Campus Morning Mail Monday: hard times ahead, good news ignored

Read me that one about the slow cat
James Cook University researchers are seeing if children struggling with reading do better if they can read aloud to “patient non-judgemental dogs”. Tough on the kid who gets the dogmatic pooch which is a big reader.

Positive prophecies
It looks like a few ho-hum days ahead for education in the election but CMM hears there are announcements to come early next week.  Sibyls say the conservatives will make a substantial announcement about their new Columbo Plan for education ties with Asia. And the government is expected to respond (finally) to the Chaney Report on international education. Augurs advise that the exporters will get (almost) everything they asked for.

Hard times ahead
Universities are starting to contemplate what a change of government will mean and responses range from no clue to hard times to come. The first is due to the conservatives giving not much away about what they will do in office or who will get what jobs. There is a general view that higher education could do much worse than to have Brett Mason as minister but nobody CMM spoke to was all that fussed if Sophie Mirabella is not in an innovation-science-research role. The pessimists say the lack of detail is because there will not be much doing. The coalition will keep the Craig Emerson cuts but people suggest there could be more to come if the new government finds a black hole in the budget.  While Mr Abbott has made it clear that medical research will prosper on his watch, everybody else “should plan to be pessimistic” as one observer put it.

Friends in high places
One university leader who will be well placed if the coalition gets up is UWS chancellor Peter Shergold. Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey has appointed him to a three member eminent person panel to assess the Coalition’s saving and spending promises.

Lab of the star chamber
Now why did Warwick Anderson  decide “it’s timely to consider how allegations of (research) misconduct are managed in Australia”? CMM is guessing the chair of the National Health and Medical Research Council was responding on Friday to David Vaux calling the Australian Research Integrity Committee a “toothless tiger”. Again.
Professor Vaux, a research leader at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute did not think much of ARIC when it was established and obviously has not changed his mind. In 2010 said ARIC’s design ensured a reviewing panel could look at process but not the merits of a case. And last week the professor told reporter Andrew Trounson that ARIC “could only deal with process failure, not the substance of claims.”
Perhaps he has a point. According to its brief, ARIC “considers whether the institution’s response to the allegation of research misconduct was consistent with the framework outlined in the code and with the institution’s policies and procedures for investigating allegations of research misconduct.” But not to worry, all is ok-ish, “To date, relatively few cases have been referred to the appeals committee,” Professor Anderson says.
Good-oh, but CMM has a sense that ARIC is not intended to be a tiger with especially ferocious fangs. Thus Professor Anderson explains the best way to protect and enhance research standards. “The most important matter emphasised in the code is for research institutes and universities to practice preventative approaches, to ‘instil a culture of: honesty and integrity, respect for human research participants, animals and the environment, good stewardship of public resources used to conduct research, appropriate acknowledgement of the role of others in research, responsible communication of research results’. ”
This reminds CMM of the approach once taken by hospital regulators who saw their job as to help doctors and nurses learn from mistakes and be better people rather than punish anybody. Funnily enough this sometimes ended up with nobody ever being held to account for all sorts of errors in patient care.
Critics say an independent ombudsman who would hear allegations against researchers is what we need. Perhaps, but given the way research disputes are often as bitterly personal as they are complicated this citizen would need endless time and even more money. Anti-corruption commission powers would help as well. CMM does not see this happening, or many DVCs-R ever welcoming an independent agency overseeing their own research integrity processes.

Our long bow correspondent writes
“University of Melbourne union leader Ted Clark produced a fine draw on Friday when he suggested staff deserved a better pay rise than management offers because Melbourne did well in the latest ARWU research league table. ‘It’s an insult to be offered a pay cut in real terms when clearly the staff collectively are performing at such a high level,’  Mr Clark said. This is an outstanding drawing of very long bow indeed considering the ARWU assess research performance, which does not involve most staff.”

Sting in the tail
“Researchers ‘fine tune’ scorpion venom use in cancer surgery” The ABC’s Renee Cluff reports about James Cook University research. Very finely indeed I hope.

Didn’t hear a thing
The prime minister announced research funding for a new partnership between Macquarie and Flinders universities, plus Cochlear and a bunch of public and private sector organisations last week. But as far as CMM knows nobody much in the media, other than AAP, noticed.  Which seems strange, particularly as it is part of the Australian Innovation Partnership Program. No, drew a blank with me as well but apparently the Independent National Precincts Board has a shortlist for ten of the twelve centres, which are part of the “Plan for Australian Jobs” package.
Sure this sounds like pump priming but it is sufficiently serious for Glyn “Number One” Davis to be on the board, as well as Chief Scientist Ian Chubb, plus ANU Enterprise’s Sarah Pearson and CSIRO chair Megan Clark.
Mr Rudd did not say much about the program in general, what the feds will kick in for this project or indeed, what the Medical Technologies Innovation Partnership will do (although with Cochlear committed you can guess). Whatever it is, it will be done in Tonsley Park, SA, on the site of the old Mitsubishi plant – which is another thing you would think everybody would be red-hot to promote. New knowledge based industries replacing old manufacturing, and all that sort of thing. So why the silence? CMM suspects it was due to not especially energetic staff work by the Labor campaign. Anybody with a plan that relies on government money to fund a new research institution better hope so, because if there is not much bang for a buck in funding announcements the fewer there will be.

Lines from Lincoln
CMM’s regular reader (morning mum) knows I am an admirer of Abraham Lincoln, (and not just for the way he slew all those zombies) so forgive a word of praise for Monash University historian Tim Verhoeven, who has discovered a Lincoln manuscript in a Geneva library. Given Lincoln’s workload a new presidential document is not that big a deal and this one adds nothing new to the record. But it does demonstrate the president’s generosity. He took the time in the last days of the Civil War to write a few lines of introduction for a woman he barely new but wished well – as he did just about everybody. Including the people he was fighting.

Model subject
The University of Western Sydney reports International Studies/Law student Jade Collins has made the final 12 on “hit TV show” Australia’s Top Model. Is this a suitable subject for study in the Body in Culture unit of the Bachelor of Arts (Cultural and Social Analysis)? Apparently the unit “introduces students to ways of thinking about the body in late modernity.”

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