(Transcript from World News Radio)
Australia’s Academy of Science is backing calls from the chief scientist for Australia to develop a long-term science strategy.
In a speech to the National Press Club in Canberra, chief scientist Professor Ian Chubb warned Australia’s future prosperity is in danger because it doesn’t have a comprehensive strategy.
Greg Dyett reports.
(Click on audio tab above to listen to this item)
A ‘she’ll be right’ attitude, a lack of urgency and no real strategy.
That’s how the chief scientist Ian Chubb described Australia’s position when it comes to science.
Professor Chubb says it’s time for Australia to develop a comprehensive science strategy just as other countries have done.
“Why is it that the United States, the United Kingdom and many of the European Union countries have decided that a strategy for science is needed. Why is it that they have well articulated priorities, why is it that they look at the needs of their communities and build them into their priorities, why is it that they focus a proportion of their funding on the priority areas and not all of them.”
Professor Chubb says Australia as a small nation must be better at prioritising.
He says one way this could be done is by politicians identifying a specific budget, taking expert advice from scientists and then leaving the decisions on which projects to fund to the researchers.
“How can we expect to build a future prosperity with a she’ll be right attitude or, alternatively, where the person who last got into the door of a person who has the purse strings in their hand gets their support and gets funded out of context with little consideration of what the implications might be for the rest of this complex, diverse but interconnected system that science, technology, engineering and mathematics as we have it in this country.”
The Australian Academy of Science supports Ian Chubb’s calls for a science strategy for the longer term.
Professor Les Field is the academy’s spokesman on science policy.
He says there’s too much ad hoc decision-making.
“The way that we address many issues grows organically as distinct from saying here’s the problem, here’s the way we solve it properly and sustainably, it’s going to take us a long time and we need a road map of how we get from point a to point b and then we invest properly to make sure that happens.”
Professor Field says short-term thinking on the part of politicians has also been a problem.
“It has been very short sighted of previous governments in terms of not having a science strategy which actually goes beyond the term of government. I think most of our governments are very focused on the here and now as distinct from where we need to be in 10, 20 or 30 years time and many of the big issues that science and science and technology and the research community deal with are things which really will have an impact in 20 or 30 years time.”
This week scientists and politicians have held face-to-face meetings in Canberra as part of the annual ‘Science Meets Parliament’ initiative.
Professor Field says such gatherings are vital networking opportunities and he hopes scientists can become better communicators.
He says clear communication is vital, especially in areas that can become controversial such as climate science.
He says he agrees with Ian Chubb’s warning that the community must understand how scientific processes work, so that strongly-held public opinion does not override the evidence.
Professor Field says this exchange in May 2011 between Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones and climate scientist David Karoly is a case in point.
Alan Jones asked Professor Karoly where he could find empirical evidence in a United Nations Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change, proving that global warming was caused by human activity.
(Karoly) “Sure, you would find that evidence in the peer-reviewed scientific studies and in the data” (Jones) “But where in chapter 9? Where in chapter 9, where can I open chapter 9 because I looked at it, where can I open chapter 9 is that evidence?” (Karoly) “It’s, I can’t tell you the page number because I don’t have it.” (Jones) “No, no, it’s not there, it’s no there, it’s not there, you are the chapter review editor, it’s not there, that’s why you can’t tell me the page number, the evidence is not there.” (Karoly) “That’s not true Alan.”
Professor Les Field from the Academy of Science says David Karoly has done a good job at explaining climate science.
He says other scientists should follow his lead.
“Karoly’s example was a prime example and he’s done a terrific job at trying to both calm down the debate because it is an emotive issue and there are high stakes for many individuals and you’ve got to be able to stand aside from the politics and the emotion and say here are the facts and I think getting that message across in a cool, calm professional way is just something that our scientists have to do both to the general public and to the government, in particular, in a much better way than we have been able to do in the past.”