Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Simon Says

Simon Says column

Terrorism and the Sharing Economy

By Simon Grose

Whether new technologies are applied for good or ill, they encounter evolutionary pressure to fit in to the environments they inhabit.

The word “disruptive” has become commonplace during the first 15% of the 21st century.

This burgeoning usage is directly a function of scientific and technological innovation, mostly in computing, communication and transport. The private and public sectors latched onto these innovations and are still running hard, transforming many aspects of ordinary and extraordinary life.

The Abbot Experiment

By Simon Grose

A political career is different to any other in the highs and lows it offers, and it almost always ends badly.

One theory affirmed by the failure of Tony Abbot’s prime ministership is that all political careers end in failure, a rule affirmed by the fates of predecessors Julia, Kevin, John, Paul, Bob, Malcolm, Gough, Billy, and John. (Bob Brown is the exception that proves it).

Anyone engaged in scientific research knows that more experiments fail than are successful, and you often learn more from the failures than the successes. Abbot’s failure is a window into the potential for greatness and desolation in a political life.

GM Support Going Stale

By Simon Grose

Australians are increasingly divided in their support for genetically modified crops and foods.

The first week of spring was a busy one for GM crops. It started with a Western Australian organic farmer losing a court challenge against a neighbour over his claim for compensation after drifting GM pollen caused him to lose his “organic” status. This triggered Greens Senator Rachel Siewert to predictably claim that “GM crops have not proven to be safe” – a denial of fact – and calling for the reinstatement of a GM moratorium.

Rebooting Computing at School

By Simon Grose

We can devote more early-stage teaching effort to computing but will Aussie kids click onto it?

In 2007 Kevin Rudd parlayed the cool mystique of computing into an electoral ploy by promising that every student would have a free laptop.

Bill Shorten’s version is less extravagant: teach basic coding from the early years so that kids get used to shaping their computing experience rather than just using what is available.

“Our education system could well be creating basically proficient ICT users but very few technicians, innovators or developers.”

Suicide Blondes and Blacks

By Simon Grose

Common perceptions of the incidence of suicide are shaped more by populist fears than real data.

We are weathering many crises these days, mainly because “crisis” is an over-exercised word as protagonists and agonists beat up their concerns. When it comes to suicide, “epidemic” is a subset of the crisis mentality, generally applied by mental health lobbyists to attract attention to the prevalence of people choosing to actively spin out of the mortal coil.

Of Science and Snake Oil

By Simon Grose

Marking this year’s Budget speech and the responses it provoked for their “science” content turns up a rare spread of results.

Greens MP Adam Bandt had a simple Pockleyesque barb to lead his response to the Budget speech by Treasurer Joe Hockey: “It continues the anti-science bias of the Abbott government. The word ‘science’ was not mentioned once in the Treasurer’s speech.”

On that metric, Bill Shorten’s Budget-in-Reply speech set a new record with no less than a dozen mentions of “science”. As a bonus, even “technology”, “mathematics” and “engineering” scored mentions, plus “IT coding” no less.

Tim, Meet Wayne

By Simon Grose

Frustrated climate change activist Tim Flannery could benefit from the counsel of a rugby league mentor.

The legendary rugby coach of the Brisbane Broncos, Wayne Bennett, has a terse line for petulant young men in his charge who punch a wall when they are dropped from the team.

“Don’t get bitter, get better,” old Wayne says drily, perhaps with a pat on the shoulder and a manly dart of eye contact. Five words to convey tough love and a path to redemption.

Climate Council supremo Tim Flannery could do worse than take a session with Coach Wayne.

Engineer in Charge

By Simon Grose

Redefining pepper and implanting STEM cells are on the agenda of the new Parliamentary Secretary for Industry and Science.

Thirty years ago, as a mechanical engineer beginning her career in a power station in Gladstone, Karen Andrews had no inkling that the lack of a commercial pepper industry in Australia would be an issue for her. But with country-of-origin food labelling now one of her portfolio responsibilities, it means a swag of locally made processed food cannot be properly labelled “100% Australian”.

Political Immunity

By Simon Grose

Vaccination sceptics are active in all vaccinated societies, but which side of politics they inhabit is a matter of national difference.

Disneyland created a focus for the brace of Republican hopefuls as the preliminary rounds of the next US Presidential election got going late last year. A woman infected with measles had stayed at the spiritual home of Mickey and Donald, spreading the virus on rides in planes and cars that caused a rash of new cases in several states.

Not Understanding Terror

By Simon Grose

Science is not up to the challenge of divining the behavioural roots of Islamic terrorism.

In his conScience column in the previous edition (AS, Jan/Feb 2015, p.39), Peter Harrison argued that science and religion can peacefully coexist. So while we may deprecate religion as a denial of the reality of the mortal condition we should be so kind as to allow believers their folly. OK – as long as it’s a victimless folly.

Science has an advantage over religion. It can study it as a subject of rational inquiry. Yet it seems this advantage amounts to little when it comes to explaining the victim-littered folly of gratuitously murderous men who invoke Islam as their motivation.