Stem Cells, Cell Plasticity and Science Asks, "Time for a Reappraisal?" (June 30, 2002)
Many politicians in many countries including Australia have been keenly interested in the recently published work from Catherine Verfaillie's lab on what she has called multipotent adult progenitor cells (MAPCs) as a way to put embryonic stem (ES) cells out of business. Indeed Science reports in its June 21st issue that several members of the US Congress sought her out last winter, after press reports that she had filed a patent application on her work. Science reports, "She wrote back telling them it's too soon to draw any conclusions."
Science continued, "That might be a wise answer for the entire field, says Princeton University's [stem cell researcher] Ihor Lemischka. There are good evolutionary reasons for suppressing cell plasticity in the body. As yet, very little is known about how to change the rules while averting the dangers of running wild--a worry that applies to potential therapies derived from ES cells as well as adult cells."
Markus Grompe of Oregon Health & Science University believes that ultimately stem cell therapy will work but, "we've raised a lot of false hopes for quick fixes, and that's not going to happen." And Science concludes, "James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who first isolated human ES cells back in 1998, agrees. 'I'm not looking forward to the backlash 3 years from now when people say, "What happened to stem cells?" ' he says. What can scientists do about it? Says Thomson: 'We need to educate the public that science takes a long time.' " Put another way, this is no time to stifle basic research efforts into embryonic stems cells, adult stem cells or multipotent adult progenitor cells.
Update on Canada's 2000
Research Chairs. (June 28, 2002)
TFW has reported previously on the Canadian government's initiative to fund an additional 2000 research chairs at Canadian universities through the Canada Research Chair Infrastructure Fund. "The Program offers research and salary support for outstanding researchers, beginning in fiscal year 2001. It is expected that there will be 2000 chairs by 2005. Excellence in research is of paramount importance in the selection of chair holders. Chairs will be in priority areas identified by universities in their strategic research plans," (emphasis ours). In addition there is a maximum allocation to be used for infrastructure needs associated with the chairs. In most cases the Canada Foundation for Innovation contributes up to 40% and the institution is responsible for securing the matching infrastructure funding.
Here is a short progress report. In October 1999 the government committed US$585 (A$1,022) million to create 2000 new posts under the Canada Research Chairs program. The program provides US$910,000 (A$1,600,000) over 7 years to free up established researchers (Tier 1) from teaching duties and US$325,000 (A$570,000) over 5 years to help universities hire rising stars (Tier 2) to replace aging faculty. The fifth round of winners was due to be announced this week. So far 532 of the 2000 chairs have been filled.
A Carrot or Two for the
Teachers. (June 25, 2002)
The number of teachers in our primary and secondary schools properly qualified to teach science and mathematics has been a matter of concern for a number of years. While Australia is hardly sui generis in this regard, neither on the federal nor the states' level does there appear much effective progress in correcting the shortage. It may not be sufficient for good teachers to have an adequate understanding of the subjects they teach, but it is certainly necessary. Providing adequate resources at our universities or incentives for capable individuals to undertake teaching science and mathematics as a vocation remains neglected, at best getting glossed over.
Now comes the Department of Education, Science and Training proudly announcing "New Awards to Honour Australia's Outstanding Science Teachers;" followed by, "Science teachers are critically important. If Australia is to build upon its scientific and technological capabilities to ensure our future prosperity, it is essential to have teachers who are enthusiastic, well trained and committed to nurturing student interest."
And how is DEST dealing with this matter critically important... to our future prosperity. "Today, I am pleased to announce," the Minister, Dr. Nelson said, "that the Prime Minister has approved two new science prizes. The Prime Minister's Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools, and the Prime Minister's Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools. Worth $35,000 each, these prizes will be awarded to recognise those teachers who have made an outstanding contribution to science education in Australia." That ought to set things right. Though rather cheaper, it's somewhat reminiscent of commercial television fulfilling its obligations for local content by running quiz shows.
