Bureaucracy, science and big bang for your buck theory
Chief scientist Ian Chubb does Australian research a great disservice by promoting the unproven notion that citation indices of research papers measure quality, and that they have shown that Australian research publications are ''below a key world standard'' (''Funding Threat as research fails the grade'', February 24, p3). Citation indices are merely a count of the number of times a research paper is quoted in other research papers. A range of factors affect this number.
My research publications, for example, are mostly about plant viruses, a few about animal viruses (flu, etc), and occasionally on a method of analysis. The average citations for these are in the ratio 1:5:15, despite the same authorship, merely because there are many more people studying and publishing on animal viruses than those of plants, and general methods are used by an even greater number of people.
Thus citation indices mostly reflect subject popularity and current fashion, not quality. Australia is not best served by its research workers only chasing internationally fashionable areas of research; the Olympic Games strategy. Citation indices are promoted by research bureaucrats as they provide them with a tool for controlling research funding, and hence it is not surprising that the chief scientist uses citation indices to seek more control over funding. More useful would be for him to promote an open evidence-based discussion on how best to fund research.
There is no evidence that the past two decades of increasing bureaucratisation of research funding has improved research outcomes. However, there is evidence from the past, in discoveries, prizes (Nobel and otherwise), that one way to get the best bang for the research buck is to have minimal bureaucracy. As that would throw doubt on the value of the present multitude of bureaucrats and their mountains of paperwork, I doubt that discussion will be started by him any time soon.
Adrian Gibbs, Yarralumla
Our chief scientist, Ian Chubb, says our science papers are not up to standard. Citation scores of peer-reviewed papers are used as the measure. This is little different to credit rating finance experts giving triple-A status to failed banks.
Anonymous peer-review is an equally incestuous system. It is a system that preserves the status quo. It entrenches the experts by a ''bandwagon effect'' since they decide where research funding will go. Predictably, we have reached the point where a recent article in Nature argues, ''scientific genius is extinct.'' That makes no sense. It only seems that way due to the dysfunctional way academia operates to exclude ''paradigm shifters''. There have been no scientific revolutions for a century.
Australia has an opportunity to establish scientific leadership by doing things differently. First, our education systems should not present scientific ''facts'' to be memorised but as questions to limber up critical thinking and real understanding.
The historical context, concepts and arguments that led to the choice of our present science dogma, should be taught so that, for example, a year 8 student when recently presented with the conclusion of big bang cosmology, that 96 per cent of the universe is something unknown and invisible, asked incredulously ''and smart people think that?'' Sadly, the ANU's new EdX online teaching program (''ANU joins Harvard, MIT in online revolution'', February 22, p1) seems set to entrench dogma more widely by calling on the usual experts.
Secondly, revolutions begin with individuals. We need a means to fund the ''Renaissance scholars'' amongst us. If we can't inspire wealthy individuals to invest in venture science then perhaps a group of independent well-educated people should select some promising but unorthodox funding proposals without interference from academia.
Now there's a challenge for our chief scientist! But history should embolden him. Authorities once considered many things impossible that we take for granted today. We forget that many of the revered names in science were ''eminent outsiders''. One per cent of the science funding for venture science might return better outcomes than the other 99 per cent and save millions of dollars in misguided research.
Wal Thornhill, Chapman
Give Gillard credit
To all those baying for Julia Gillard's political blood, exactly how will Australia be better off under Tony Abbott? Will unemployment be lower? Will interest rates be lower? Will his social policy make Australia a better place to live?
Australia is now more prosperous than under the last Coalition government, strengthened by progressive economic and social policies such as the NBN on the one hand and the NDIS on the other, ideas that would never have occurred to a conservative leader. It is utterly baffling that Australians do not appear to recognise the achievements of this government.
Mark Slater, Melba
Missing the point
R.S. Gilbert (Letters, February 25) accuses Senator Nick Xenophon of ''rewriting history'' by opposing gambling, on the grounds that gambling has always been with us. Murder and violence have also been with us since Cain killed Abel, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to limit them.
Having suffered as a child from the effects of gambling on my family, I'm really disappointed when finance pundits such as Gilbert have nothing constructive to offer to address a major social problem.
David Roth, Kambah
Follow NT's lead
According to the latest Four Corners program (''Punch Drunk'', February 25) each year as many as 70,000 people are involved in alcohol-related assaults. The cost to the community is $187 million. As if that isn't worrying enough, the violence associated with alcohol abuse is getting more extreme.
