Chief Scientist Chubb turns up the heat on climate critics

But for everybody else its budget jitters as usual

Last of the true believers

Universities Australia “has ignored clear evidence of policy failure in the opening up of Commonwealth funding to all higher education providers,” according to the National Tertiary Education Union. The allegation follows the peak body’s Tuesday statement that it did not oppose more competition, with suitable safeguards. But according to union president Jeannie Rea the deregulation of training in Victoria demonstrates increased competition will be an “unmitigated policy disaster” for higher education. The union is also ready for the increase in fees it assumes is coming, with an on-message video clip claiming degrees will cost $100,000.  Which looks like a well-argued waste of time given the Australian Financial Review reports a speech by Education Minister Christopher Pyne which makes the case for deregulating fees.

Chubb fires up

Chief Scientist Ian Chubb never puts a foot wrong in public, which means he sometimes tiptoes around controversial issues in speeches. So you know he is seriously browned-off when he speaks out strongly. Like he did the other day when he used a speech to an emissions reduction conference in Melbourne to attack opponents of climate change science.

“Climate science experts have been labeled and disparaged. They have been represented as part of one giant conspiracy for ideological (ie destruction of the free enterprise system) or personal financial reasons. There are accusations of fraud, that climate change is a ‘delusion’ or that the science is a ‘religion’. There are calls for some scientists to be jailed; accusations of venality – where scientists say and do whatever it takes to get another research grant or another airfare to a conference where the group thinkers huddle, or that they are Nazis. And this is all because there is no body of scientific knowledge that can refute what we now understand to be happening to our planet. And because some of the scientists express exasperation even irritation of the science and misuse or worse of scientific evidence. And because they are telling what some people just don’t want to hear.”

Strong stuff, which many, many researchers will welcome. But what so upset the Chief Scientist? Apparently somebody told him about a TV talk show where journalists disparaged climate change scientists. Gosh, could it be that scientists have a lower standard than journalists in citing hearsay?

Bridge of snorts

In Adelaide, ABC Radio, once it got the chanting students out of the studio (alright, I made that bit up) announced it is “thrilled to see the padlocks of love are gaining momentum on the uni footbridge.” At which CMM”s snorting derisorily correspondent, well snorted and said, “oh please, this practice of couples engraving their initials on a padlock and fixing it to a bridge” is as wet as it is recent. It was created by writer Federico Moccia in 2004 for his novel, I want you, later, made into a film. Since then scenic bridges around the world are disfigured with rusting padlocks. The University of Adelaide should be stopping this to save couples from waisting a good padlock and the need for bolt-cutters when they break up,” the correspondent harrumphed. He get’s like that.

Celestial company

UTS is advertising for an academic head for its new Australia-China Relations Institute. The successful applicant will have the honour of working with His Erudition Professor Bob “three chairs” Carr. How much applicants are expected to pay for this exquisite privilege is not disclosed.

Even at Adelaide peace nearly prevails

The rush to settle wage claims lest the budget make things harder is not only occurring at Macquarie (CMM yesterday). It seems there is a possibility of peace even at the University of Adelaide. This is surprising, because for months bargaining between union and management were snarled in arguments over workload and conditions. But all of a sudden both sides are apparently anxious to get a deal done, with talk of a pay offer from management this week. I asked NTEU organiser Katherine Gale how things were going yesterday but her only comment was that she did not talk to journalists. However Adelaide insiders say that an in-principle agreement is close to assured. This will leave very few agreements to be done – with the universities of the Sunshine Coast and Southern Queensland plus Southern Cross still to settle.

Comparisons are odious

They certainly are for anybody who suggests how dire public funding and student debt is here, at least compared to the US. An impressively erudite reader pointed me at new numbers from the US National Association of College and University Business Officers on public funding and student fees. And sad reading they are too. In the five years from 2008 state and local government higher education funding dropped 8 per cent while enrolments were up nearly 10 per cent (admittedly there was a 2 per cent decline last year). Inflation adjusted funding per FTE across the period dropped from US$7900 to US$6100. And students are picking up more of the cost. After financial aid tuition was 32 per cent of total revenue in 2008 and 47 per cent last year.

Count of three

I am a long-time fan of jazz pianist and composer Paul Grabowsky, now a professorial fellow at Monash University, where he directs the Monash Art Ensemble, which picked up best avant-garde album award at last weeks Australian Jazz Awards. Professor Grabowsky (he used to be Count Paul on a late night talk show) says the Ensemble has three new albums ready to go.

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