A Funny Thing Happened on
the Way to the Crossroads: the China Syndrome. (June 23, 2002)
The Minister for Education, Science and Training, Brendan Nelson, released the second of his department's discussion papers, Striving for quality: learning teaching and scholarship, this past Friday. Working past the quotations and the generalised statistics there is a pervading sense that the role of research at universities has been over emphasised to the detriment of their function as teaching institutions. The discussion paper suggests a mindset of the Minister that is worth considering in the light of some events in China.
A recent Nature news feature (June 13, 2002, p.683) opens, "China produces fine scientists but too many go abroad for training and do not return." It goes on to describe a new graduate program "to bring world-class education to China." The Chinese Academy of Sciences have funded a program of graduate lectures in molecular and cellular biology at the Shanghai Institutes of Biological Sciences. Some 25 lecturers all of whom have overseas experience and of which fifteen are US based, return for a week once a year to lecture. Nature quotes a typical comment by a first year student, "Here the [overseas] professors show us their latest research, so we know it is cutting edge."
The lecturers also conduct journal clubs to critically analyse scientific papers. Students who have been subjected to teaching from text books and Chinese journals, and have not been encouraged to question, now come face to face with role models who know where it's at and demand critical thought. The hope is that the initiative will enliven Chinese learning and research and induce the best to begin to return and/or stay.
The caption under the photographs of two of the program's protagonists, Liqun Lou, Stanford and Yi Rao, Washington University, St. Louis says it all, "...bringing world-class education to Chinese students.
If there is not mounting concern that Dr. Nelson and his department may be engaged in a process of tossing the baby, already suffering from inanition, out with the bathwater, there ought to be.
Peter Pockley Interviews the
Minister for Science. (June 21, 2002)
Yesterday afternoon Nature's Australian science correspondent Peter Pockley interviewed Peter McGauran, Federal Minister for Science. Mr. McGauran avowed that all was well with INVAP, the Argentine firm building the new Lucas Heights nuclear reactor and matters were in hand. Issues concerning research into bushfire control as well as what to do for and with the Irukandji jelly fish were chatted about and the Minister was pleased to be able to say, "I found $100,000 -- not that a Science Minister has a discretionary pool to dip into."
"Where did you find this $100,000 from?" Dr. Pockley asked
The Minister replied, "From the running costs of the Department -- so we've had to tighten our belts even more in Canberra, and I thank my Department for their cost saving effort in this way."
Peter Pockley then brought up the matter of gaining comprehension and sympathetic understanding of science by the public. This was Mr. McGaurin's reply,
Yes, I do think about why has science and innovation got such a high profile within the Howard Government -- and there are a number of reasons.
The Prime Minister's own leadership in this regard and also the need for a whole of government approach which the Innovation Statement underpinned. But also the community's own growing awareness and appreciation of the value of science and innovation as a means of solving many of our environmental, medical and industrial problems, has also prodded the government and influenced the political process.
I don't think the same compelling need to raise the awareness of science communication in the community exists to the same extent that it did a few years ago. We still need to build on it but the community itself talks about science and innovation as often as it does cultural pursuits.
I think the community itself is driving governments and the Parliament, so my thoughts about spending funds on science communication are still uncertain. I am relying on the Innovation Awareness Council, headed by David Miles, and formed a year ago.
It's in the industry portfolio. They have been working hard for about a year now, and they're due to deliver a report on where they see science and innovation communication going. Depending on what they say, it may be that the funds I have available for my portfolio can go towards their blueprint.
However, I may also want to try to use it to raise levels of awareness in the business community. Our business expenditure on research and development is still appallingly low. My thoughts are not solidified yet on just how to spend dollars on science communication.
I don't for a moment think that the public are fully conversant with all that they need to be aware of in science and innovation but they are a lot more interested and engaged than they have been ever before.
When eleven months passed between full meetings of the Prime Minister's Science,
Engineering and Innovation Council and then Mr. Howard found he was unable to
attend; the Prime Minister doesn't seem to be leading either his government or
the Australian public by example. And the business sector is in the gun again.
"Our business expenditure on research and development is still appallingly low."
True enough, and it will remain that way until the government devises a system
to make it worthwhile for business to invest in research and development. They
just might start by consulting with the business community as well as
determining why private sector involvement in R&D is so much better in the most
progressive OECD nations.
