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Simon Says

Simon Says column

Science Gets a Voice in Canberra

By Simon Grose

The alternative Prime Minister, Bill Shorten, can use science to win votes by creating a clever and clean energy country.

Bill Shorten’s decision to be “the first Labor leader to take science as their special responsibility” is a welcome challenge to the weary political dictum that there ain’t no votes in science.

With an Arts/Law degree from Monash, an MBA from the Melbourne Business School and a career as a Maurice Blackburn lawyer, union heavy and MP, he has no scientific background.

What Would Pockers Think?

By Simon Grose

Abolishing the Science portfolio would not have pleased Dr Peter Pockley, but all is not lost.

If Tony Abbott had a nightmare after he announced his Ministry, it may have featured a lanky stooping ghost keening and wailing in a deep sonorous voice about the new PM’s failure to appoint a Science Minister.

Dr Peter Pockley, the pioneer of Australian science journalism who passed away in August, would have defied the non-existence of the afterworld to clamber back and vent horror and dismay at the PM’s appalling mistake.

Democracy vs Science

By Simon Grose

The people have spoken – and given science a backhander.

There’s a lot of smart people involved in science in Australia. Shame there were none smart enough to game the Senate voting system and get a scientist’s bum on a red leather seat in Canberra.

The Research Australia Party (RAP), Science Australia Party (SAP), and Australians for Intelligent Government (I give AFIG) were just some of the catchy options. Too late now. After a bunch of opportunistic little parties scored a Senate seat, the voting system will be changed to make it much harder next time.

Resetting Research Priorities

By Simon Grose

Our latest strategic research agenda reveals marginal changes and a faster pace of renewal.

One of Julia Gillard’s last acts as Prime Minister was to issue a new set of national Strategic Research Priorities. Three days later she was ousted from the leadership and retired from politics.

Of three other names on the announcement, only Chief Scientist Ian Chubb still holds his position. Former Minister Craig Emerson also left politics and Senator Don Farrell’s short time as Science Minister ended when Kevin Rudd regained the top job and gave him the Sport portfolio.

GM Approvals Score a Century

By Simon Grose

Almost 40 years after the genetic engineering revolution hit Australia, it is beginning to look like the establishment.

The chief steward of Australia’s gene jockeys, the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR), has granted its 100th licence to release a genetically modified (GM) organism into the Australian landscape. The details show how things have changed and stayed the same in the GM stakes.

Old favourites at the starting gates were cotton, agrochemicals giant Monsanto, and the common soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, whose Bt gene in the leaves of plants gives Lepidoptera caterpillars fatal heartburn.

Simon Grose is a Director of Science Media (sciencemedia.com.au).

Science After the Election

By Simon Grose

Who is likely to be responsible for science after the Federal election, and are they qualified to represent it?

With Labor trailing chronically in the opinion polls before an election in which it must actually increase its vote to retain power, the science and innovation sector should be preparing to deal with a new team in Canberra.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has made a point of making no changes in his shadow executive. Assuming that continuity is maintained, along with the Coalition’s portfolio distribution, Sophie Mirabella would become Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (IISR) if Mr Abbott becomes PM.

Simon Grose is a Director of Science Media (sciencemedia.com.au).

Sniffing a Failure

By Simon Grose

Petrol sniffing in remote communities could best be combatted by giving young indigenous people a positive way to get out of it.

Substance abuse is a motif of our time. Elite male swimmers taking sleeping pills to get out of it together and AFL players taking Alzheimer’s medications to get up together on game day are recent additions to the trend. The use of steroids, ephedrine, testosterone and other stimulants go back a lot further.

The substances being abused are typically legal for medical or other applications. Their use gains headlines, but abuse of another legal substance is rarely reported.

Simon Grose is a Director of Science Media (sciencemedia.com.au).

Tech Gains Outpace Peak Oil

By Simon Grose

Technological breakthroughs are setting the scene for the fossil fuel era to last longer and stronger.

Some of my best friends are peak oilsters. I was of their mind for quite a while, but for about the last decade I have annoyed them by becoming condescending whenever they warned that the end of petrol was nigh on nigh.

Three mainstays of my uncool view: the inexorable march of extraction technologies ever deeper into the oceans, huge deposits of oil shale and oil sands around the world, and the atavistic demand humans display for fuel to power their cars and trucks.

Generation Breakthrough

By Simon Grose

The latest take on innovation policy actually offers something new.

There’s an old saying along the lines: “If you don’t innovate you die”. So it is appropriate that innovation policy gets a regular shake-up to keep it alive.

Chief Scientist Ian Chubb has given it his big shot with a list of five “top breakthrough actions”. Sounds exciting.

Simon Grose is a Director of Science Media (sciencemedia.com.au).

Is Gas Really Better Than Coal?

By Simon Grose

Despite the best current knowledge and intentions we could be accelerating climate change.

While conflict between mainstream science and climate change sceptics dominates public discourse, attention is diverted from a more important issue: are measures deemed to slow global warming actually effective?

One key assumption is that replacing coal with gas as a fossil fuel for electricity generation is a good move because burning gas produces approximately half the amount of CO2 per unit of primary energy compared with burning coal.