The known unknowns Birmingham wants to know

Yesterday Education Minister Simon Birmingham spoke at the Australian Research Council jamboree celebrating its Centres of Excellence, at Parliament House. Senator Birmingham quoted Donald Rumseld’s known/unknown unknowns to make a point about the importance of basic research citing the Centre for Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery, “(which) has captured the imaginations of many as it seeks to capitalise on those first historic detections of gravitational waves, to understand the extreme physics of back holes and warped time space.”

But the other examples of research achievement he used were all work that an MP could include in an electorate email. Senator Birmingham mentioned nanoscale biophotonics for brain surgery, understanding how young children develop the cognitive capabilities to be school-ready and research into translational photosynthesis for crop growth and landscape care.

And in case anybody still did not know what the minister knows he wants, he added. “we are committed to continuing to build on the Innovation and Science Agenda, continue to work through the ARC and to invest in centres of excellence, to inspire ongoing collaboration, to help build the public support for the very valuable work you undertake across so many disciplines.”

But there was another known unknown he did not mention – how the research impact and engagement pilots are progressing. Assessing them when they are rolled out in next year’s Excellence for Research in Australia exercise needs to be a known known soon.