Perhaps the Minister for Science and the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, Ian Macfarlane, might get together and discuss it sometime.
Research Priorities Road
Show. (June 20, 2002)
It's Thursday (June 20th) so this must be Canberra. For the past two-and-a-half weeks Science Minister, Peter McGauran has had two teams of four visiting a dozen sites throughout the land assessing the views of anyone who wanted to front up and could spare the time to express opinions on what should be the Government's vision for a better Australia through research and what priority research areas should be designated. Professor Janice Burn, Dr John Keniry, Professor Leon Mann and Mr Helmut Pekarek visited Adelaide, Perth, Kalgoorlie, Melbourne, Albury/Wodonga and are finishing in Canberra today while Mr Stuart Beil, Professor Graham Farquhar, Professor Chris Fell and Associate Professor Melissa Little did the North-South run of Hobart, Brisbane, Armidale, Sydney, Darwin and Townsville. We asked the Silver Blonde to trot over to the Powerhouse last Thursday, and take in the show.
Arrived 8:45 greeted by pleasant lady who motioned to large table with coffee, tea and biscuits, had coffee then moved into Coles Theatre. About 80-100 rolled up. Professor Fell as Chair was a genial host. Opened proceedings and then the other three each took a short turn. Turned out really to be what the Big End of Town's marketing gurus like to call a brainstorming session. Told not to think too narrowly but on the other hand not to think to broadly. Decided I'd better listen and keep stum. After airing of views, sometimes at considerable length by members of the audience (most of whom were active or retired engineers or scientists with one perspicacious professed layman enlivening proceedings) Professor Farquhar was detailed off by the Chair to write down visions on the left whiteboard.
Well Managed Cities
Getting Australians to Work Together
Quality of Life for All Ages
Sustainable Water Use
Living Healthier and Longer
Clever Country (Bob you're not forgotten)
Identify, Analyse and Harness
Opportunities, in the Nation's Interest
Risk vs Profitability
Responsible International Citizenry
Regional and Sectional Priorities That
Work Together for National Benefit
Civic and Humane Society >> Ending of
Invasive Experiments on Animals
Options for the Future
Having got that sorted Professor Little was sent to the right whiteboard to assist Graham Farquhar who had cleared his board and was also ready to note down research priority areas. We were again admonished to be neither to broad nor too narrow. Remained Stum.
RESEARCH PRIORITY AREAS
Sustainable Water Usage
Build a Strong Base of Fundamental/Enabling Science
Replacement for Using Animals in Research
Better Community, Industry, Gov. Linkages
Sustainable Innovation System
Sustainable Management of Cities
Prevention/Cure of Life-Threatening Diseases
Understanding Complex Living Systems
Earth Sensing Technologies
Enabling the Disabled
Who owns Science?
Clean, Sustainable and Secure Energy
Holistic Approach to CIT
Effect of Solar Flares on Climate Change
Fungibility of Energy
Improving Standards of Measurements
Healthy Youth and Aged
According to Professor Fell that by no means covered the water front they'd got a mozta from their other site visits already and had a way to go. Certainly Minister McGauran and his advisors both departmental and co-opted will have no paucity of choices to draw from. What recommendations will be made and how those recommendations will be resourced and implemented should be interesting to monitor.
Thus endeth the lesson.
Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies - President's Newsletter. (June 20, 2002)
The June Newsletter from Professor Chris Fell, President of FASTS was made available today. It is reprinted in full with Federations permission.
1. THE PRIME MINISTER AND THE "SECOND LEG"
2. PRIME MINISTER'S SCIENCE COUNCIL
3. NATIONAL RESEARCH PRIORITIES CONSULTATIVE PANEL
4. HIGHER EDUCATION REVIEW
5. WORKSHOPS FOR MEMBER SOCIETIES
6. SCIENCE MEETS PARLIAMENT DAY
7. NEW EDITION OF FASTS' POLICY DOCUMENT
8. STATE GOVENMENTS' GROWING INTEREST IN SCIENCE
9. FASTS' WEB SITE
1. THE PRIME MINISTER AND THE "SECOND LEG"
The $2.9 billion dollar Innovation Statement was launched in January 2001. At the time FASTS welcomed the funding boost as a promising first step.
