the contributions, and needs, of the intellectual and enabling sciences.

Australian mathematics has been languishing for more than a decade, first edging downhill and now declining at an accelerating pace. As the Science article notes, 'the mathematical sciences proved valuable in completing the human genome project...The promise of the future is even greater.' That promise is held for the US, but not for Australia. Our once-vaunted strengths in the mathematical sciences are falling away, in many cases leaving for abroad, perhaps not to be seen again in this country for a generation. Last Thursday, 11 July, Australia's Chief Statistician called a meeting of statistical scientists from industry, government and universities, motivated by his own organisation's inability to find the mathematical statisticians it needs to analyse Commonwealth Government data on Australia's industry, society and community. Eli Lilly's representative at the meeting reported that his company is experiencing the same problem, and that as a result its US office may shelve the company's plans for growth in Australia. The same problems afflict industry and government across the country.

How will Australia face the challenges of the 21st Century, with our skills in the mathematical sciences in such decline and disarray? How will we develop mathematical models for environmental change and for new, emerging weather patterns (as the US SAMSI institute will do), or for the relationship between genotypes and phenotypes (a task for the new MBI institute in the US)? These research problems, and a great many more that have their foundations in the mathematical sciences, will play critical roles in the growth of modern scientific enterprise for any advanced nation, preparing that country to face technological, environmental and social change. But here in Australia we are lamentably unprepared for work of this type. For example, a senior Australian mathematician, leading international research on global climate change, recently announced his departure from this country to take a post abroad.

The Science article highlights the appreciation of US authorities for the many benefits that mathematics brings, ranging from path breaking contributions in basic biological science to pivotal advances in engineering technology, helping to drive economic growth. Philippe Tondeur, the Swiss-born retiring director of the NSF's Division of Mathematical Sciences, which is responsible for the raft of new mathematics institutes discussed in the Science article, has reported elsewhere that these initiatives are needed '...because advances in fundamental mathematical sciences, which embrace mathematics and statistics, are closely intertwined with the discovery process in science, engineering, and technology. The mathematical sciences are accelerating progress across the spectrum of science and engineering, even in traditional descriptive sciences.' These benefits will be available to many nations, but not really to Australia. Least of all will we have access to the crucial training role of mathematics institutes; training is a key criterion against which the success of US institutes is judged.

One does not have to look right across the Pacific to see that our competitors have stolen a march on us. Across the Tasman, the New Zealand government recently announced funding for that country's Mathematical Sciences Institute, to develop and expand New Zealand mathematics for the benefit of that nation. And across the Java Sea, Singapore's new Institute for Mathematical Sciences is already in full swing, its vigorous programs addressing research problems right across science and technology.

We're the odd country out, not the clever country. Nations across Europe, North America and Asia are investing in the mathematical sciences, and in particular in mathematics research institutes. For example, Canada and the US have established a joint facility, not included among those mentioned in the Science article; and in addition, Canada has its own mathematics research institutes. Australia, once again, is bringing up the rear.
Professor Peter Hall, Centre for Mathematics and its Applications, Australian National University is Chair, National Committee for Mathematics.

If You're Going to Squander Resources, Do It in a Grand Manner. (July 14, 2002)
    The International Space Station has been the subject of disapproval by the American Physical Society's Bob Park for some time. He's hardly alone. He sums up the current state of play in his What's New column of July 12th.

The International Space Station was sold to Congress as science, but a US$5B budget shortfall halted work on two of the modules and the crew was cut from 7 to a Mir-sized 3 (WN 9 Nov 01). It was that or hire Arthur Anderson to do the accounting. The need for budgetary discipline also led to a bean counter from OMB, Sean O'Keefe replacing Dan Goldin (WN 16 Nov 01). In March, O'Keefe named a 20 member panel of scientists-turned-administrators, mostly from the life sciences, to assess the ISS research priorities. The panel reported to the NASA Advisory Council on Wednesday that there is no research on the ISS to assess. The crew of 3 can barely find time to clean the toilet. So the panel called for a larger crew, completion of the unfinished modules, and more resupply missions. In other words, undo everything done in March to deal with budget overruns.
    What were they thinking? It makes no sense to have a research laboratory that does no research, but US$5B is a lot of money. Do we want to spend triple the NSF research budget to have a bigger crew? The only thing the ISS has going for it is micro-gravity, but decades of micro-gravity research on the Shuttle and Mir had no discernable impact on any field of science. Congress may be in a mood to scrap the giant money-shredder; scientists should plead with them to do it.

