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James Cook's hip-pocket nerve


If Education Minister Simon Birmingham is paying more attention to his portfolio than seems to be the norm with the Turnbull cabinet, two articles in today's Australian should give him pause. The first  concerns marine scientist Professor Peter Ridd, who is taking legal action against James Cook University. Here is how the story begins:

Outspoken James Cook Univer­sity professor Peter Ridd has taken Federal Court action claiming conflict of interest, apprehended bias and actual bias against vice-chancellor Sandra Harding.

Professor Ridd wants JCU to drop a misconduct investigation launched following his interview with Alan Jones on Sky News on August 1 in which he criticised the quality of Great Barrier Reef science.

In the interview, he said research findings by major institutions could not be trusted. “We can no longer trust the scientific organisations like the Australian Institute of Marine Science, even things like the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

“The science is coming out not properly checked, tested or replicated, and this is a great shame.”

The Jones-Ridd interview can be heard in its entirety by following this link.

The second report tells us (emphasis added):

The Coalition government has not conceded the defeat of its higher education legislation, yet with two sitting weeks remaining in the year and a crossbench firmly opposed to its measures, it is virtually impossible that cuts to uni­versity funding and increases to student fees will pass the Senate.

Talk in higher education circles has shifted to other, non-legislative options the govern­ment may explore to achieve its desired $3 billion savings in higher education. Regrettably, the fear in the sector is that grant funding, which drives some of our most important research, may be at risk.

Money is fungible, so it might strike Mr Birmingham, were he to focus on the James Cook fracas, how cash that must now be spent on lawyers might otherwise go toward the promotion of actual education. Even allowing that the Senate will scotch prospective reforms and restructured funding, as The Australian notes, the minister has the power to examine how, on what, and with whom Australian Research Council funds are vested:

            Minister may establish designated committees

             (1)  The Minister may establish a committee or committees ... to assist in carrying out the functions of the [ARC] CEO.

             (2)  The Minister may dissolve a designated committee at any time.

31  Functions of a designated committee

             (1)  A designated committee has the functions determined in writing by the Minister.

             (2)  In performing its functions, the committee must comply with any directions given to the committee by the Minister.

So, why not appoint the likes of marine biologist and Quadrant contributor Walter Starck? True, their purview would be limited to matters ARC-related, but they could certainly be directed to examine the quality of Reef-related and grant-supported science at James Cook, home to the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies with which Professor Ridd is at odds.

According to the most recent annual report's statement of finances, the immodestly christened Centre for Excellence -- a conceit to make one wince -- pulled in some $5.4 million in ARC funding alone (click the image atop this post to see how the money rolls in). Such a move would put a cat amongst the pigeons and might even encourage the university to examine its practices and priorities. The overall tone of the annual report certainly seems to suggest a body committed to the partisan promotion of just one perspective: catastropharian derangement

Minister Birmingham could establish such a committee, but being part of the Turnbull government probably won't.

To grasp what Reef researchers get up to, how their activities are reported, and why the field could use a stringent examination, follow this link or the one below for Walter Starck's 2015 point-by-point demolition of the dubious science that has for so long been predicting the Reef's imminent demise. For more about ARC grants, see Philippa Martyr's essay "Taken for Granted".

-- roger franklin

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Stupid science, ABC-style

abc biasQuadrant Online contributor Bill Martin has been watching the ABC:

It is the evening routine of my wife and myself to turn on the TV specifically for the weather report at the tail end of ABC news. All right, I confess, we also watch some of the excellent British serials.

This evening the TV stayed on as 7:30 began. The first item was about someone who had an extensive array of solar panels installed on his roof, augmented by storage batteries. It cost him $20,000. The getleman explained that his energy bills were getting ever higher and he rightfully feared they were likely to continue increasing, so he thought he had made a prudent investment. That momentous story -- Man Installs Solar Panels!!!!! -- was generously fleshed out by various “experts” singing the praises of "clean, renewable energy". It was getting cheaper by the day, they assured viewers, not mentioning all those subsidies or the fact, as more renewable sources come on line, consumers' power bills keep soaring. Why, the item continued, renewables were such beaut things that even industry will soon be drawing power from domestic roof-top solar installations!

To its credit, the ABC's green spruikers did make mention of consumers wanting reliable energy at an affordable price, so at least one small element of the item was rooted in the real world.

Strangely, it didn’t occur to anyone involved, not the experts nor the householder who made the investment, to do the sums in regard to that $20,000 "investment". The jolly green homeowner appeared to be in his 40s. Assuming the all-but-impossible scenario of his solar panels and battery operating without a hitch, without needing repair or replacement for the rest of his life -- 30 to 40 years, say -- he would need to reckon on saving between $500 and $700 per annum just to break even. The reality is most unlikely to be even half as lucrative, due to maintenance costs for a start, and also depending on the volatile, turbulent shifts in energy policies we have been experiencing for some time.

We didn’t wait to see what the rest of the program was about. Instead we switched to the light-hearted and mildly amusing Science of Stupid. How appropriate that was, I thought, as we settled in with after-dinner chocolate and coffees to watch compere Richard Hammond introducing assorted human beings engaging in remarkably ill-advised activities, some of them extremely painful. After the ABC’s latest exercise in green boosterism and otherworldly household economics, Hammond’s mantra and seemed very appropriate: "Don’t try this at home".

Undoubtedly there are those who ardently support the national broadcaster dishing out the "progressive" message, seeing it as the ABC's sacred duty to promote all the virtues they regard as such. But the rest of us, we deserve better. Much better.

Quadrant Online readers able to tolerate more of the ABC's stupid science can follow the link below. Most, though, will be well aware of the propaganda that $1.2 billion a year buys and will give it a miss. It's bad enough having to pay for the ABC without watching it by choice.

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PM Mandrake makes MPs vanish

turnbull pyne

"I can't see any of our Coalition colleagues."


According to Thomas Jefferson, "that government is best which governs least". By that definition, if no other, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is one of the world's great leaders, as he has abruptly cancelled the House of Representatives' next scheduled sitting. The rationale for taking a week off, as articulated by Minister for Extraordinarily Expensive Submarines Christopher Pyne, is that legislators must focus the entirety of their intellectual resources on passing into law changes to the Marriage Act. That a week's unscheduled vacation also makes it difficult for party-room dissidents to give the PM grief, perhaps even to move against him, did not figure in the minister's, er, explanation.

The ABC notes (emphasis added):

Mr Pyne said the sitting week had been cancelled so the Senate could finish debating same-sex marriage, before it was passed to the House of Representatives.

"The Government has made the decision that we would rather deal specifically with marriage equality and with dual citizenship before Christmas," he said.

But a Labor spokesman said the Government was "running scared from the Parliament".

"If you can't run the Parliament, you can't run the country," the spokesman said.

The line was ripped from a press release from Mr Pyne back in 2009, when the Coalition was in opposition.

Apparently there is no business, other than gay marriage, of pressing or even moderate urgency, or so Pyne would have voters believe. This may well suggest the minister is as incurious about bills in the pipeline as he is about safeguarding the security of his mobile phone from hackers bent on the promotion of man-on-man action, a violation he has told Federal Police not to bother investigating.

Still, there's quite a bit of work the parliament might have addressed.  The Parliamentary Business page helpfully lists this mass of pending bills:

The ABC's account of the surprising, indeed, remarkable decision to suspend the House and shun the people's business can be read via the link below.

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