A new climate in Canberra

Thanks to Brigid Mullane for this opinion piece for Scope.

Since Tony Abbott announced his new cabinet in September, much has been made of the absence of the word ‘science’ in any minister’s title.

Ian Macfarlane is now Minister for Industry, which includes responsibility for the CSIRO. In the previous government, Kim Carr was Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. So, could the change be mainly a expression of Tony Abbott’s stated preference for short titles, rather than a sidelining of science?

The government has disbanded the Climate Commission, seeing no need for a dedicated body to review local and worldwide climate research, and explain it to the government and the people of Australia. It must have great confidence in its Direct Action policies as a way to deal with climate change.

The new Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, expressed this confidence in an interview with the ABC, where he also affirmed his government’s acceptance of climate science and the existing (5% by 2020) emissions targets for Australia, and its in-principle support for ratifying the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol. He noted that research by the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO was available to the government, so he is not averse to climate research as such.

At the same time, the government is moving to shut down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and the Climate Change Authority, as promised during its campaign. This will require legislation, which the government might find difficult to get through the Senate, whether the existing one, or the new one in July next year. The uncertainty is disruptive, particularly for the CEFC and its clients.

The Senate might also oppose the planned carbon-tax repeal bill, but this could present an opportunity for some negotiation. One part of the Direct Action plan is an Emissions Reduction Fund to buy emissions abatements. This has something in common with emissions trading schemes, in that it seeks to use market mechanisms to reduce lowest-cost emissions first.  Perhaps some compromise bill could be devised, that would be acceptable to the House and the Senate.

Apart from climate science, there was not much talk about science during the campaign. Science in education is the province of the new Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, who has not made any announcements about this. Meanwhile, the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority continues its work on a national curriculum.

And on the subject of education, some people seem to think that political conservatives are generally anti-science, a view expressed by a recent ABC website contributor. In a personal-attack-style piece on the new government he advised, “don’t be at all surprised to see a push for ‘intelligent design’ to be included in school curriculums”.  This kind of hyperbolic speculation might say more about the ABC’s editorial policy, than about government science policy.

A more rational assessment would suggest that there will be disruption, perhaps for months, to activities meant to deal with climate change, as the new government seeks to replace existing programs with its own. In other areas, there is no evidence so far that the role of science in informing government policy will change very much. Of course, there are many other Abbott policies that could mean big changes if enacted, but that topic is outside the scope of Scope.

Nanotechnology regulations and the general public

The Department of Innovation Industry, Science and Resources (DIISR) has produced a brochure about nanotechnology and regulations aimed at the general public. They are looking for ways to make people aware of the brochure and to distribute it.

While the brochure is not a professional development resource about science communication, it is related to the broader area in which we work. The document is an interesting example of a government department communicating the reasons for regulating the technological arena of an emerging science. As such it both communicates science and government activity. Perhaps this is in response to public concerns, preliminary research studies and a realisation that the precautionary principle needs to be applied. The brochure contains a link to a website which is more science communication focused, http://technyou.edu.au/

In any of its possible purposes it is a means of informing the public about an important topic and is worthy of our awareness and our comment.

You can read the brochure (in pdf form) via this link, http://technyou.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Nanotech-Regulations.pdf.

Jesse Shore

National President

Researchers rally over $400m cuts

Yesterday in Melbourne and Sydney, rallies were held to protest against the possible $400m (20%) reduction in the National Health and Medical Research budget. Thousands gathered outside Parliament house in Melbourne, scientists, students and professors stood alongside those who were the recipients of the medical research scientists had conducted.

From a student at the rally:

I am a student at La Trobe University studying double science. The budget cuts in medical research threaten my future job posibilities and those of my friends and colleagues…Australian medical research provides treatments and cures for millions of people around the world and govement funded research often funds research that big pharma companies would not fund as it does not have a high return, such as treatments and cures for third world diseases like malaria.

And from a neuroscience researcher at the rally:

I am an early career researcher whose salary is funded by the NHMRC. I will be conducting brain imaging research to investigate the neurobiological basis of psychosis and schizophrenia.

The changes will have a direct impact on the funding available to conduct medical research. This will have a direct effect on the ability for me to obtain competitive research grants (which are already very competitive with a success rate of about 15-20%) and ultimately to conduct research.

>What was the atmosphere like?
It was a static rally involving some speakers talking about the importance of medical research, a lot of chanting (no cuts to research! etc etc), a lot of cheering and clapping. Many people came down in their white lab coats which was great to see. There were a lot of people holding banners with various slogans (I didn’t have one unfortunately). There were students to Professors there, so it wasn’t just a ‘young’ rally. The atmosphere was alive, you could tell people there felt very passionate about the proposed cuts, not only because of their jobs being at stake but because people are passionate about their area of research and ultimately want to understand and provide better treatments for patients.