On December 10, The Canberra Times reported the results of Australia's largest study into alcohol-related nightlife crime, which found that a culture of pre-drinking before going out is significantly contributing to violence in pubs and clubs.
Makes one wonder why the government doesn't enact a ''national emergency response'', along the lines of the NT-style ''intervention'' to address Australia's problem with alcohol-related violence and harm? After all, if it's working so well in indigenous communities, surely it's time to roll it out nationwide?
Michael Crowe, Hawker
Lost in translation
The caption under the photo accompanying the article ''A record of hell through a child's eyes'' (February 23, p18) says that ''Arbeit macht Frei'' means ''Work makes Freedom''. This is incorrect.
The German for ''freedom'' is freiheit. The Nazis' slogan ''Arbeit mascht Frei'', which was also mounted over the entrance at Auschwitz, is translated into today's English as ''Work liberates''. However, the Nazis meant it to give the message to those who entered the camp as ''Work sets you free''.
I realise the article came from the Guardian and that it got it wrong, but perhaps a German speaker at CT could have been asked to check it.
M. Pietersen, Kambah
I am amazed that the soi-disant erudite Ian Warden should take Greg Combet to task for his misuse of the term ''gild the lily'' (''Cue music as I stride determinedly towards my desk'', Forum, February 23, p4) without pointing out that the expression itself is a misquote.
The line comes from King John by Shakespeare and is, in part, ''To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, To throw a perfume on the violet''. In other words, to improve on perfection. Gilding, ie, painting with gold, is pointless on an existing piece of gold, just as painting, ie colouring, is pointless on a lily.
George Beaton, Greenway
I am aghast at the amount of money many charities are spending to make us feel guilty and give a donation. So far this week I have received two bags (too small to be much use), one very nice enamelled key ring with my name on it (I already have three), one pack of cards and yet another pack of notepaper, pen and address labels. I never write notes and I have enough address labels to see me through to the next millennium, so I am not going to support these charities any more.
I am a pensioner and cannot afford to give to all these worthy causes for this very reason - the money we give is used to provide these useless things.
Wouldn't it be better spent on the children, their eyes, cancer or whatever their needs may be?
Jenni Warren, Isabella Plains
Protect our parks
So, after having done a vote deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party, the NSW government now decides to carry out a risk assessment. In any diligent risk assessment process, having identified a possible outcome with a high risk, the first question to ask is: ''Can the risk be reasonably avoided''?
In this case the answer is obviously ''yes'', just do not allow shooters in national parks! We now read that they are considering allowing silencers on the guns. The whole concept is ridiculous, but I guess that's politics, privatised electricity generation in return for unsafe national parks and happy rednecks.
Malcolm Leslie, O'Connor
Too many lights
Work appears to have started to install yet another set of traffic lights on Aikman Drive, Belconnen. Although it is only about 1.4 kilometres from Ginninderra Drive to Eastern Valley Way, traffic already suffers three sets of traffic lights, two T-intersections and one pedestrian crossing.
The new traffic lights will be at the pedestrian crossing, 150 metres from the pedestrian lights at the Emu Bank Road, and 100 metres from a pedestrian underpass. Cost to ratepayers of similar lights (Burgmann College, Gungahlin) was reported to be around $50,000.
Instead of wasting ratepayers' money on lights, this pedestrian crossing and its paths should be removed and redirected to the crossings at Emu Bank Road.
Bruce Porter, Palmerston
Zed Seselja may need to look back at his 'disaffected rump'
Invariably when there is a well-orchestrated coup in the Australian Labor Party the ones to receive the blame, or the credit, depending on who in the media is telling the story, are the ''faceless men''.
Why is it then that the henchmen of the local Liberal Party who put together the numbers for last weekend's political assassination of Senator Gary Humphries appear to have totally escaped the media's scrutiny?
Make no mistake, it was the behind-the-scenes numbers men who are now in positions of power in the party, and who skilfully and legally used the preselection rules, who helped to carry the day for their man.
While there is no suggestion that any rules were broken during the process, if Mr Seselja is so confident that he has the support of all but a ''disaffected rump'' of his party (''Bad blood shrouds Liberals' vote'', February 25, p1'), why is he so reticent to allow all Liberal Party members to have their say in determining who should head the party's Senate ticket?
If more of the rank and file do get a vote, Mr Seselja may be surprised to find out how big the ''rump'' really is.
