So the Government has released a National Science Statement.
That is always something to get excited about, right? Well, perhaps, but not too excited.
The latest Minister (Senator Sinodinos) in launching the Statement last month at Science Meets Parliament, gave all the usual phrases about the importance of science and innovation to our economy and national wellbeing, and the importance of evidence-based decision making. That was all welcome even if nothing you wouldn’t expect a Science Statement to have. But he also talked about the importance of engaging all Australians with science.
He said, “In a nutshell, the Statement sets out our long-term vision for Australia: a society that is fully engaged with science, and fully enriched by science.”
That was promising. And looking to the Statement itself, there is a section that provides more detail on this. The report states:
“The benefits of science can be fully realised only when society is fully engaged with science and science actively engages with society.”
Two-way engagement! Gotta be happy with that.
The report goes on to say:
“This means that we need to ensure that:
- science and mathematics education are interesting, relatable and valued by parents and teachers, supporting high levels of participation and appreciation at all levels of education
- scientific knowledge and skills are valued by employers and in the workforce
- the general public are engaged by and appreciate science, building support for investment in science
- all Australians have the opportunity to engage with scientists and contribute to scientific processes and discourses
- decision and policy makers use science, draw on expert scientific advice and see science as a contributor to problem solving and evidence‑based policy.”
Still sounding pretty good.
- STEM in schools – tick!
- Valuing science skills – tick!
- The general public engaged more in science – albeit to build support for investment in science – half a tick!
- Everyone should get to engage with a scientist – sounds overly ambitious – half a tick!
- More evidence-based policy being used in Australia – with no reference to our current spate of politically-driven policy formation, even more ambitious – half a tick!
The next thing we’d like to know is how the Government plans to actually do these things. And – that’s when the Statement starts to run out of steam. The Statement largely repackages a lot of existing funding initiatives to look like they are doing something new.
The Statement does give Inspiring Australia a good mention though, deservedly, and then goes on to acknowledge the fine work being done in Science Communications by other agencies.
“Science engagement is delivered not only by the Australian Government, but also by state and territory governments, many local authorities, the scientific knowledge and outreach sectors, and many parts of the private sector and the community.”
That is YOU! ASC members across Australia! Acknowledged for the integral role you do in this space.
The Statement then gets very interesting in saying, “The government will work with these other key participants in science engagement programme delivery to support activities that communicate science, encourage wide community participation in science and inspire excellence in the sciences.”
So I am very keen to apply that afore-mentioned evidence-based test to that statement and see if the Federal Budget in May actually has any new initiatives or funding for science communication cooperative activities, as is implied.
But it may be that the paragraph above actually means – “science communication cooperation will be business as usual.”
We know that in the era of spin you often have to wait a week or more to read the views of independent expert commentators to understand what any given Government Statement actually means – but I would get very excited if beyond the nice rhetoric there was evidence of a stronger commitment to supporting the activities of Science Communicators to match the vision in the Science Statement.
Dr Craig Cormick
Australian Science Communicators