Monday, April 21, 2014

Founded in a spirit of science

A recent article in The Global Post headed 'Australia's war on science' reports that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is bracing for a 20% budget cut in the Abbott government's forthcoming budget. The government has already announced that the Department of Environment will have its budget cut by $AUD100 million over four years resulting in the loss of a quarter of its staff.

I'm quite happy to kick the Abbott government, but I think there's a broader concern here. The modern state of Australia was founded in a spirit of scientific enquiry. Cook journeyed to the South Pacific to observe the transit of Venus; an observatory was set up at Sydney Cove in the early days of settlement. I know from my own research that the writings of Spencer and Gillen were influential on Freud. But how many Australians know any of this? Can they name our Nobel Laureates? Do they know, as Green deputy leader Adam Bandt points out in that same article, that Australian researchers contributed to "the flu jab, the quantum bit, blast glass and Wi-Fi..."? As far as I know, there is no book on Australians' contribution to science.

1874 photograph of the observatory at Dawes Point, named after the marine who was charged with establishing an observatory in NSW. Dawes Point was originally to be named after the Royal Astronomer, Maskelyne

Interestingly, last year, another Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz warned the incoming Australian government not to launch into massive cuts ('Australia, you don't know how good you've got it,' Sydney Morning Herald 2 Sep 2013 - "...substantial cuts to the government budget...would be a grave mistake, especially now. Recent experience around the world suggests that austerity can have devastating consequences, and especially so for fragile economies..."  I guess, there's my 'kick'. But then, budget cuts are about the only tool conservative governments have. And Australians don't admire great thinkers.



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