Federal Politics

Chief Scientist Ian Chubb's parting words: Science 'must always trump make-believe'

"Don't flinch" is outgoing Chief Scientist Ian Chubb's parting advice for scientists facing a wide range of detractors, from climate change deniers to those against genetically modified foods.

Professor Chubb, who this week ends his almost-five year term, acknowledged in a statement on Thursday that scientists' work "isn't easy."

Science contributes 11 per cent of GDP

Advanced science is a major driver of the country's prosperity says Australia's Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb.

"We know there are those who want only to be told what they want to hear. When they aren't, they simply denigrate and disparage and dream up conspiracies," he said.

"I can only say to scientists: don't flinch. Do your work; do it according to the trusted methods of ethical science and talk regularly to the public ... their support, and the weight and quality of evidence, must always trump make-believe." 

Professor Chubb told Fairfax Media that scientists have a responsibility to educate the public on what they found out about the world: "We can't afford for the scientific community to back off because they get yelled at or scoffed at. [That would be a] great loss to the planet." 

"Don't flinch": Advice from outgoing Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb.
"Don't flinch": Advice from outgoing Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb. Photo: Andrew Meares

During Professor Chubb's term, the Abbott government's deep funding cuts brought Australia's investment in research and development to a 30-year low, and Malcolm Turnbull took over the Liberal leadership, vowing to make science and innovation central to the Coalition's political agenda.

Science had become more widely discussed since he was appointed chief scientist in 2011.The next federal election could be fought on the quality of science and innovation policies, which "would be the first time in my memory that it would have been a central part for both parties [vying] for our vote."

Professor Chubb said the government's innovation statement and strategy for promoting science, technology, engineering and maths in schools were a step in the right direction. Government and business also needed to invest in science at a tertiary level to ensure disciplines such as chemistry, maths and physics were sustained even when unpopular at universities.

This was so that funding was based on Australia's current and future needs, he said, citing agricultural science: "We've seen significant decline in the number of people studying agricultural science so how can we do the research necessary to increase our agricultural productivity to meet our aspirations to become the food bowl of Asia?" 

Catriona Jackson, chief executive officer of Science and Technology Australia, which represents more than 68,000 scientists and technologists, said that Professor Chubb had been a "titan" of an advocate, laying the policy foundations for the government's science agenda and restoring respect for science in the community.

"There have been some difficult times for science and scientists in the past decade from virulent well-organised climate scepticism to a lack of interest in science," she said. "The fact that that has turned around in Australia is very significantly attributable to Ian Chubb and his relentless energy."

Science Minister Christopher Pyne congratulated Professor Chubb on his term and thanked him for his help with the national science agenda on Twitter. Professor Chubb will be succeeded by Monash University chancellor Dr Alan Finkel.

Follow us on Twitter