A number of years ago ANU's Professor Graham Laver directed the growth of neuramididase crystals in micro-gravity on the Mir Space Station. He found the approach to be of no benefit with regard to the quality of the crystals formed, and has said so, loud and clear.

And the Good News is Governmental Sector1 R&D Spending Has Stopped Sliding Backwards. (June 12, 2002)
    The Australian Bureau of Statistics released figures showing that "Expenditure on R&D carried out by Government organisations (GOVERD) in Australia in 2000-01 was estimated to be $2,368m at current prices. This represented a 14% increase over the two years since 1998-99. In volume terms, with the effect of changes in prices and wages and salaries removed, R&D expenditure increased by 7% compared with 1998-99. GOVERD represented 0.35% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the same as in 1998-99," after slipping from 0.43 per cent every two years since 1992-93.
    The ABS also point out that Human resources devoted to R&D in Australia by Government organisations in 2000-01 was estimated to be 18,407 person years. This was 2% lower than in 1998-99.

None Government non profit spending on R&D has improved, up 20% compared to 1998-99. However, it should be kept in mind that it is 12% that of Government support and over 90% is directed toward health.2
 1. The government sector includes all Commonwealth, and State government departments and authorities. It does not include institutions of higher education which are deemed public sector organisations.
 2. The private non-profit sector includes private or semi-public incorporated organisations which are established with the intention of not making a profit.


Dead Poets, Myopic Vision. (July 10, 2002)
    Two years ago Dr. Geoffrey Garrett was recruited by the Howard Government from South Africa's CSIR to head CSIRO with the 'vision' of further reducing the organisation's dependency on Commonwealth funding -- a vision apparently focused on the annual bottom line. Garrett's gung-ho business-speak style has caused some to define his leadership as "evangelistic management" according to Stephen Cauchi's write-up in last Saturday's Melbourne Age, "a reference to his fondness for such phrases as 'if it ain't broke, break it' and acronyms such as BRAGS - 'Brilliant Research and Great Stuff!' They also recall a meeting in Canberra last year when Dr. Garrett jumped up on a table in imitation of the school teacher played by Robin Williams in one of his favourite films, Dead Poets Society."
    The fact is Dr. Garratt is doing just what he was hired to do, but the question is, is what he's been hired to do sensible and is his approach just another example of mediocrity begetting mediocrity?
    Rather than leaping in a single bound onto available table tops, perhaps Vannevar Bush might be a better role model than Robin Williams' John Keating.

It was fifty-seven years ago this month that The Atlantic Monthly published Dr. Bush's seminal article As We May Think. The same month he delivered to President Truman his blueprint for organizing government support of university-based research - Science: The Endless Frontier. During World War II Vannevar Bush headed the Office of Scientific Research and Development where he coordinated some 6,000 scientists, and as the war was drawing to a conclusion, he advocated that scientists should utilize "our store of knowledge." In As We May Think he points out that so far (1945) inventions have extended man's physical powers rather than the powers of his mind. Now, however, "instruments are at hand which, if properly developed, will give man access to and command over the inherited knowledge of the ages. The perfection of these pacific instruments should be the first objective of our scientists..." Bush envisaged a National Research Foundation (transmuted to become the National Science Foundation) run by an independently appointed chairman that would fund research for the physical and biological sciences. The chairman would be insulated from political pressure, whether from the White House or Congress, to fund research that while politically expeditious would be technically unsound.
    Vannevar Bush was president of The Carnegie Institution of Washington from 1938-1955, which brings us back to the matter of feet on table tops. During the later years of Dr. Bush's presidency of the Carnegie Institution, one of his charges was Barbara McClintock working at the institution's Department of Genetics at Cold Spring Harbor (McClintock eventually received the Nobel Prize for her discovery of mobile genetic elements). On his assessment tours of the various laboratories when he came to CSH and had finished his official duties he would lob in on "Barbara" and putting their feet up on her work table the two of them would seriously discuss, among weightier issues, baseball; however, there are no reports that they ever got their heads around it even though both in their own way had done "brilliant research and great stuff" -- but, it must be admitted, not on baseball.