But it needs far more than $2.9 billion over 5 years to allow Australia to catch up to the average OECD expenditure in science and research.
Recently I wrote to the Prime Minister asking him what his Government was planning to do about the next step, the "second leg" of the Innovation Statement. The letter read in part:
"We are concerned that some elements in your Government may regard science and technology as a job that was completed with the announcement of "Backing Australia's Ability". Our concern was heightened when you outlined the priorities for your Government in a speech to the Liberal Party Federal Council on 13 April, and science and technology was not among them."
The Prime Minister has responded, saying that his Government is still monitoring the outcomes of the initiatives announced in 2001. He goes on to say:
"It would, however, be premature for PMSEIC [Prime Minister's Science, Engineering and Innovation Council] to consider a 'second stage' package of spending measures before the current initiatives have been implemented fully and evaluated."
FASTS will continue to press for a proper national investment in science and research. You can read the full text of both letters on our web site: www.fasts.org
2. PRIME MINISTER'S SCIENCE COUNCIL
The first full PMSEIC this year was held on May 31, beginning with a dinner hosted by the Prime Minister. Although proceedings of PMSEIC and its Standing Committee are confidential, the text of three key presentations will be shortly available on the web.
The first dealt with sustainable production, pointing to the increasing need for a triple bottom line reporting within the corporate sector, and requirements by major importers of foods to have guarantees from their suppliers that sustainable production methods have been used. The Government has been asked to explore how such matters can most appropriately be handled.
The second was on biodiversity and questioned whether current government policies were coordinated in this regard; and the third dealt with aquaculture and the export opportunities that this offered.
Whilst all three presentations looked at economic considerations as well as scientific ones, there was the overriding theme that good science would be necessary for these areas to be properly addressed.
The Council was also briefed on progress with Backing Australia's Ability and on the Higher Education Review and the National Research Priorities processes.
3. NATIONAL RESEARCH PRIORITIES CONSULTATIVE PANEL
The Government is determined to maximise the return to Australia of our research efforts, by concentrating research in areas where we have a competitive advantage and putting new efforts into areas of weakness where we should have a stronger presence.
FASTS supports this view.
The practicalities are interesting. I am a member of an eight-person consultative panel, along with FASTS' Board Member Melissa Little (both of us serving in a personal capacity). The Panel is chaired by Chief Scientist Robin Batterham.
We have been split into two groups, with each conducting consultative meetings throughout Australia (dates and times are on the FASTS' web site).
There are two stages of the process, and two important dates for submissions:
a. determining the framework for setting national research priorities (submissions close 28 June)
b. views on what these priorities are (submissions close 9 August)
The Government intends to have priorities in place for the 2003 Federal Budget.
There appears to be common acceptance that it is appropriate for the Government to set national research priorities and that these should be both thematic and inspirational and should not direct funding to the exclusion of other promising areas of good science.
In another part of the process, Science Minister Peter McGauran consulted FASTS directly. He hosted a dinner at Parliament House for 8 members of the FASTS' Board and Executive, to discuss informally these two matters
4. HIGHER EDUCATION REVIEW
I am a member of the Higher Education Review Reference Group. The first meeting in May was primarily to discuss the process to be adopted, and to offer initial comment on Higher Education at the Crossroads.
DEST officers are now preparing five issues papers which will form the basis for national debate on higher education issues.
In the light of these it will be important for FASTS and its Member Societies to make submissions in which the importance of science is highlighted, both in terms of the need to produce scientists and mathematicians and for universities to participate fully in the national research effort.
I would appreciate Member Societies forwarding a copy of any submissions they may make to the FASTS office, so that I can read them personally.
Submissions close on 28 June; and further information about making them is at:
5. WORKSHOPS FOR MEMBER SOCIETIES
I am pleased to announce that our proposal to run capacity-building workshops for our Member Societies has been successful.
The first stage will be to establish the content of the workshops. What do you as office-bearers of our Member organisations need to make your jobs easier in these challenging times? How would you like the workshops to be organised?
