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Simon Says

Simon Says column

Debugging Trade

By Simon Grose

As our neighbours seek to sell us more fresh produce, biosecurity is becoming a busier battleground for science and politics.

Border protection is a difficult policy zone, whether it be concerned with asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, potatoes from New Zealand, pineapples from Malaysia or ginger from Fiji. Over recent months the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs Committee has mounted inquiries into Biosecurity Australia’s (BA) approvals for these imports.

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

Scientists Told to Get Dirty

By Simon Grose

Science Minister Chris Evans is a no-nonsense, tough-talking coach who has given Team Science a reality check.

It’s almost a year since ministerial responsibility for science in Canberra passed from one gruff, burly Senator to another – from Kim Carr to Chris Evans.

While this had no effect on the lives of the nation’s scientists, for the 200 or so at this year’s Science Meets Parliament event hosted by Science & Technology Australia, that ministerial shuffle made for a markedly different experience.

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

Energy Twins

By Simon Grose

If two of the world’s biggest economies are any guide, the energy future will not be clean.

Germany and Japan were in the same boat as imperialist warmongers in the 1930s. A century later they look set to be pushing through the waters of the mid-21st century without nuclear propulsion.

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

Two Tales from the City

By Simon Grose

The Nobel Laureate and the Minister choose different drinks at the Australian Innovation Bar.

Recently Canberra’s inner halls heard two divergent takes on Australia’s ability to translate research into commerce.

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

A Particular Challenge

By Simon Grose

The biggest science story of 2012 poses a riddle about a particle locked in a field, wrapped in a mystery and out of the ordinary.

A golden rule for science journalism is never report or comment on something you don’t understand. So when CERN reported evidence of the existence of the Higgs boson it was time for research.

Dr Karl was quickly online to provide a ten-point explainer. He mentioned Lady Gaga, Hugh Jackman and the Loch Ness Monster, scoring high for entertainment but not so hot for physics education. Same for every other explanation that poured into cyber space.

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

Healthy, But Needs Leadership

By Simon Grose

The Chief Scientist has established a role at the centre of science policy formulation, and flagged his intentions.

Exactly a year after he began work as Australia’s Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb has issued Health of Australian Science, a 200-page overview of his bailiwick (see also Lowe Tech, p.47).

Its broad assessment – “Australian science is generally in good health” – was the happy theme picked up in media reports but closer reading reveals signals from Chubb about his agenda for the remaining 2 years of his appointment.

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

Battle of the Basin

By Simon Grose

Differences between farmers and scientists are being heightened by a process designed to reconcile them.

Australian agriculture and Australian science have a lot in common. Both are well-resourced and technically sophisticated. Both have contributed immensely over many decades to the accumulation of Australia’s national wealth. And they have a long history of working cooperatively, with scientific research enabling our farmers to raise productivity and to do so more sustainably.

Our Niche Pharming Future

By Simon Grose

Australia’s biggest exporter of value-added products, the pharmaceuticals industry, is struggling to remain competitive.

Australia’s consistent high achievement in medical research is common knowledge, but less commonly known is the high achievement of our pharmaceutical manufacturing sector.

“Big Pharma” generally cops bad news, usually over the costs or availability of drugs and its marketing methods. The good news is that with annual exports worth around $4 billion per year it is our largest manufacturing exporter, beating our car and wine makers. By spending around $1 billion each year on R&D it is also our largest single investor in research.

Deselecting “Evolition”

By Simon Says

A report that whooping cough had evaded the current vaccine by mutating epitomises misconceptions about evolution.

It was a straight little story on ABC-TV about a new strain of whooping cough that is resistant to the current vaccine. “The bacteria has mutated to evade it,” the reporter said, committing a subtle error that has become common usage in popular treatments of evolutionary development, from David Attenborough down.

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

Solar Blockout

By Simon Grose

Governments have won big headlines for big money allocated to big solar projects – but kept the money.

Knowing that the government has allocated $1.5 billion for a Solar Flagships program to support “construction and demonstration of large-scale, grid-connected solar power stations” might make you feel we are getting serious about harnessing Australia’s solar resource. But when you know that the program was announced in 2009 and has yet to make a grant, you wonder what’s been going on.

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