There’s more in the Mail

In Features this week Helen MacGillivray (QUT)  writes on three problems in STEM, new in CMM’s series on what teaching needs now.

Wagnerian work-experience

Brisbane will host a production of the Ring Cycle next year. No not the one with hobbits, Richard Wagner’s four-operas over 15 hours. And Griffith U’s Queensland Conservatorium of Music will be in on the act, giving students a chance to work across the performance in-stage and off.  It’s not every, in fact hardly any, graduates who have Wagner on a CV.

What’s next for James Cook U and Peter Ridd

The university is not talking until the court sets a penalty

James Cook U has kept its prow down since Judge Vasta found it wrongly sacked scientist Peter Ridd (CMM April 19). The university dismissed him for what it said was breaching its code of conduct in commenting on research at JCU. However, the judge found Dr Ridd’s comments were covered by clause 14 of the university’s enterprise agreement, which deals with academic freedom.

There is no word on whether the university will appeal. But as to Dr Ridd returning to work (the university insists he is not a professor of the university because it does not presently employ him), this appears to depend on a court hearing on penalty, said to be on in July.

Selling science in trust deficit days

There’s more wrong than fake news says Peter Yates

 “Overhyping” research stories is sufficiently common for Australian and UK science media centres to consider tagging university and institutional media releases loaded on their sites. Stories would be labelled to identify research that is peer reviewed and distinguish lab based from human-tested findings.

The warning came from Peter Yates, chair of both the Australian Science Media Centre and the Royal Institution of Australia, in a speech to the Cooperative Research Centres Association conference in Adelaide yesterday.

In a broad ranging speech Mr Yates set out the challenge in communicating science fact, and separating it from fallacies and fiction.

 Mr Yates said science reporting suffers in “the resource-poor but media-rich” environment, “that gave birth to the ‘fake news’ movement.”

Newsworthy events are discovered first on Twitter, and break as a story before an accredited journalist has shown up. Even worse, today, anybody who manages to generate a large audience can use Facebook advertising to support their running costs.”

In contrast, science communication aggregators can rely on sponsorship, which, “may not be sustainable.”

Science also suffers from community distrust of institutions and from peoples’ beliefs and their own sense of self-interest trumping evidence. “Unlike an area of science, like space discovery, the implications of climate change or water resources, for example, could mean job cuts, heightened regulatory conditions, higher taxes etc.”

While scientists stick to the facts and leave it to the community to work out the values, “the problem is that the ‘losers’ will fight the science and easily conflate with those whose belief systems are unaligned. Together they have an enormous incentive to double back on the science and undermine its credibility.”

So, what is to be done? Mr Yates proposes ideas to address the trust deficit and indifference to evidence.

“While institutions aren’t trusted scientists are,” especially in the regions. “Should we consider creating a distributed trust model such as Airbnb or Uber – where trust is created by a two-way engagement between producers and users rather than institutions.”

As for changing minds, science has to acknowledge people’s “incentives and beliefs” and work out how to influence them. “This means talking through issues and outcomes with industry, government and the public early on, and involving experts from various disciplines such as the arts, humanities and social science.”

Taking the T out of DET

The Department of Education is smaller now

The Department of Education and Training is no more – but hold the huzzahs, the bureaucracy that bought you the VET FEE HELP catastrophe is not being shut-down. With training moving minister it is slimming down in title and function, to the Department of Education. Vocational education, training and apprenticeships are now consolidated in the Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business portfolio.

Waiting for the train at Monash Clayton

In last year’s Victorian budget there was $3m towards planning a new tram line to run past Monash U’s Clayton campus (CMM April 11 2018). But alas, learned readers advise there is no mention of the project in this year’s budget. Not to worry, building the super-duper suburban rail loop, which is planned to run right round greater Melbourne is still on the planning books, and that is supposed to have a stop at Monash (CMM August 29 2018).

Uni futures: change but no big dollars

Among the palaver of pleading passing as policy Stephen Parker and Andrew Dempster’s (KMPG) shine a bright-light of realism on the next three years

Parker is remembered as the only VC who publicly stood against the Pyne deregulation package and Dempster is a veteran of Swinburne U and an adviser to Labor education minister “Silent” Chris Evans. These are policy veterans who know of what they speak.

They predict;

* No big bang change to the post school universe

* instead, “a series of small policy changes, each of which is difficult to take issue with, but which overall add up to significant change in the tertiary landscape”

* “the dream of an imminent return to uncapped funding for public universities has receded

* universities say linking growth funding to student outcomes can’t be done but Minister Tehan might do it anyway. “If Dan Tehan is able to settle on a formula that genuinely differentiates between those institutions delivering strong student outcomes and those who are lagging their peers, this has the potential to drive big changes.”

* the “basic architecture” for the newly created National Skills Commission, “could be in 12 months. What it could accomplish is another issue, in a sector, “that gives competitive federalism a bad name

And watch they warn, for government responses to the Noonan (AQF) and Coaldrake (provider categories) reviews. Given the government will not spend on the sector the two reviews offer, “the potential to create a narrative around modernisation and reform of a tertiary sector that needs to keep pace with the changing needs of students and industry.”

Appointments, achievements

John Weckert from Charles Sturt U has received the International Association for Computing and Philosophy’s Covey Award for, “innovative research in the field of computing and philosophy broadly conceived.”

Alexia Moncrieff (now University of Leeds) receives the Australian War Memorial’s Brian Gandevia award for military-medical history. Dr Moncrieff wins for her University of Adelaide PhD thesis on the Australian Army Medical Corps in WWI.

Vice Admiral Paul Maddison is appointed inaugural director of the UNSW Defence Research Institute. Mr Maddison is a former commander of the Royal Canadian Navy and was Canada’s high commissioner to Australia, 2015-19.

Laura Parry will move to the University of Adelaide to be head of the school of biological sciences. Professor Parry is now an associate dean in the University of Melbourne’s science faculty.