Heisenberg’s other principle

University of Queensland physicists are challenging the hard-to-understand science of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, that you can’t measure the perfectly accurate speed and location of a quantum particle. And there I was thinking Heisenberg’s Breaking Bad Principle is that there is no uncertainty – blue meth is the worst.

Always available for overwork

The NTEU is outraged at the continuing growth in casual academic employment. It is easy to understand why – for a start casuals are paid not much for carrying big teaching burdens and the days when a bit of teaching was pocket money patronage for PhD students are long gone. Now casuals constitute the best-educated under-caste in history. The union has always stuck up for casuals and has extracted a few permanent jobs for them at just about every university in the present enterprise bargaining round. That’s the round in which the union also negotiated across the board pay rises for all permanent staff. Gosh I wonder university managers like workers they only pay by the hour.

Journal of Stumbling Studies

Last week the University of Queensland and UWS reported a study of 26 people that found texting while walking could end (who would have thought it) in tripping. It turns out that researchers in the US have come to the same conclusion. With multiple studies what’s the betting some one is about to found a journal.

Start taking the tablets

La Trobe DVC Research Keith Nugent did well yesterday defending the university’s $15 million partnership with Swisse, “Australia’s leading wellness brand.” The money would be used to test the company’s products in La Trobe’s proposed Complementary Medicine Evidence Centre, he said. This will be a “rigorous, independent scientific body” which will publish the results of research, come what may. Crucially, the centre will not proceed unless additional companies to Swisse sign up and La Trobe will manage the relationship “carefully.” Professor Nugent makes the point that Australians use a poultice of complementary medicines and that they are interested in their efficacy – which is what the centre will study. This is rather the point; on Tuesday Dr Ken Harvey resigned as a La Trobe adjunct, arguing that the university must not take industry money and that the NHNMRC and ARC should undertake all necessary research. In a world where the mainstream medicos are always screaming for research funds nobody should hold their breath waiting for this to happen. The challenge now for La Trobe is to keep its nerve and build the case for the new centre’s scholarly independence. And if the centre gets up whoever runs it should start taking rhinoceros hide supplements now. We will know it is doing its job when the businesses that pay for its research don’t like some, or all, of its findings. Unless of course the university, or the industry decides criticism will cripple the centre’s credibility. There certainly were sceptics around yesterday (some, what a surprise, from other universities!) suggesting the whole idea of the industry funding research into its own products is fundamentally flawed. This debate will be worth watching.

La Trobe’s long march

Also at La Trobe I hear that Vice Chancellor John Dewar’s interminable restructure process is closer to commencing, with Council signing off on his two academic college model last week. It now goes to something like eight months of consultation. No one will be able to say they weren’t asked.

Meal tickets not fast food

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, last July some 82 000 graduates had been unemployed up to a year but what is interesting is the breakdown. Some 37 per cent were out of work for up to eight weeks and 31 per cent for up to six  months but the figure falls to 13 per cent for those who took six to 12 months to get a job. The question is what was the problem for the remainder who were out of work for more than a year.  Nor do we know how many in all these groups got jobs that made use of their qualification. Yes, over time a degree delivers, overall graduate unemployment is a third the national rate, but the meal ticket does not always hit the table fast.

Missed it by not much 

I anticipated delivery of the Demand Driven Funding Review the other day thinking it was due to the minister at the beginning of February. In fact delivery is due in “the middle” of the month.