We have a good broad indication of what our Members think from earlier surveys, but now we need to refine these ideas.
Over the next few days FASTS will be contacting all Presidents of Member Societies, first by email and then by phone, to work out how each Society might take advantage of these workshops.
We expect to offer the first workshops by about September.
6. "SCIENCE MEETS PARLIAMENT" DAY
This event will be on Tuesday-Wednesday 12-13 November in Canberra.
It has several new features this year, including a science-industry-Parliamentarians dinner on Wednesday night, at prestigious Members' Dining Room at Old parliament House.
SmP provides an interesting opportunity to run regular business meetings of your Society, or to hold side meetings like last year's discussions on biotechnology and Nanotechnology. Please discuss these with the FASTS' office.
Full details of the program are on our web site.
Here are some comments from last year's participants:
Very well organised. The impact is becoming obvious.
The pollies are taking this seriously. I have no doubt that past SmPs have helped put science on the political agenda.
A fantastic experience. I'm glad I came and congratulations to FASTS for making it possible!
Both MPs were cordial. The level of interest in science was high and unexpected to me
And one from an obvious masochist:
Great, let's do it again. I would like more interaction with MPs - a boat trip?
7. NEW EDITION OF FASTS' POLICY DOCUMENT
The fourth edition of the FASTS' Policy Document will be launched later this year.
One of the most comprehensive statements on science policy, the document will cover all aspects of science from education, to research training, funding for science and research, and innovation.
Ken Baldwin is coordinating the production of the document as Chair of the Policy Committee. A draft will be considered by the FASTS' Board next month, and all Member Societies will have the opportunity to comment on the draft before it goes to print.
Launch of the revised policy is scheduled for mid-September.
8. STATE GOVENMENTS' GROWING INTEREST IN SCIENCE
It's wonderful to see State Governments competing over the new synchrotron, instead of those disputes about who will host golf tournaments or the Australian Grand Prix.
An illustration is the recently-reported size of the State delegations attending the world's biggest Biotechnology Conference in the US - 140 delegates from Victoria and 90 from Queensland, with both delegations headed by the premier.
SA Premier Mike Rann will also be there, along with delegations from all other States and the Federal Government.
NSW will not be sending the Premier, and not even the Science Minister - because it stands alone among all States in not having one.
This mirrors the low profile of science in the Premier State. The expansive budget NSW announced this month contained many spending initiatives, but little to stimulate the research an innovation community.
One hopes State efforts will also contribute to a national vision and priority setting.
9. FASTS' WEB SITE
Our web site should be a central source of information on science policy. As well as carrying the latest information on events such as "Science meets Parliament" Day, the site also links readers to information on current issues like the research priority-setting exercise.
All our media releases are there, as well as speeches and feedback from our events at the National Press Club.
We are putting more resources into the site (at: www.fasts.org) and will soon be upgrading to a new design. Suggestions and comments welcome.
14 June 2002
Peter Doherty Comes Home.
Could This be the Start of Something. (June 16, 2002)
A very perceptive American lady then in her late sixties was asked by an interviewer to what she attributed her enterprises' successes. She replied, "I never felt so rich that we could afford cheap things."
Peter Doherty, 61, Australia's only extant Nobel laureate is returning to Australia having spent the past 14 years at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital where he's chairman of their Department of Immunology. In a couple of weeks he will take up the post of laureate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Melbourne. The Federal Government is awarding him a $2 million fellowship while the Victorian Government has offered a further $500,000 to assist his research. And the university is contributing $1.5 million over the next five years to provide and equip a laboratory. That's strong support by any standards. Now what happens next. Claire Miller writing in the June 15th Age reports that apart from perusing his specific research interests, "He feels he might play a useful role as an advocate of Australia's public education system, in the interests of fostering creative and innovative thinking across all disciplines... [H]e's still troubled by the broader issues of how governments invest in the future. 'We have to stop thinking of our universities as technical training schools.'" Miller's report continues, "A good government would be investing across the intellectual board to produce people with flexible minds. 'If everyone is in the same box, then we won't get much creative thinking.'"