To Lose One Chair, Dr. Nelson, May Be Regarded as a Misfortune; to Lose Seven Looks Like Gross Negligence. (July 8, 2002)
Joachim Hyam Rubinstein is Professor and  Head of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne. On June 27th he submitted a four page contribution to the Department of Education, Science and Training for their "Higher Education at the Crossroads" review entitled "Do the mathematical sciences have a future in Australia?" While many of the submissions to the "Crossroads" review engage in hand waving, Professor Rubinstein's does not.

The Mathematical Sciences are in steep decline in Australia... Some stark figures - of the 16 professors of mathematics and statistics at La Trobe, Monash and Melbourne Universities in 1995, 10 have now left - 5 have gone to prestigious overseas jobs, and the remaining 5 have either moved to administrative positions, retired or one has moved to an academic position at the ANU. This year it is planned to refill 3 of these 10 positions, the remaining have been lost. There are now as many vacant professorships of statistics in the major universities as filled positions... - as we lose critical mass and intellectual credibility in areas of mathematics and statistics, more of the potential leaders of our profession are emigrating. I would estimate there are about 30 of such people remaining in Australia and perhaps 6 will leave this year and a similar number next year...

[S]ince the universities are now offering financial incentives to areas which can attract [international fee paying] students, there is very little motivation to keep traditional arrangements for service teaching of mathematics and statistics into different faculties. So there is a continual erosion of such key support... The effect of such moves is that the possibility of research and graduate training at internationally competitive levels is lost...

With the growth of research in telecommunications, biotechnology, information sciences has come high levels of government support for the mathematical sciences in essentially every advanced economy except for Australia... On the issue of mathematics education in schools, we are faced with a dwindling supply of well trained mathematics and statistics graduates who are prepared to go into teaching at the secondary level...

To summarise, I do not see much of a future for the mathematical sciences in Australia in the medium term. The current trend towards merging mathematical science departments into larger entities will further erode the possibility of rebuilding... An extreme example of the pressures I have described above are at Monash University, which is Australia's largest tertiary institution. Recently, six new Professors have been appointed to Business Studies but the Department of Mathematics and Statistics does not have enough resources to have ONE professor of Statistics and ONE professor of pure mathematics at the same time...

If there is a serious concern with regards to the standing of the mathematical sciences in Australia, there are a number of superb former Australians who could be asked about the size of the problem and possible solutions - Leon Simon ( Stanford) and Richard Melrose (MIT), both members of the National Academy of Sciences, John Coates (Cambridge), Graeme Segal (Cambridge) and Warren Ewens ( Pennsylvania) all Fellows of the Royal Society.

Will Dr. Nelson take up Professor Rubinstein's challenge and seek the views of Simon, Melrose, Coates, Segal or Ewens. For that matter will any of the Minister's twenty member Reference Group do so, or are we really observing a charade. Perhaps Lady Bracknell's admonishment to Gwendolen has a governmental analogy with regard to the question of crises in the higher education system.

Pardon me, you are not engaged to any one. When you do become engaged to some one, I, or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the fact.

Star Billing Has Its Rewards. (July 4, 2002)
    Herchel Smith died this past December. Born in Plymouth, England, he received his bachelor's and doctoral degrees from Cambridge and was a postdoctoral fellow at Oxford. As a university lecturer in organic chemistry at Manchester University, he devised new approaches for the synthesis of novel steroids, which he patented. After moving to the United States in 1961, he worked with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals in Philadelphia. That collaboration led to the creation of the first synthetic birth control pill, as well as other important pharmaceuticals for hormone therapy treatments. As a result he became a very rich man. So? According to the April 25, 2002 Harvard Gazette,

     "Herchel Smith gives Harvard $100 [A$180] million: Gift provides unprecedented science funding"