A rally is going to be held in Perth. So get out their and communicate about these expected budget changes!

George also blogs as PopSciGuy

Cribb in the Canberra Times today

A terrific op-ed from Julian Cribb in the Canberra Times today which made me think about the IA conference last week. The impact of science on policy is perhaps the biggest issue in science communication in Australia and globally right now. Yet it’s one that is probably hard for IA to catalyse given it’s a government program.


Science has been marginalised by governments for too long and needs a strong national voice.
The evidence is mounting that Australian science is once more lost in the dark ages of political neglect and disfavour.
To the average Australian that might not seem to matter very much, but the more thoughtful may no doubt reflect on the likely cost to the nation of not understanding our own environment, falling behind other advanced countries and not making national decisions on a sound evidential base…
One of the contributing reasons to the long, slow slide into marginality of Australian science is its perpetual inability to speak out clearly, frankly, forcefully and often about the importance of science to the future of Australia and the dangers of ignoring it…
…But when you look at who speaks for Australian science, you find, almost always, they are on the government payroll in one way or another. The academies, the universities, the funding bodies, the science agencies, the Cooperative Research Centres are all beholden to government funding and fearful of its loss should they earn political displeasure by saying the things science often has to say, which are not always pleasing to the political ear. Only the Federation of Scientific and Technological Societies has a relatively independent voice, and it is neither very loud nor forceful…
Julian then talks about a potential solution.

Niall Byrne

Creative Director
Science in Public

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03 9398-1416, 03 9078-5398, 0417 131 977

Twitter scienceinpublic

Inspiring Australia and science prizes

I’m seeking information and comments about science award programs in Australia which recognise science communication in selecting the award winners. I’ll provide some context before I fully phrase my request.

The ASC executive is pleased to note that several of our members have participated in initial actions to implement aspects of the Inspiring Australia report. Two expert working groups have convened, one on Science and the Media and the other for Developing an Evidence Base for Science Engagement in Australia. The latter will soon release its recommendations which I’ll post in a separate article.

This work has commenced over the past few months despite the absence of specific federal funding. As money was promised during the election campaign for some recommendations of Inspiring Australia the pace of activity will gradually ramp up. I expect there soon will be a group to review the science prizes funded by the government (related to recommendation 5 of Inspiring Australia).

An email from Questacon (acting for DIISR) says that, “…Questacon will be identifying how award programs can be further enhanced to engage the wider community in science and to profile Australia’s capability overseas.” Questacon welcomes comments on this.

Here’s my request: to prepare for Questacon’s invitation for comments, and the possible expert panel, I ask that you email me information and comments about science award programs at federal, state and local levels that recognise science communication or use it as a criterion in selecting the award winner.

And further context:

Toss Gascoigne reported to the e-list in August that “The Government has now provided $21 million to implement some recommendations from the report, in an election policy announced on 10 September.

Among other things, it will fund:

* the PM’s Prize for Science

* the Eureka Prizes

* National Science Week

* Science events and activities around Australia

* Promotion of science through the media

The three-page policy is at: http://www.alp.org.au/agenda/more—policies/science-for-australia-s-future/. The money is coming from cuts to other activities, such as the CRC program. There is no new money.”

It is good to see continued federal funding for a selection of the Eureka Prizes, especially as two prizes, the Eureka Prize for Science Journalism and the Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Science, are strongly related to science communication.

Another interesting award program is the Young Tall Poppy Science Awards. To be considered for these prizes early career research scientist applicants need to have been very active in communicating their scientific research to lay audiences. This awards program operates in several states and territories and is seeking to expand nationally.

Rob Morrison has previously posted an article on the ASC website about how to assign value to an academic’s or research scientist’s science communication activities. The link to his paper is http://www.asc.asn.au/2010/08/what-counts/.

It would be good for ASC members to contribute to Rob’s thoughts and in turn to the anticipated expert panel. I look forward to hearing from you via jesse [at] prismaticsciences.com or add your comment below this article.

Jesse Shore
National President

From the President, June 2010: Inspiring Australia; national workshops; theatre; and ‘What is science?’

The Inspiring Australia report has been much on my mind and in my actions. I again met with DIISR staff to discuss the role ASC can and will play in promoting several of the recommendations in the report. Perhaps ASC’s profile is growing as I was invited to a meeting to explore evaluation tools (part of Recommendation 15 in the report) and have since been invited to participate in a steering committee on the same topic.

In late June I will be speaking at a workshop of state government representatives whose role is to help implement actions related to the Inspiring Australia report. I’ll give a brief presentation about aspects of science communication in Australia and also seek support for some ASC initiatives.

