ANU’s Ian Young defends fossil fuel share sale

Plus CRCs  need fast friends

Good news and bad news

“Science has grown from the occupation of a few dilettanti into a vibrant global industry with more than 15,000,000 people authoring more than 25,000,000 scientific papers in 1996–2011 alone. However, true and readily applicable major discoveries are far fewer … currently, an estimated 85% of research resources are wasted,” John P A Ioannidis, PlosMedicine, Tuesday

All quiet at Estimates, until ANU

After the frank exchanges of the Senate committee hearings on  university deregulation Estimates yesterday was sedate. Senator Kim Carr was interested in what the Australian Research Council was doing re the government’s competition agenda (staff have gone to meetings) and the CRC review (chair Aidan Byrne has met with review head David Miles). Professor Byrne also cited government warnings the Future Fellowships programme would go if the government’s deregulation package does not pass. Otherwise most of the day was focused on the nuts and bolts of government.

Except for the Australian National University. Senator David Leyonhjelm (Liberal Democrat, NSW) had called for ANU VC Ian Young to attend, to answer questions on the university’s decision to sell mining and energy shares. (The ANU was created by Commonwealth legislation.) The senator asked about the circumstances of the decision, why Professor Young had not informed the minister of such a “significant” matter, as legislation required, and who had influenced the university.

Professor Young answered courteously and carefully asserting the university’s independence, pointing out ANU still held fossil fuel shares and suggesting the sale was not significant. “I thought this was uneventful, I was clearly wrong,” he said, referring ten front-page stories in the Australian Financial Review and 2000 emails, 90 per cent supporting the university. It was the decision of a long-term investor not a statement about climate change, he added. If there was daylight between bad and pad I could not see it.

But which one is more fun?

Ian Macfarlane has spent more time as a farmer than a politician!” – Research Australia, yesterday. I’m guessing it was a compliment.

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REC volunteers

People complaining research assessment is a waste of time is a sure sign the next ERA is on its way, but the Australian Research Council does not fear a shortage of peer reviewers. While the request for expressions of interest from individuals has just gone out, university responses to a call for nominations to Research Evaluation Committees is up 15 per cent.

Write fast CRC friends

The feds have just announced information sessions for the Miles Review of CRCs in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane – next week! Not that people working in CRCs have anything else to do. And I am sure there is nothing ominous in the Industry Department requiring quick delivery of submissions to the review – although the due date might give the superstitious shakes – November 11

And include lots of evidence

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane’s introduction to the review discussion paper isn’t cheerful reading for CRC supporters. “Does the programme represent the best approach to supporting collaboration between business and researchers, and generating economic benefits from excellent Australian research?” he asks. “Best approach” is not exactly precise or easily answered by supporters of a long-term program which inevitably has had its share of hits and duds. There are also what some might consider leading questions in the discussion paper; “does the CRC programme encourage industry and the research sector to work together in new ways or engage new players?, does the programme encourage universities to make a cultural change from focusing on publishing to focusing on collaboration and commercialisation? is the education and outreach element of CRCs addressing the workforce needs of industry and the research sector?” Perhaps not, given what Mr Macfarlane told the Sydney Institute last month,

“Australia performs strongly on research excellence but is last in the OECD when it comes to the rate of collaboration between businesses and universities or research institutes. The simple truth is that when faced with a problem to solve, virtually none of our Australian businesses think to go to a scientist or a researcher to address it. Just three per cent of Australian businesses involved in innovation turn to universities or higher education sources for ideas. … Whatever the cause, the consequences are clear – Australia is facing the prospect of declining international competitiveness in industries where we are being outpaced and outmanoeuvred by other countries.”

The Commission of Audit suggested closing the CRC program with funding rolled into the Australian Research Council’s Linkage grants. The risk for the CRCs is that the review becomes a reason to do just this.

Analysing less

The Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU has a new grant of $746 000 over three years to analyse Australian foreign aid, or what is left of it, given cuts to the rate of growth for coming years.

Expensive open access

Canadian researchers led by Heather Morrrison have surveyed around 1500 open access journals to see how article processing charges recoup lost subscription income. They found some 60 per cent of journals in the sample were produced by commercial publishers, using either per page or per article charges, with a mean article charge of C$964. Overall, the range of charges was from $0 for completely open access journals to over $4000. “This study found the article processing approach to funding open access to be a business sector very much in a volatile state likely reflecting its relatively early development,” the researchers suggest. However, article-processing charges might mean nothing much changes.

“There is no a priori reason to assume that a scholarly publishing system based on OA APCs would be immune to the same factors causing dysfunction in the current scholarly publishing system, such as concentration and monopolistic factors leading to commercial publishers able to enjoy high profits and still raise prices at rates above inflation year after year. It is entirely possible that the current ‘must have’ subscription journals that are immune to market forces will be replaced by ‘must publish in’ open access journals enjoying a similar immunity.” The question will be who publishes them. Plus ca change.

Science-stars

Supervisor pay hike

The Independent Education Union is very pleased that it has reached an agreement with all 14 NSW universities for “enhanced” payments to school staff supervising trainee teachers in classrooms. While the IEU is not saying how much, the rate has not changed for years and is now around $20 an hour. The original ask was a 30 per cent increase.

Know something the world needs to know? Anonymity guaranteed but lots of questions asked, stephen4@hotkey.net.au