 And Cambridge has announced a £45 million [A$125 million] donation, the largest it has received from one person, from... Herchel Smith. The donation will fund new chairs in physics, pure mathematics, biochemistry and molecular biology, as well supporting exchange visits between Cambridge and Harvard while Harvard will use its bequest to augment existing scholarship funds previously provided by Smith as well as naming three professorships in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, one each in pure mathematics, physics, and computer sciences - as well a creating a new professorship in molecular genetics. The balance of the bequest will support an endowment for research fellowships enabling Ph.D. graduates from Harvard to pursue research in organic chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology, and related fields at Cambridge.
    Apparently Dr. Smith believed that pure science ought to be fostered at top universities. Now it just might be possible that were our government to properly support higher education, Australia would attain universities that would not only soundly underpin its intellectual currency but also attract sizable philanthropic bequests. After all, to have your name associated with chairs and scholarships at Harvard and Cambridge...

Industry Funded Biotechnology Research Within Universities - a Simple Caveat. (July 4, 2002)
    US industrial funding for biotechnology research within academe has rapidly plunged from its zenith of  two years ago. This is due almost entirely to the the severe belt tightening within the sector. For openers the collective worth of biotech shares is about one-third that of 2000. According to the July 4th  issue of Nature the, "University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), has strong links with the state's powerful biotech sector. The number of [biotech industry funded] deals with UCSF peaked at 125 in 2000 for non-clinical research, but then slid to 70 in 2001. In the first 10 months of the 2002 fiscal year, only 39 deals were struck... [I]nvestors' expectations for start-ups have changed. Companies making tools for drug discovery were popular a few years ago, he says, but investors now want ventures that will rapidly bring a drug or other product to market."
    It's a clear indication that an over reliance of private sector money for university research  carries significant risk for strategic and and even applied work let alone fundamental research. A home truth that appears to have eluded our government's ministers and bureaucrats alike was pointed out sharply by the Inter-Senate Committee of Israeli universities in its March position paper directed to the Knesset. "[I]t should be kept in mind that the development of a high quality scientific department takes many years, in general, because only scientists of high quality are able to put together a department of high quality. Therefore, when a prominent scientist leaves a university department (usually abroad), double damage is caused, because mediocrity is self-perpetuating."

Might the Minister for Education, Science and Training Become a Supporter of the Creative Class? (July 2, 2002)
    Professor Marilyn Lake has just returned from a year at Harvard University where she held the chair in Australian studies. Last Thursday the Sydney Morning Herald published an opinion piece in which she refers to a recently published book by Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class and sums up his thesis (and hers) as, "we are moving into a phase of economic development fuelled by the work of intellectual elites - writers, scientists, educators, designers, people whose work generates original ideas and conceptual innovation." Professor Lake continues, "The companies and cities likely to succeed are those that prove attractive and hospitable to this emergent class." Island nations with populations of around 19 million boasting a Prime Minister potty about sports are also included by implication. "Creative people work long hours - longer than average - but they require autonomy and freedom to flourish and their output can't be measured in the usual ways. New ideas are not produced to order and do not follow directives or prescriptions from on high. Working in an American university during the past year, I encountered a profoundly different attitude towards academics and their scholarship than prevails in my own country. Harvard University is a wealthy institution and one might have expected that those who administer its large endowments would emphasise accountability above all else. But American universities trust and reward their faculty and researchers; it is their freedom to teach and pursue research without the constant pressure to seek authorisation, fill in forms and justify their work that makes them such productive workplaces."
    Of course Professor Lake only spent a year at Harvard and might be overly enthusiastic about an exotic environment. So we sent the article to a professor of physical chemistry who has been a Harvard fixture for some decades and asked his opinion of Professor Lake's assessment of Harvard.  The reply?

 I think the article by Lake is fair. The big problem for science research is funding. By and large the faculty at Harvard are reasonably successful. I do not think there is really excessive administrative load or forms. It is probably getting worse, my secretary complains about the accounting system. My organic colleagues are busy consulting with pharmaceutical companies, but are here giving lectures, etc. I do not know whether the college education liberal arts is important. It probably is a good idea since there is not a huge hurry, presently our time through PhD is long, typical 5-6 years after bachelor degree.

That's just one second opinion but there's a ring of reasonableness about it. In any case Marilyn Lake concludes with the hope that perhaps Dr. Nelson "too might become a supporter of the creative class, if only for the sake of Australia's economic future." Certainly some proactive support would be welcome.

