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Simon Says

Simon Says column

Science Student Enrolments: The Glass Is Half-Full

By Simon Grose

Fewer science students at school is better than more. It’s what they do next that matters.

The glum spin was predictable late last year when the Australian Academy of Science released The Status and Quality of Year 11 and 12 Science in Australian Schools. Commissioned by the Chief Scientist, the report found that from 1991 to 2010 the percentage of Year 11 and 12 students enrolled in science subjects had fallen from 94% to 51%.

The lead author of the study, Prof Denis Goodrum, who heads the process to develop a national science curriculum, described the downward trend as “quite staggering” and likely to continue.

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

Infinity Equals Nothing

By Simon Grose

The work of Australia’s new Nobel Laureate challenges the semantics of the absolute.

Not long after the team led by Prof Brian Schmidt and another group published the work that would win them the 2011 Nobel Prize for Physics (see p.36), another journalist and I shared a congenial lunch with Schmidt at Mt Stromlo Observatory. He talked us through the evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, beguiling us by saying: “The universe is infinite and it is expanding”.

Equity for Eureka

By Simon Grose

The science journalism award is overdue for a refresh.

This year’s Eureka Prize for Science Journalism went to two segments from ABCTV’s Catalyst that dealt with the phenomenon of hormonal changes in the male partners of pregnant women. The Director of the Australian Museum, which hosts the Eureka Awards, described the winning entry as “funny and deeply moving”, rare achievements in science journalism – no doubt a worthy winner.

It’s Not a Party, Don

By Simon Grose

A key Labor reformer pads up again in the Department of Innovation.

How did it come to this? Just weeks after being appointed Secretary of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Dr Don Russell scored an extra gig as head of a the government’s response to BlueScope Steel’s production and jobs cutbacks.

Greenpeaceasauras

By Simon Grose

Is this green warrior tribe a vulnerable species?

Three Greenpeace activists earned righteous opprobrium after they whippersnipped a plot of genetically modified wheat seedlings in one of CSIRO’s Canberra research stations.

The President of the Academy of Science, Professor Suzanne Cory, called it an act of mindless vandalism against science. A few weeks after launching a Respect the Science campaign, Science & Technology Australia said the action showed appalling disrespect to the work of scientists.

What Science Chiefly Needs

By Simon Says

Australia’s new Chief Scientist could be as good as the first.

As Ian Chubb settles into his new job as Australia’s Chief Scientist he could set his goals high by harking back to the beginning.

The first Chief Scientist was Ralph Slatyer, who was chosen in 1982 by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser to head a new “government think tank on science and technology” that would become the Australian Science, Technology and Engineering Council (ASTEC).

The Future is a Big Hole – For Now

By Simon Grose

Being a quarry for the world is not enough but it buys us time to develop a high-tech economy.

The resources boom sees many monster projects underway, like the $42 billion Gorgon natural gas project offshore from Perth and three coal seam gas projects in Queensland estimated to cost around $30 billion each. By 2015 the first loaded gas tankers are due to leave both sides of Australia for China, Japan and Korea.

Gorgon involves the world’s first commercial CO2 geosequestration operation, while coal seam gas has never before been processed into LNG for export. Despite such ambitious innovation and their scale, these projects haven’t really excited the public imagination.

Big Polluters R Us

By Simon Grose

The buck stops with “ordinary taxpayers” when it comes to paying for carbon emissions.

Over winter you may find yourself travelling home in a tram reading a newspaper story about the debate over pricing carbon. You may be in a train, reading the story on an iPad or Blackberry. You could be in a car or a bus, listening to the issue being discussed on radio.

When you get home you will probably turn on the heating, cook a meal or go out to a restaurant. You could flick on the box to find the carbon pricing debate still beating away, or use a computer to catch up with the debate online and check out Facebook.

Natural Disasters or Natural Events?

By Simon Grose

Were the weather events of the past summer truly “extreme”?

The meteorological images of Cyclone Yasi as a huge fiery maelstrom bearing down on northern Queensland evoked elemental fear responses. For those who experienced the storm and the previous tumultuous flooding in much of Queensland, and for the rest witnessing via television, fear and trepidation were the universal reactions.

Even scarier for most were the fires that seared through Perth’s suburbs this past summer and Melbourne’s hinterlands two summers ago, both erupting on days of high heat and wind after remorseless droughts.

Aspiring to Inspire

By Simon Grose

Can the government’s Inspire Australia strategy raise public appreciation of science?

Why doesn’t this magazine sell as many copies as Women’s Weekly? Why isn’t Radio National’s Science Show as popular as Alan Jones’ breakfast show?