If they don't get a vote, Mr Seselja runs the risk of losing a lot of support from those members who contribute significantly to Liberal Party coffers, both in this town and nationally.
Despite all of Mr Seselja's protestations, this internal political battle still has a long way to run, and the rank and file are not yet done with.
Ian de Landelles, Hawker
Gary Humphries, the politician, believed another politician? Welcome to the real world, Senator.
Paul Blair, Holder
In response to Tom Healy's query on population (Letters, February 25), the ACT Greens were the only political party that took a policy to the 2012 election on population issues. That policy specifically sets out a goal of reducing the ACT's per capita ecological footprint, and identifies that we need to play our part in stabilising the planet's population.
Our ecological footprint in Canberra is high, well above that of developing countries, and even higher than many other developed cities. We cannot rely on a model of economic growth driven by population growth and consumption. To do so is unsustainable, and an alternative approach to prosperity should be explored.
While we all know that higher numbers of people put pressure on our natural systems, population numbers themselves are difficult to manage at a local level. We cannot simply close the ACT's borders to cap our population; this will just transfer the issues, and perhaps even make individual footprints larger as people commute across the region.
We have an obligation to work towards being a community that learns to live within a smaller footprint, while concurrently raising awareness about the impact of increasing populations.
That is what the Greens advocate, rather than finding a ''magical number'' for capping population.
Shane Rattenbury, ACT Greens Member for Molonglo
Grief is not an illness
I suggest that the American Psychiatric Association's new diagnostic manual, which allows a diagnosis of depression after two weeks of grieving, be rewritten (''Mourning warning'', February 23, p2).
As president of Solace ACT Inc, (a self-help group for widows/widowers), I can assure the medical profession that the majority of the members of our association do not, and did not, suffer from depression because of the grief felt from losing one's spouse/partner.
Yes, we were sad and upset, and suffered from a broken heart, which gave us feelings we had not encountered before. Unless another underlying disorder is present, it is not necessary for the GP to immediately prescribe an anti-depressant to make us ''feel better'', and ''get over it''.
You never ''get over it'', you learn to live with it and get on with your life. Everybody is different and therefore grieves differently, but we just need somebody to listen and understand.
Pam Burrowes, Solace ACT Inc
To the point ...
NOW, LUNDY MUST GO
In keeping with business management principles that recommend change after 10 years of incumbency, I support Zed Seselja's run for the Senate as Gary Humphries was starting to look increasingly tired and apathetic, especially in relation to the superannuation indexation debate. Kate Lundy, who entered Parliament in 1996, is also due for a change, particularly after her performance as Sports Minister at a time when drug taking, illegal betting and poor Olympic performances by many athletes and officials, was rife.
Ric Hingee, Duffy
I think what has happened to Senator Gary Humphries is wrong. Zed Seselja gave no indication of his future plans in the ACT election. Not sure what Zed will do when he loses the Senate seat, which is now a possibility because I, for one, will not be voting for him. Voters don't like being kept in the dark.
Loraine Bryant, Theodore
So, the disenfranchised in the ACT Liberal Party are a ''Disaffected Rump'' (''Petitioners a 'disaffected rump', says Seselja'', February 25, p1). Whew! That is quite a breathtaking notion, Mr Seselja. Sounds a bit like ''Let them eat cake!'' to me.
Lynne Johnson, Curtin
SINK OR SWIM?
The Prime Minister sought forgiveness for her involvement in the AWU slush fund because she was young and naive (35 years old?). Our six London Olympic swimming team members (all young and naive) offered the same excuse for their behaviour - will they be forgiven or punished?
Ed Dobson, Hughes
LABOR MUST BLAME ITSELF
So caucus is tempted to reinstate the PM they so unceremoniously dumped? Cynically, Rudd's popularity now looks like a hand-up to victory!
The odds now stacked against Labor stem not from a poor achievement record (it's been far better than the other lot could have chalked up) but from snarling, hateful machinations in Labor's own ranks.
People are fed up with Labor dirt. Maybe Labor deserves to go down in a screaming heap. Gawdelpus for what we get in its place.
Gordon Nevin, O'Connor
ANOTHER ACTPLA RUMOUR
The ACT Government Gazette of January 31 shows that three senior staff and an executive assistant of ACTPLA have retired. This confirms a rumour that ACTPLA is offering redundancies to its most experienced staff. Does this mean that the second rumour is also true? Does ACTPLA intend to contract out assessment of development applications?
Robyn Coghlan, Hawker