Another excuse lost

Professor Osvaldo Almeida from the University of Western Australia reports research showing consistent and heavy alcohol consumption does not directly cause cognitive impairment among old blokes. The finding follows his conclusion last September that alcohol consumption neither causes nor prevents depression in geezers. So don’t blame the booze if you are stupid and miserable. Enough to drive a man to drink.

Long awaited winners

Well the wait was worth it for some. Some three months after first expected Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane announced the outcome of the 16th round of cooperative research centre applications. There are four new centres, three continuing ones and two, which should survive if they become one. The winners are rail manufacturing, a 23 organisation partnership to provide “new insights into the brain’s processing of sound” which will hopefully lead to better hearing aids and implants, an organisation to map and monitor space junk and a CRC to analyse big data as a part of the national defence.  Continuing CRCs in this round are working on capital markets, cancer therapeutics and innovation in the sheep industry. For any sense of a pattern look to the losers. Health took a hammering with bids for perinatal rese, healthy ageing, diabetes and obesity plus a centre to focus on exercise all failing. An application for yet another science communication centre was also knocked back (how much research does blogging require?). Mr Macfarlane suggested the Advanced Manufacturing and Manufacturing Industry CRCs “are well positioned to assist the Australian manufacturing industry to adapt to new, high tech manufacturing processes” if they jointly submit a revised bid.
In addition to Friday’s winners, CRCs working on bush fires and other natural disasters, Antarctica and Indigenous Australian and Torres Strait Islander health (the Lowitja Institute) were all funded outside the Round 16 competitive process. This might be unfair to the losers but it is understandable – imagine the fate of any minister explaining why rail manufacturing research is more important than any of these three designated “public good” centres.
According to CRC Association chief executive Tony Peacock this is a good outcome for the program. When Round 16 started then minister Chris Evans said there was $240m in the pot including $50m designated for manufacturing. Since then the public good CRCs received around $100m. “So to get $168 today with some held back for the combined manufacturing bids is an bloody brilliant outcome really,” Professor Peacock said. He urged unsuccessful bidders to start work on new attempts and “to stay off Twitter” – advice which I think they should not take.

Time to really make a case

Despite a desperate attempt to reach a deal at the end of the year, before new VC Barney Glover arrived, enterprise bargaining negotiations at the University of Western Sydney drag on, and on.  According to the union bargaining team there was a concerted effort to reach an agreement last week, which failed. Jan Falloon and David Burchill say management’s proposal still involves “a decrease in real pay and a significant rise in workloads.” They add that members have voted for “measured and targeted industrial action” this semester and that “UWS needs to hear and see our members’ frustration and concern.” If Dr Burchill can’t express them no one can, for years he graced The Australian with closely argued opeds.

Just the thing for a Monday morning

The Australian Research Council released funding rules for Linkage Grants on Friday and will accept applications until April 16. It may sound like plenty of time but anybody who ever filled in the forms knows it is not.

Do quote him

When Education Minister Chris Pyne talked at the University of Western Sydney the other day  about R G Menzies’s commitment to expanding Australian higher education he wasn’t telling the UWS community anything new. Recently departed VC Jan Reid made the same point in her 2012  Menzies Oration at the University of Melbourne. But unlike Professor Reid, Mr Pyne was making a partisan point – and that is he intends to claim the education vote for the Liberals arguing that education is the foundation of social mobility. “The University of Western Sydney is giving thousands and tens of thousands in the future, the opportunity to get a higher education they wouldn’t otherwise get.” Which I am sure the UWS government relations people wrote down. While nothing is certain as Finance combs department spending that strikes me as about as strong an indication as any university can hope for that it is not in for anything especially horrible in the budget.
They probably wrote another bit down as well. “The demand driven system of itself has encouraged low‑SES and Indigenous students to go to university because they could access higher education with Commonwealth Government support in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise been able to access it. So, I’m a great enthusiast for that as well,” the minister said. Mr Pyne is politically fearless and capable of cogently arguing contradictory ideas in succeeding sentences but this certainly suggests expanding universities have nothing to fear from the implementation of his review of demand driven funding.

NMRC puts publishers on notice

The National Health and Medical Council has adopted the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, which commits signatories to stop using journal impact factors as a “surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles.” A bunch of recommendations follow on what will make research measurement more accurate but certainly harder, including for publishers who are urged to either stop using journal impact in marketing or to present it with a range of other measures. DORA also demands publishers “remove all reuse limitations” on reference lists in research articles and make them available under creative commons rules. As far as I know the ARC is yet to endorse DORA but it seems to me it should. However, hoping the publishers will actually acknowledge a reform not in their interests is probably too much to expect.

The power of patronage

ANU was very pleased with itself indeed on Friday – announcing it had “exceeded its enrolment targets.” It also welcomed Graham and Louise Tuckwell back to meet the first winner winners of the scholarships their $50m donation funds. The two events go to the tension in the way elite universities fund themselves. ANU’s sales to first year domestic students (sorry enrolments) are up 6 per cent, and my guess is that all the growth comes via HECS. But the university is also very keen on bequests that enhance their elite reputation– which is what the Tuckwells provide, paying the best and the brightest who apply to ANU a living allowance. Fair enough – there is no faulting Mr and Ms Tuckwell for their philanthropy and good luck to the scholarship recipients but I can’t help but wonder whether we are starting down an American road. Hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin has just donated US$150m, to Harvard’s undergraduate college for a scholarship program. This is all great for the gifted but they are not the only people who deserve an excellent education.