Thus far the Howard Government has shown no signs of listening to what Australia's higher education sector has been saying with regard to rebuilding the nation's intellectual base, nor has the opposition indicated it considers it a matter of particular consequence. A fellow expatriate of Professor Doherty, Robert May, now Lord May of Oxford, has had and continues to have profound influence on the Blair government, first as Chief Scientific Advisor and now as President of the Royal Society. Perhaps Peter Doherty may have comparable success in Australia.
The Dilemma of Research
Universities Exemplified by the University of Queensland. (June 12, 2002)
University of Queensland Vice-Chancellor Professor John Hay began his duties as Chair of Australia's Group of Eight (Go8) universities at the beginning of March. Just how vigorous the Go8 will be under Professor Hay's chairmanship remains to be seen. Certainly thus far media releases have not been coming thick and fast from its Manuka office and as of today there is no record of it having sent in a submission to the Department of Education, Science and Training's Crossroads initiative.
[As an aside, up until June 12th only ten submissions had been listed in toto on the Department's Web site, the last dated June 7th. It remains to be seen what the total will become by June 28th, the last day for submissions to be accepted. It's a matter of record, the Senate Employment, Workplace Relations, Small Business and Education Committee's investigation into Australian Universities brought forth 364 submissions.]
Recently Professor Hay, in his role as V-C University of Queensland, made a number of interesting observations which have added interest when they are juxtaposed to comments made by Peter Hall, Chair of the National Committee for Mathematics of the Australian Academy of Science and the UQ's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Margaret Gardner. First, Professor Hay notes:
...we must benchmark against the best facilities around the world to ensure we gratify the expectations of the outstanding cohort of students who enrol with us each year.
Increasingly institutions like the University of Queensland have to live by their wits and compete for scarce funding for specific projects. Winning these grants brings significant benefits and opportunities but the costs of missing out are considerable.
The [$60 million Australian Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology] Combined with UQ's new Institute of Molecular Bioscience and supercomputing facility, will help to achieve our goal of ...[becoming] an important player internationally.
And yet support for the core sciences, mathematics, physics and chemistry at all our research universities is in a parlous state despite the fact that fields such as genomics, bioinformatics, nanotechnology, image processing and cryptology, are starved for properly trained mathematicians, physicists and chemists. Peter Hall, points out in his submission to DEST, "my colleagues in key areas of mathematics are leaving for abroad, taking their skills with them. Their departure opens up substantial gaps in for example... theoretical methods in computer science, statistical genetics, nonlinear mathematics and a range of fields in applied mathematics."
Finally, Professor Gardner makes the point that her main focus at UQ is
students' learning experience and that foremost on her list is that "all
attributes capture the benefits of research based teaching and learning... We
found the nature of UQ's research base informs the high quality teaching and
learning experience and we are working on bringing more of these qualities into
the lecture theatres and tutorial rooms."
This view echoes the US' National Science Foundation's VIGRE (Vertical InteGration of Research and Education) grants which were launched some three years ago to revitalise the moribund university mathematics sector. It has and the resources injected by the NSF have had a dramatic effect. But then, the NSF was prepared to provide the funding to obtain worthwhile results.
What would seem critical is the depth of the learning provided. Put simply, are
Australian students who are expected to provide the fundamental science
as well as the technology to enhance the quality of life of Australians being
provided the intellectual tools required or simply a superficial and inadequate
semblance of true learning? The specter of "infotainment" seems to be hovering
not all that distantly.
John Dawkins Casts a Long
Shadow. (June 6, 2002)
In News and Views, May 23rd we referred to "Challenges to Australian and South African Higher Education -- Shadows of Similarity" which reports on the South African Government's approach to "rationalising" its higher education sector. Nature (June 6, 2002) now reports, "The country's 21 universities and 15 technikons (polytechnics) will now be streamlined into 11 universities, 6 technikons and 4 comprehensive institutions that will offer both university and technikon programmes. The government says that this will create 'a system that is
equitable, academically and financially sustainable, and productive'". The more rational approach of placing the universities and technikons into three categories: those permitted to award degrees up to PhDs, those that could award up to masters degrees and only in certain fields, and those that could award only undergraduate degrees seems not to have been considered.
