EXPERT REACTION: Aussies to March for Science

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Scientists and friends of science around the world will be marching in support of science on Saturday, 22 April. The groups will be official marching in eleven Australian cities, and will be promoting stable public science funding, open communication of science, evidence-based policy, and greater scientific literacy and education in critical thinking.

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Last updated: Fri 21 Apr 2017

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 Other March for Science Australia March for Science Australia Web page 19 Apr 2017 2:03pm

Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives and reflect independent opinion on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Professor Emeritus Alan Mackay-Sim, Griffith University, is the 2017 Australian of the Year

Scientific research and a scientific understanding of our natural world are the key to Australia's future prosperity, employment and environment.

As scientists in this age of "too much information", we must publicly discuss the importance of science in political decision making and convince politicians of all parties to keep investing in science is as important for our future as spending on health and defense.

Last updated: 20 Apr 2017 4:52pm
Anne Brant is Schools Engagement Coordinator at Griffith University

It is imperative we educate young people to be informed and active participants in their world. Through science literacy and understanding, we develop critical thinking skills which allow us to make sense of the world and how we interact with the environment.

The next generation of thinkers and shapers are being educated by committed and knowledgeable teachers who are preparing them for their future careers. To support their efforts Governments need to invest in scientific research to provide our young people with opportunity and advantage so they can look forward to a strong and stable economy with the prospect of jobs and security.

Our legacy should be that we have equipped the next generation to be able to tackle and resolve global issues that we are currently facing and others that lie ahead. This can only happen if we value science and the important role it plays in our lives.

Last updated: 20 Apr 2017 4:31pm
Professor Tanya Monro is an ARC Georgina Sweet Laureate Fellow and the Deputy Vice Chancellor Research & Innovation at the University of South Australia.

The March for Science is all about recognising that long-term, bipartisan investment in science underpins Australia's future.

At a time when other counties are looking inwards, Australia has the opportunity to build on the excellence of its scientific research base to attract the best minds to Australia.

But it won't happen if we can’t capture the minds and hearts of everyday Australians and that's what this march is about.

Last updated: 20 Apr 2017 12:42pm
Kylie Walker is CEO of Science & Technology Australia

Science is by its very nature a collaborative enterprise. International cooperation between researchers is vital to advancing the sum of knowledge.

The common language of science bridges cultural divides, leads to richer exploration of ideas from new perspectives, and serves to make the world healthier and more resilient when faced by a period of global change.

We are extremely fortunate to have solid support for science and technology in Australia, but with a growing distrust and disregard for science around the world, we think it is time to speak out.

Last updated: 20 Apr 2017 12:38pm

Adjunct Professor Steve Turton is a climate scientist at Central Queensland University and is a speaker at the Cairns event

Science underpins the economy of Far North Queensland, which is heavily dependent on sustainable use of our internationally recognised natural assets (the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics world heritage areas) and industries such as tourism, agriculture and fishing.

Much of this research is necessarily for the 'public good', i.e., it has no commercial application. Instead, it underscores how we manage our natural assets and associated social capital.

Governments at all levels and Far North Queensland businesses that reap the benefits from our natural capital need to be cognisant of the enormous return on investment that we all get from investing in 'public good' environmental research.

Far North Queensland's two world heritage areas provide prime examples of how important this type of research investment is.

Recent government policy has generally disfavoured public good research, focusing instead on research with commercial applications, e.g. the CRC program.

In an ideal world, both kinds of research are important for the health of our environment, society and economy.  It's all about finding a balance with scare public funds.

This is also a role for private investment in public good research, including philanthropy and industry investment.

Last updated: 20 Apr 2017 12:25pm

Associate Professor Paul Willis is Director of the The Royal Institution of Australia

It is important that we stand up for science and I do support the March For Science this weekend. But I have some reservations.

My main reservation is that the March For Science here in Australia appears to be partisan in nature and too narrow in its focus.

A March for Science must not just take aim at the current Government’s dealings with science. Cuts to CSIRO and other science funding occurred under previous Governments.

Across the political spectrum, all parties are guilty of cherry-picking the science they like and denigrating or ignoring the science that doesn’t fit their agenda.

It’s the same science that tells us that we must stop digging up coal that also makes the link to the death of the Great Barrier Reef.

The same science that reveals the perils of climate change and over population also supports the safety of vaccines, genetically modified organisms, the nuclear fuel cycle and unconventional gas extraction.

The same science that produces successes in the treatment of cancer and other diseases also shows the complete failure of alternative medical practices.

The same science that gave us the modern array of technologies and a standard of health unparalleled in our history also gives us a universe of unimaginable size and antiquity and a history of life stretching over billions of years.

We need the respect from all political parties for all scientific research and their findings.

We need real, substantial and sustained funding for all areas of scientific research.

We should demand that all policies from all parties are evidence-based and address the real and pressing issues identified by science.

That, in my humble opinion, would be worth marching for.

Last updated: 19 Apr 2017 5:32pm
Mr Peter Ellerton is a Lecturer at the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry in Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Queensland

We live in a world in which information flows freely, fast and - thanks to platforms such as Facebook - very smoothly formatted.

As a result, we are rapidly and forcefully subjected to an enormous variety of views almost immediately an issue enters public awareness. Our capacity to critically analyse data is therefore urgent and important.

But this analytical ability is a function of socially mediated and collaboratively developed skills - it is not something easily accessible to individuals without training.

Science, as a collective endeavour, provides us with one of the most resourced and rigorous means of assessing claims about the world.

It acts as a bulwark against personal prejudices, cognitive biases and political and religious ideologies that might otherwise act unopposed. 

Science is not only rational, imaginative and productive, it is explanatory. It helps provides insight and foresight in a challenging and often indifferent world and therefore improves our lot more than any other collective enterprise in human history.

Those who best challenge science, and by doing so help it change its paradigms, are those trained in science. They are not those ignorant of its processes and methodologies. 

Marching for science is a public good.

Last updated: 19 Apr 2017 3:50pm
Professor Paul Young is Head of The University of Queensland School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences and a March for Science Brisbane Organising Committee member

The scientific community sees the danger of “alternative facts” and populism-driven policy taking precedence over scientific evidence.

The old adage that “facts speak for themselves” appears to be losing traction and so it is time we stand up and defend that basic truth.

Issues such as climate change and the value of vaccines in public health are examples of where facts and evidence are simply being ignored by some.

I’m a molecular virologist developing vaccines and anti-viral strategies against infections and am concerned at how much airtime has been given to views that go against available evidence.

The worldwide March for Science movement is a call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policymakers to enact evidence-based policies in the public interest.

Science isn’t simply a collection of rules and facts, it is a process by which we acquire knowledge. So it is science and the knowledge that it provides that I’m marching for.

As much of our modern lives is underpinned by science, everyone in our community should be happy to stand up for that. This is not a march of scientists, it is a march for science.

Last updated: 19 Apr 2017 3:47pm
Professor Les Field is the Secretary for Science Policy at the Australian Academy of Science

The Australian Academy of Science strongly supports US scientists and research organisations who have established the March for Science to mobilise public and political support for research in a transitional and evolving policy environment.
 
Science in Australia is in a different situation and while it is good to show solidarity with our US colleagues, it’s unclear what the Australian marches will achieve.
 
The importance of building scientific literacy in society, so that as many people as possible understand and participate in public debate, particularly on technical and scientific issues, cannot be underestimated.
 
The Academy also strongly supports the importance of sound science to underpin good government policy and the critical place for clear, open, well-informed public debate.

Last updated: 19 Apr 2017 3:44pm