The first project in the pipeline is a series of professional development workshops for early 2011. The idea is for several ASC branches to present one day events within 10-14 days of each other. The national body will organise a keynote presenter to feature at each event. The workshops will be done in collaboration with another like minded professional association. News of this will be forthcoming as the pieces fall into place. This activity will provide a cost-effective alternative to a national multi-day conference, put a spotlight on the branches and result in a number of significant new relationships with professional bodies and more than one level of government.

I admit to working on a pet project or two. In March I read that Alan Alda (of TV M*A*S*H fame and much more) has been involved in starting a training course for early career scientists and engineers in improvisational theatre techniques. I note that our ACT branch is running an event about learning how to impro (on 23 June). Great minds think alike. I’m exploring whether ASC can be involved in setting up a nationwide training course in improv theatre techniques for scientists. I’ll keep you posted.

The ‘What is science?’ project is developing slowly but with purpose. I received more than 15 responses from members on the topic and will form a group to digest the material. Everyone I’ve discussed this project has seen its value. Susannah Eliott suggested that the topic could be called ‘Where is the evidence?’ and ‘Who is the source?’ These phrases were so good I suggested that ABC’s Catalyst consider ‘Where’s the evidence and who’s the source?’ as a regular segment for the program. I await to see if raising this flag gets their salute.

I recently enjoyed meeting with the rejuvenated South Australian branch of ASC. I was impressed at the good relationships they have established with RiAus and the Australian Science Media Centre. The energetic committee has also lined up a creative program of events such as a tour of the new biodiversity gallery at the South Australian Museum. Excellent presentations by museum staff revealed how they successfully addressed challenges to communicate science effectively in the gallery setting and to create an engaging exhibition experience. I look forward to meeting with other committees soon.

Jesse Shore
National President

Inspiring Australia – response to the national science communication report

Australian Science Communicators (ASC) welcomes Inspiring Australia, a report which set the agenda for science communication for the nation. It represents a significant acknowledgement and affirmation of the importance of science communication to the future of Australian society.

We are particularly pleased with the recognition of science communication as a professional activity with its own skills and expertise. The report contains many helpful suggestions on ways of boosting that expertise.

We are also delighted that the report recommends investment into evaluation of the effectiveness of various techniques of science communication.

While we recognise that all the recommendations will benefit professional science communicators indirectly, we believe that the report’s objectives would be well served by more direct support of our profession, such as for the development of the professional development opportunities including conferences. Strengthening the foundation of the profession is an inexpensive and effective way to complement and realise several of the suggested activities in the report.

Dr Jesse Shore, President, Australian Science Communicators
Mr Tim Thwaites, Immediate Past-President, Australian Science Communicators

ASC 2010 Conference – Opening Session

Over 230 science communications professionals gathered today at the Australian National University in Canberra for an inspiring and lively opening session.

Aunty Ruth Bell welcomed delegates to country with some rousing words on the importance of science and scientists and the correct pronunciation of Canberra.  Professor Ian Chubb reflected on an increase in demand for places on science courses at ANU and the difference between a “deep” and a “profound” understanding of scientific ideas.

Senator the Hon Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research suggested that “science communication matters because democracy matters” and that citizens only have a meaningful say in the democratic process if they understand the science.  The Senator also cited the new science strategy report which calls for all scientific organisations to promote the ideals of “clear vision, strong leadership and coherent action”.

Incoming ASC National President, Dr Jesse Shore welcomed the report with its “national framework: local action” focus on behalf of the ASC membership, and expressed thanks to all delegates for attending our annual flagship event.

Watch this space for more news – and follow us on Twitter: #asc2010

Canberra event: Communicating science for policy – the role of science communicators

24 September 2009
6:00 pmto7:00 pm
6:00 pmto7:00 pm

Join our panel of speakers to find out discuss research can better inform policy from the perspective of policy and practice, and the role of science communicators in this process.

Speakers include: Dr Lorrae van Kerkhoff, Visiting Fellow, ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health. Dr van Kerkhoff has research interests in the role of research in informing policy, particularly in low-income countries and fragile states, and in institutional arrangements that foster better integration between research and policy and practice, particularly in public health and sustainable development.

Mr Allen Kearns, Theme Leader for Sustainable Cities and Coasts in CSIRO’s Climate Adaptation Flagship. Mr Kearns is an environmental scientist with international experience and practical expertise in the social, economic and ecological consequences of urban and industrial developments.

When: 5.45pm for a 6pm start. Thursday 24 September

Where: Conference Room, CSIRO Corporate – Limestone Ave, Canberra (next to the war memorial)

Entry by gold coin donation. Nibblies provided, drinks available at a small cost.

The event will be recorded and the audio file put on this website shortly after.