It would appear that in the name of expediency and apparent short term fiscal efficiency, South Africa may expect to travel down Australia's path. The utility of academic excellence seems to get short shrift in the Southern Hemisphere. What the Hell, they've got an improving rugby team.
One Long Sentence for
British Research and Development. (June 3, 2002)
Nature's editorial writer for the May 30th issue produced a mammoth final sentence, but it says it all. Australian researchers might take note.
Researchers should applaud [Tony] Blair for his sustained support, and reiterate their wish-list for public funds, but with higher expectations. More money for science teachers and facilities in schools, rebuilding of university infrastructure, further improvements to pay and conditions for postdocs, ensuring that government and its agencies can commission independent research to sustain regulatory standards, and enhancing the resources available to independent agencies for providing public information and conducting public consultation in topics of significant social concern -- such commitments are priorities if Blair's committed rhetoric is to yield substance.
The British Prime Minister's speech to the Royal Society is available at http://www.nature.com/nature/blair.html
By any measure, our record is outstanding. With 1% of the world's population, we fund 4.5% of the world's science, produce 8% of the scientific papers and receive 9% of the citations.
The strength and creativity of our science base is a key national asset as we move into the 21st century. Britain has produced 44 Nobel laureates in the last 50 years, more than any country except the US. But this statistic does conceal a problem we must acknowledge. Only eight of those laureates are in the last 20 years. We have relied for too long on tradition and sentiment to aid our scientists. We need strong funding and strong public support, not just the warm glow of our traditions.
I don't want our next Nobel laureate to echo the tale of Tim Hunt, who -- in the moment of his Nobel triumph last year -- told the story of how he and his colleagues had to scrape together money to buy a telephone for their lab.
Sometimes science is wrongly blamed for the faults of others. Take BSE. Science in this case correctly identified a new problem. The American Scientist Stanley Prusiner won the Nobel Prize for discovering prions, and establishing the link between BSE and CJD. Bad science didn't cause the spread of BSE; it was bad agriculture and poor government.
However, I am concerned about the findings of the Roberts report on skills shortages in the sciences and engineering. We will be looking very carefully at his recommendations as part of the Spending Review 2002.
I want to make sure the UK is one of the best places in the world to do science. For that we need our people, equipment and infrastructure to be properly funded. And we should continue to promote British science abroad.
If nothing else, the tenor is a bit different from
the address Australia's Minister for Education, Science and Training,
Brendan Nelson, gave before the Australian Academy of Science last month.
"Science Priorities" Whips
'Round the Traps. (June 2, 2002)
The Federal Minister for Science, Peter McGauran announced this past Friday (May 31st) consultations with any and all interested members of the public with regard to the prioritisation of federally funded research through the medium of public meetings. This announcement comes 200 days following the Coalition's re-election, but having been announced we're now informed that meetings will commence, "in both Adelaide and Hobart on Tuesday, June 4, and form a key part of the process to set national priorities for Australia's research effort." Further meetings will be held in ten other centres over the next sixteen days ending in Canberra on June 20th. It isn't clear just who will chair the public meetings but the nine membered panel will be split into two consultative groups, the chairman, Australia's Chief Scientist, Dr. Robin Batterham not taking part.
In his media release Mr. McGauran is quoted as saying,
The panel wants to hear from everybody who has anything to say about priorities for research spending in this country. We want to see a debate on this issue and these public hearings should ignite the discussion. The nine members of the panel are all leaders in their fields and see national priorities as enabling Australia to better exploit its competitive advantages, while achieving wider economic and social goals. The recently released Issues Paper sets out an approach that will build on and complement Australia's existing research and innovation system.
We propose a model based on broad themes and underpinned by specific areas of research priority -- areas recognised by all Australians as essential to achieving our shared goals and aspirations. This is a unique opportunity for us to develop a vision of where we want Australia to be in five, ten or even 15 years from now.
Now that ought to give the panel pretty well carte blanche on what to chose, and how Cabinet will deal with the list sent up to them is anyone's guess. The one certainty is that while there may be a reshuffling of funding from one basket to another, any hope of additional funding for research, and fundamental research in particular, is hallucinary.