RAPID REACTION: Coalition to reprioritise away from “futile research” – experts respond

Thu Sep 5, 2013

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The Coalition has today confirmed the proposed Commission of Audit will re-prioritise about $900 million in annual Australian Research Council grants away from “obscure research grants” into projects deemed more worthy. Below  Australian experts comment.

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Professor Peter Doherty, is from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University Of Melbourne Medical School. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1996

“From the examples given, it looks as though the move would be away from the social sciences/humanities towards funding “hard” science. No scientist is likely to have a problem with seeing more money going into the physical and biological sciences, but further weakening the humanities in Australian universities does give cause for concern. It’s always important to look at the substance of the intended research. I hope we’re not moving back to the Howard era where a committee of supremely unqualified people scrutinised ARC grant titles for ‘political correctness’, that is, in terms of the politics of the right.”

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Catriona Jackson is CEO of Science and Technology Australia. Science & Technology Australia represents 68,000 scientists and technologists, and promotes their views on a wide range of policy issues to government, industry and the community.

“The Coalition Government has now confirmed it would, if elected, direct its Commission of Audit, to re-prioritise the around $900 million in annual Australia Research Council grants.

The specific research projects named – all in the arts and social sciences – have been labelled ‘increasingly ridiculous’.

The flow of new knowledge is critical to the kinds of ‘real word’ results that all Australians are proud of. It was CSIRO scientist John O’Sullivan’s search for exploding black holes that led to his discovery of wireless technology that has swept the world, and drawn $500 million in royalties to Australia with probably as much again to come.

Australians should ask: Do we want politicians picking and choosing which grant proposals deserve funding?

The reports raise a number of critical questions:

•       How does adding a ‘special team’ as part of the Coalition’s audit commission eliminate waste or cut red tape?

•       How would any new filtering process work?

•       Who would make the final funding call, a politician?

•       How much would this new process cost?”

Scientists and research funding agencies understand that Governments set priorities for research and that this is entirely valid given we do not have the resources to fund everything.

Priority setting is very different from political picking and choosing.

Only a quarter of research grant bids that go to the ARC each year are successful. Only the best of the very best get through the very careful peer review, expert-driven process.”

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