Contact Jo if you have any questions: ph 0410 996 158, joanna.savill [at] csiro.au

Background to the National Science Communication Strategy

Towards a National Science Communication Strategy (NSCS)

Background Information for Participants


For a number of reasons, it is timely to examine the science communication landscape in Australia and to consider whether the status quo is a satisfactory situation. At the national level, there have been recent reviews of the National Innovation System, CSIRO Science Education Centres, and two areas within the Australian Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR) – the Science Connections Program (SCOPE) and Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre.  The ABC, Australia’s national broadcaster, is currently undergoing a major public review phase.  Furthermore a new national science curriculum is under development.

Australia is fortunate to have a range of quality organisations and individuals in the science communication ‘ecosystem’ and significant strengths to build upon. It is in Australia’s interest to work towards a more coherent approach to fully utilise all national assets.

Australia has significant strengths in science communication but the broad science communication effort is fragmented and uneven across the country.  This problem was identified in the 2003 Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council (PMSEIC) study into Science Engagement and Education that recommended a ‘national framework-local action’ approach.

A DIISR Steering Committee comprising the Deputy Secretary, the Chief Scientist, the Chief Executive of CSIRO, the Director of Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre, and a representative of The ABC, together with supporting officers, has met to discuss the need for a national science communication strategy.

As part of the post-Budget re-structuring of the DIISR, the Questacon division of the Department has been asked to work towards the development of a national strategy which will encourage a more coordinated approach to science communication across Australia. Questacon now has responsibility for the SCOPE program, which includes a number of national initiatives such as National Science Week. Questacon has been asked to design a replacement program for this lapsing program, as part of a national science communication strategy.

The Goal

As previously articulated (PMSEIC 2003), Australia’s success as a 21st century knowledge society will depend on having an excellent education system, a technologically-skilled workforce, a science-literate community and well-informed decision makers.

Science communication activities supports

  • the development of an adequate supply of well-qualified scientists, mathematicians engineers and technologists;
  • the development of a society that is informed and excited about science, values its importance to the country’s economic and social well-being, feels confident in its use and supports a representative well-qualified scientific workforce; and
  • the provision of trusted quality information for opinion formers, policy developers and decision makers.

It will be important for a national science communication strategy to:

  • embrace a broad definition of science communication to encompass science, mathematics, engineering and technology, as well as to incorporate the perspectives of the humanities and social sciences;
  • draw from the experience and findings of similar initiatives, including overseas initiatives;
  • consider how current assets and capability (at national, state/territory and local levels) could better be aligned, connected, developed and delivered in order to achieve greater outcomes and impacts in these areas;
  • develop a “national framework – local action” model which takes into account relevant policy initiatives at federal/state/local levels, which optimises opportunities for existing and potential players and investors to contribute, and which builds cooperation through questions such as “What can I do? What can you do? What can we do together?”;
  • address issues of leadership, facilitation and coordination which will be key to the success of any forward strategy and implementation plan;
  • be practical, providing improved outcomes which can be achieved within the short term (next 12 months), within the medium term (next 5 years), and within existing and realistic resource and budget parameters.

The Process

The Steering Committee will propose a more coordinated approach for science communication to Senator the Hon. Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research at the end of September 2009.

In order to inform the development of a national policy framework, a forward strategy and implementation plan, a series of key stakeholder discussions are planned during July and August to obtain broad input from a range of organisations and individuals with an interest in science communication. These consultations will be led by Professor Graham Durant as a member of the Steering Committee, or senior secretariat officers.

The consultations will not involve all individuals and organisations with an interest in science communication. Rather, a sample of individuals and organisational representatives, who are associated with state/local science communication initiatives, are being invited to participate in a small group discussion to provide:

  1. insight into the state/local science communication scene
  2. suggestions on how state/local initiatives could benefit and develop through better coordination or through linking into a national framework
  3. practical ideas on actions which could be taken in the short term (during the next 12 months) and in the medium term (over the next five years)

In addition to stakeholder discussion sessions and interviews, the Steering Committee would welcome further input by way of a written submission. Written submissions must be received no later than 24 August 2009 via mail to:

The Secretariat
National Science Communication Strategy
Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre
Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research
PO Box 5322  Kingston ACT 2604

Alternatively, written submissions can be emailed no later than 24 August 2009 to sciencecommunications [at] innovation.gov.au

Towards a National Science Communication Strategy (NSCS)


  • Introduction
  • An opportunity to introduce ourselves and to clarify the process to develop a national science communication strategy
  • State Scenario
  • Outlining the state of play for science communication in your state
  • Who are the key players?
  • What are the major activities?
  • Who are collaborating (at local/state/national levels) to deliver science communication activity?
  • How well is this scenario working and what could be improved?
  • National Framework – Local Action
  • What mechanisms would support and sustain more effective and extensive cooperation, involvement and investment?
  • The Way Forward
  • What are some practical ideas that we can action in the next 12 months, in the next 5 years?
  • Summary of Discussions
  • Where to from here?