Kim Carr backs basic research

Plus bananas at University of Queensland and Open Day of the day

Hold the front page

CMM’s Obsolete information desk is excited by US research that newspaper copy predicts obesity rates. Writing in BMC Public Health, Brennan Davis and Brian Wansink argue food references in 50 years of stories in the papers predict obesity rates that will apply three years out. Good-o, but with circulations shrinking faster than waistlines are expanding sample size wise surveys are surely now (and CMM apologies for this) lightweight.

UoQ

Carr’s basic approach

Just for a change, not, Labor higher education spokesman Kim Carr got stuck into the government yesterday in a speech to an Innovative Research Universities conference. But what was different was Senator Carr’s substantial subject – research policy. This is an issue the senator knows more than a bit about and it showed as he attacked the government’s emphasis on applied research.

“A research policy that neglects basic research will also fail to achieve its objectives with regard to applied research. You will all know instances of discoveries arising from pure research that not only expanded technological possibilities but transformed our daily lives. … Without research into black holes, we wouldn’t have WiFi. This isn’t a matter of one accidental spin-off. It is how human knowledge has always progressed. To ignore or downgrade basic research is to curtail our chances of doing applied research really well,” he said.

The senator also questioned the push for an impact measure at the expense of the Australian Research Council’s Excellence for Research in Australia citation approach. “I remain convinced that its citation-based approach is the fairest and most effective means of assessing research excellence in an international context. I also know that university engagement with industry and the broader community has an impact well beyond citation, and that this is more difficult to quantify. The challenge is to find a way of supplementing ERA, so that we also acknowledge and reward engagement. But nothing will be gained by tearing down one measure to create the other.”

This is smart stuff – while no one has hoisted the banner of pure research in defiance of the government’s plan, there is deep disquiet in lab-land about linking the vast bulk of public funding to industry R&D and in speaking out Senator Carr extends his authority as alternative minister. It also demonstrates that he is not as interventionist as his support for objective setting compacts between campuses and Canberra makes him sound.

CEF June 15 3

Ring a bell

Is a player of tuned bells a carillonneur, as per the University of Chicago, or a carillonist, the name used at the University of Sydney, (CMM yesterday)? Neither, one learned reader advised, the musician is a campanologist. Not so another advised, campanology is the study and ringing of bells, not playing them via a keyboard. Whatever, they toll for all.

Going nowhere

Channel Seven Adelaide had reporters flat out yesterday chasing its story that the state government would like to merge Uni Adelaide and Uni SA plus Flinders with TAFE. And what they got were flat denials from UofA, “a merger is not back on the agenda. The premier and officials of the three South Australian universities recently met and resolved to explore better coordination of their research commercialisation and other ways of contributing to economic recovery.” As well as from Flinders, “While Flinders is always open to a conversation about the best options for the future of higher education and students in South Australia, we are strong and growing in our own right. The issue of amalgamation has been raised from time to time but for many reasons has not progressed. There is room in South Australia for three strong, distinctly different universities and TAFE. Flinders is confident about its position as South Australia‘s fastest growing university and remains focused on that competitive strategic agenda”.

This is what occurs whenever the perennial pops up, which is regularly (the story was last around in August ’14). CMM suspects another of Premier Jay Weatherill’s ideas, self-drive cars, will be the norm on North Terrace before mergers occur.

Nostradamus Kim

(apologies to Bob Ellis)

Kim Carr is channelling Nostradamus when declaring that unis will forever argue with gov about how much funding is adequate,” Flinders VC Colin Sterling on Senator Carr’s IRU address yesterday.

Never say no to a narna

The St Lucia bananas (as in “building anything not acceptable, no, absolutely stop!”) community group has had a win, with neighbouring University of Queensland promising to review a campus master plan “in response to initial feedback from stakeholders and the local community.” In this case “feedback” is a synonym for outright opposition. The university wants to plan for more students with increased facilities and parking. Some of the development is on university owned land outside existing campus boundaries. St Lucia and neighbouring Indooroopilly community groups have kicked up and Brisbane City Council is not pleased either. Complaints focus on more workers, new and big buildings and as is required by the UN Convention on Objections to Development (which CMM just made up) too much traffic.

UQ should not be allowed to operate uniquely, outside Queensland planning and environment legislation. That privilege, granted to UQ over 100 years ago, is untenable in the 21st century. The … campus development will impact many hundreds of residents in a densely populated part of a major urban city. The effect of UQ’s decisions has the potential to be devastating,” the Indooroopilly Community Association argues.

Demonstrating how seriously the university is taking the protest Vice Chancellor Peter Hoj is leading the review.

ANU June 1

Not so medicinally mellow

According to Israeli research, cannabidiol, which occurs in marijuana, can help heal broken bones. Sorry, that’s all it does.

Open Days of the day

The University of Western Australia is advertising its open day with the slogan, “Start your pursuit.” Of what? People familiar with the university’s new “pursue the impossible” brand campaign will know, but even they may not turn up at Open Day (August 9 ) what with it being, well, impossible.

Even in the mighty Monash empire everything open day is not impressive. At the Berwick campus they have dropped an open day in favour of a “festival”. A very short festival, from 4pm to 9pm, next Tuesday. The festivities will include information on returning to study, exam prep and resume writing but there in no mention in the blurb of advice about Monash courses. Even more alarming for Berwick staff is the reason for the low-key event, to end competition with Monash Peninsula (at bayside Frankston) which used to occur when both campuses were open on the same day. At least Berwickians know where management’s priorities are.

From Roboroos to Real Madrid

Australia has trounced the Germans in world cup soccer, for robots. The UNSW team beat the German B-Human squad three to one. The other big soccer news is that Adelaide private provider Torrens University has established a sports MBA. Partners are the Real Madrid Graduate School and visiting RM Football Club.

Yes but, no but

In South Australia training minister Gail “yes but, no but” Gago is simultaneously protecting and attacking TAFE. Yes, courses in the public VET system can be 250 per cent more expensive than private providers she says. But no this is not a reason to increase competition, with the government guaranteeing 90 per cent of new publicly funded training places for TAFE. Yes TAFE needs to improve performance but no they do not need staff to do it, with a new 500 job cut announced.

Even odder, Ms Gago is doing this while collecting federal funds designed to encourage cost-lowering, student-option increasing competition from private providers.  But while the feds are not happy it seems there isn’t much they can do. Canberra cannot act against the South Australian Government for breaching agreements on spending federal training funds until the accounting period involved ends, and that isn’t until next April. In the meantime national Training Minister Simon Birmingham is said to be looking for ways to assist training organisations, and students yes-butted by Ms Gago.

mindhive 2

Why pirates pay up

Reed Elsevier is in a US court trying to shut down sites that pirate research articles it publishes. This strikes CMM as likely to have as much practical impact as all the music industry activity to stop people copying songs without paying – the big labels saw sales shrink from US$25bn in 2002 to $15bn last year. A new survey from the Commonwealth Department of Communication explains why. Some 43 per cent of Australians infringe copyright to acquire movies, music and games (funnily enough the feds did not ask about downloading scholarly articles) and a majority do it because they can. But over a third would stop infringing owners’ rights if content was available earlier, easier and at a lower cost – the very problems the open access movement has with journal publishers.

There is one big difference between copying movies and music without paying and downloading journal articles. Unlike musicians and filmmakers, academics are not paid for the content they provide publishers.

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