Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Up Front

It's Time to Say Goodbye

By Guy Nolch

Australasian Science is ceasing production after more than eight decades.

It is with great sadness that I am writing to announce that Australasian Science has ceased production. The final edition is the July/August 2019 issue. It was first published in 1938.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our subscribers for their ongoing support. Many subscribers have remained with the magazine for decades. Such longstanding loyalty has been instrumental to the magazine’s ongoing viability.

Australia’s Place in a Modern Space Race

By Guy Nolch

Australia’s space industry will have to pick sides in a new space race 50 years since astronauts first landed on the Moon.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing on 20 July 1969. While our space exploration aspirations have since expanded to crewed missions to Mars, a new race to the Moon has been gathering pace.

Germline Editing Faces a Speed Bump

By Guy Nolch

Will a moratorium on germline editing simply be sidestepped?

The disturbing revelation late last year that Chinese biophysicist Dr He Jiankui had edited embryos to create at least two babies has led 18 scientists and ethicists from seven countries to call for a moratorium on heritable genome editing (https://go.nature.com/2O3UevL).

Transplant Studies Execute “Ethics Dump”

By Guy Nolch

The organs of executed Chinese prisoners have been widely used to bypass ethical guidelines restricting Western researchers.

The spectre of the “mad scientist” raised its ugly head last November when Chinese scientist Dr He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology announced the birth of the first human babies whose genomes had been edited at the embryonic stage of development. The university claimed to have no knowledge of He’s project, which had been conducted off-campus, and fired him, while Chinese authorities described He’s work as “extremely abominable in nature” and “guarded” him at his home 24/7.

Cold Case for a National Genetic Database

By Guy Nolch

If we won’t share our medical history across the health system, it’s hard to see Australians handing over their genetic profile.

In November, the federal government extended the opt-out deadline for My Health Record following a public backlash against the system, which enables digital health records to be accessed across the healthcare network. Throughout our lives we change GPs and have medical crises far from home, so it’s easy to see the logic in giving doctors access to our entire medical history, no matter where or when we need it.

Don’t Bite the Hand that Funds

By Guy Nolch

Corporate interests have a heavy hand in how research is designed, conducted and reported.

In February 2017, the American Association for the Advancement of Science staged the launch of the Brussels Declaration (https://goo.gl/Ss6Mp5), which Nature described as a “20-point blueprint for a set of ethics and principles to inform work at the boundaries of science, society and policy” (https://goo.gl/Jz9VMK).

A Military Motive for the Space Agency

By Guy Nolch

National security, not economic opportunity, may have motivated the government’s new interest in a sovereign space capability.

In November 1967 Australia became the third nation, behind the USA and Russia, to build and launch a satellite on its own soil. Fifty years after the launch of the Weapons Research Establishment Satellite (WRESAT), the Australian government announced that it would provide $41 million over 4 years to establish the Australian Space Agency. At the time, Australia and Iceland were the only two OECD nations without a space agency.

STEMM Faces Generational Gender Gap

By Guy Nolch

A meta-analysis of academic authorship has concluded that gender equity in science remains decades away.

For all the efforts being made to promote opportunities for women in science, parity between the genders remains decades away in some scientific disciplines, according to a meta-research article published in PLoS Biology (https://goo.gl/bcLFRK). “Although women are increasingly studying Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine (STEMM) subjects at university, women comprise a minority of senior staff, are less often trained in elite research groups, are promoted more slowly, and are more likely to leave STEMM careers,” the paper ominously began.

AI Faces Its Manhattan Project Moment

By Guy Nolch

Researchers are boycotting a major university that is opening an autonomous weapons lab in collaboration with an arms company.

Most Australians have lived through an unprecedented era of prosperity and stability. It’s now more than 70 years since the end of the Second World War and almost 90 years since the start of the Great Depression. Since then medical advances have extended our life expectancy well into our eighties, and some futurists even proclaim that we are the last mortal generation before the “singularity” combines biological and artificial intelligence (AI).

Science Meets Parliament (But No Minister)

By Guy Nolch

It’s not enough to win the hearts of politicians when the government itself lacks a head for science.

Last month saw the 19th staging of Science Meets Parliament, with a reported 200 scientists converging on Canberra to rattle the political cage and network with both politicians and other advocates for science.