Saturday, April 22, 2017

Peter Doherty: Why Australia Needs to March for Science

April 21, 2017 9.32am AEST

Peter C. Doherty
Laureate Professor, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

Peter C. Doherty is a founding board member of The Conversation, and is funded by an NHMRC Program Grant investigating immunity to the influenza A viruses. He will soon step down as Board Chair for the ending ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Systems Science, and serves in that capacity on the ARC Centre of Excellence in Convergent Bio-Nano Science and Technology. His most recent book (2015) is 'The Knowledge Wars'.
Partners

The following article is adapted from a speech to be delivered at the Melbourne March for Science on Saturday 22 April, 2017.

The mission posted on the March for Science international website states:

The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest. The March for Science is a celebration of science.
To me, it seems the reason concerned people across the planet are marching today is that, at least for the major players in the English-speaking world, there are major threats to the global culture of science.

Why? A clear understanding of what is happening with, for example, the atmosphere, oceans and climate creates irreconcilable problems for powerful vested interests, particularly in the fossil fuel and coastal real estate sectors.

Contrary to the data-free “neocon/trickle down” belief system, the observed dissonance implies that we need robust, enforceable national and international tax and regulatory structures to drive the necessary innovation and renewal that will ensure global sustainability and a decent future for humanity and other, complex life forms.

Here in Australia, the March for Science joins a global movement initiated by a perceived anti-science stance in Donald Trump’s administration.

Trump’s 2018 budget proposal

In the USA, President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 incorporates massive cuts to the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

And, though it in no sense reflects political hostility and deliberate ignorance, British scientists are fearful that Brexit will have a terrible impact on their funding and collaborative arrangements.

How does this affect us in Australia? Why should we care? The science culture is international and everyone benefits from progress made anywhere. NOAA records, analyses and curates much of the world’s climate science data. A degraded EPA provides a disastrous model for all corrupt and regressive regimes.

Science depends on a “churn”, both of information and people. After completing their PhD “ticket”, many of our best young researchers will spend 3-5 years employed as postdoctoral fellows in the USA, Europe and (increasingly) the Asian countries to our north, while young American, Asian and European/British scientists come to work for a time with our leading scientists.

The proposed 2018 US President’s budget would, for example, abolish the NIH Fogarty International Centre that has enabled many young scientists from across the planet to work in North America. In turn, we recruited “keepers” like Harvard-educated Brian Schmidt, our first, resident Nobel Prize winner for physics and current Vice Chancellor of the Australian National University (ANU).

We might also recall that – supported strongly by Prime Ministers JJ Curtin and RG Menzies – the ANU (with 3 Nobel Prizes to its credit) was founded as a research university to position us in science and international affairs.

Not a done deal, yet

What looks to be happening in the US is not a done deal.

The US political system is very different from our own. The Division of Powers in the US Constitution means that the President is in many respects less powerful than our PM.

Unable to introduce legislation, a President can only pass (or veto) bills that come from the Congress. Through to September, we will be watching a vigorous negotiation process where separate budgets from the House and the Senate (which may well ignore most, if not all, of the President’s ambit claims) will develop a “reconciled” budget that will be presented for President Trump’s signature.

How March for Science might help

The hope is that this international celebration of science will cause US legislators, particularly the more thoughtful on the right of politics, to reflect a little and understand what they risk if they choose to erode their global scientific leadership.

There are massive problems to be solved, along with great economic opportunities stemming from the development of novel therapies and new, smart “clean and green” technologies in, particularly, the energy generation and conservation sector.

Ignoring, or denying, problems does not make them go away. Whether or not the message is welcome, the enormous power of science and technology means we can only go forward if future generations are to experience the levels of human well-being and benign environmental conditions we enjoy today.

There is no going back. The past is a largely imagined, and irretrievable country.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

UK Election – Kick Out MAY in JUNE !!!

At Prime Minister May’s Questions before the vote, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told her that she could not be trusted after she made a U-turn on her numerous claims that she would not hold an early election.

This was later echoed by Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who said: “Isn’t the truth that we cannot believe a single word the PM says?”
Mr Corbyn repeatedly challenged the Prime Minister to face him in live television debates which she brushed off — and now broadcaster ITV has pledged to “empty chair” her if she continues to refuse.

The Prime Minister claimed that she would rather be campaigning out on the streets, adding: “Every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger.”

Mr Corbyn replied: “She says it’s about leadership, yet is refusing to defend her record in television debates and it’s not hard to see why.
“The Prime Minister says we have a stronger economy, yet she can’t explain why people’s wages are lower today than they were 10 years ago or why more households are in debt, six million people earning less than the minimum wage, child poverty is up, pensioner poverty is up.
“Why are so many people getting poorer?”
Mr Corbyn said: “If she’s so proud of her record, why won’t she debate it?”

The Labour leader suggested that the Prime Minister is reluctant to take to the stand because her party’s crippling austerity policies have failed.

He also pointed to the Tories’ record of broken manifesto pledges since coming to power in 2010.

“Over the last seven years the Tories have broken every promise on living standards, the deficit, debt, the National Health Service and schools funding. Why should anyone believe a word they say over the next seven weeks?” he said.

In his first speech of the campaign, Mr Corbyn explained that in this election and in government he won’t “play by the rules of the Tory game,” but stand up for the British people who “are the true wealth creators, held back by a system rigged for the wealth extractors.”

Monday, April 17, 2017

ANTS ... More Social that we thought


Ants even keep plant lice as pets. They feast on the sugary feces that the lice discard. In return, the ants defend the lice against enemies. However, there are researchers who say this is less a symbiosis and more like slavery. The ants keep the herds of lice together through the use of force.



Triggering rescue
When an ant is injured in a fight, it excretes chemical substances. This is a call for its mates, who will carry the injured insect back to the nest, where it can recover. A German research team of the University of W├╝rzburg have observed this rescue behavior for the first time.


Cook & Omai: The Cult of the South Seas

Thomas Gosse (1765–1844) Transplanting of the Bread-fruit-trees from Otaheite London: 
Thomas Gosse, 1 September 1796 hand-coloured mezzotint; sheet 52.4 x 60.6 cm 
This publication complements the exhibition Cook & Omai: The Cult of the South Seas, developed in association with the Humanities Research Centre at The Australian National University. The exhibition draws strongly on the collections of the National Library of Australia and, together with these informative and intriguing essays, reveals something of Omai’s impact on the European imagination. The Library has been able to collaborate with some of Australia’s leading historians in taking a fresh look at both the Library’s collections and the events leading up to the European settlement of Australia.