CSIRO's Leadership in Crisis, Says Former Divisional Chief. (July 1, 2002)
    The following contribution is reprinted in its entirety from the July, 2002 issue of Australasian Science with the permissions of the author and the publisher.

Don't cry for me, Australia!

Max Whitten says that CSIRO's leadership is in crisis.

On 15 May John Howard launched Fields of Discovery, which describes some of CSIRO's great achievements over the past 50 years, especially in agriculture and astronomy. Its author, Brad Collis, describes CSIRO during this period as a goose laying many golden eggs.

Indeed, commentators have sometimes speculated that CSIRO's contribution to the nation's economic, social and environmental well-being was a key factor in the diverging fortunes of Argentina and Australia during the 20th century.

John Howard boasted that our cricket team had just been voted the best in the world. He proceeded to tell his largely CSIRO audience how he looked forward to the day when CSIRO could join our cricketers as world leaders.

Well, Prime Minister, you don't have to look forward: just look around you. CSIRO is a world leader. That was Collis' point.

Later that same day, John Kerin, the new Chairman of CSIRO's Stored Grain Research Laboratory, released an economic analysis of SGRL's work, showing that each dollar invested in the laboratory had returned more than $20 in benefits. A vital export industry has remained competitive and our food is safer. Clearly, CSIRO still delivers.

Two years ago, Jonathan Shier and Geoff Garrett were imported to ginger up the ABC and CSIRO, respectively. Shier's failed attempts to "remake" the ABC are familiar to many.

It appears that Garrett is heading down the same path. On 22 May, CSIRO's Garrett told a large audience of senior R&D boffins in Sydney: "If it ain't broke, break it". That seems a risky strategy for a business producing golden eggs!

Garrett hails from South Africa, with good credentials as the boss of CSIR ­ CSIRO's equivalent, but minus agriculture. To survive in the changed political and economic environment there, CSIR ramped up its external earnings under Garrett, partly by reinventing itself as a consulting firm.

At home, the Australian Tax Office has received a boost of $1.6 billion, but CSIRO's budget is contracting despite its proud record. The indisputable facts indicate a serious loss of research capacity within CSIRO. Garrett's predecessor, the late Malcolm McIntosh, slowed the erosion of resources slightly, but at a price. He stifled CSIRO's chiefs and scientists from public comment.

The situation today is much more serious. Things are happening inside our global leader of public good research that demand debate. For instance, CSIRO's successful National Awareness Program has been abandoned and its principal architects gone.

Half the divisional chiefs are looking elsewhere for jobs. Internal surveys revealed many top managers are severely stressed. New chiefs are offered 3-year appointments, hardly a recipe for attracting top quality research leaders and building the future.

CSIRO has largely lost its corporate memory after a steady stream of high-level departures from its headquarters. Informed insiders say that CSIRO's request for a deferral of its triennium funding stems more from an incapacity to argue its case than the prospect of lean pickings in the current climate.

In a bid to increase external earnings, CSIRO researchers now seek solutions that have more to do with corporate survival than the national interest. For instance, CSIRO actively lobbies for genetic engineering technology, with its promise of intellectual property and revenue streams. By contrast, CSIRO is not joining a current bid for an organic farming Cooperative Research Centre. The pickings were deemed too lean compared with GM crops.

The promise of massive increases in external earnings might have landed Garrett the job, but the strategy could shift CSIRO from being a powerhouse for public good research towards just another consulting firm.

Unfortunately, the Howard government is increasingly hostile to alternative opinions. We see this through measures taken within the bureaucracy to "program" witnesses in the Senate inquiry into "children overboard". Our Public Service has the hallmarks of a Political Service.

In this general climate of intimidation, it is not surprising that we see no public debate from within CSIRO about its changing nature and declining fortunes.

We might lament the passing of the old CSIRO, but as for the new CSIRO we could well say: "Don¹t cry for me, Australia".

Max Whitten was Professor of Genetics at the University of Melbourne, and Chief of CSIRO's Division of Entomology. from 1981­95 He is a Fellow of the Australian Academies of Science and Technological Sciences & Engineering and an expert on blowflies. Views expressed in conScience are those of the author.