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Analysis and Comment (68)

Looking for proof? No such thing in most research. Looking for proof? No such thing in most research. Flickr/Paul Mazumdar

Where’s the proof in science? There is none

UNDERSTANDING RESEARCH: What do we actually mean by research and how does it help inform our understanding of things? Those people looking for proof to come from any research in science will be sadly disappointed…
US Army scientists analyse unknown samples to determine whether hazardous. That’s typical of research trying to understand the unknowns and expand on our knowledge. US Army scientists analyse unknown samples to determine whether hazardous. That’s typical of research trying to understand the unknowns and expand on our knowledge. Flickr/US Army RDECOM

Why research beats anecdote in our search for knowledge

UNDERSTANDING RESEARCH: What do we actually mean by research and how does it help inform our understanding of things? We begin today by looking at the origins of research. It is comforting to feel like…
Lecturers: you can learn a lot from Freddie Mercury. Lecturers: you can learn a lot from Freddie Mercury. Steve Mann

Research cabaret: come hear the music play

Can you imagine attending a lecture on, say, string theory and finding that the lecturer was actually explaining this complex scientific concept using his own words – sung to the tune of Queen’s Bohemian…
Will post-graduate students be able to afford to conduct research? Will post-graduate students be able to afford to conduct research? Shutterstock

Raising the cost of a PhD

The announcement in last week’s Federal budget that fees will apply to postgraduate research for the first time has so far flown under the radar. But the effects will be significant. Coupled with the effect…
Gerry Adams, flanked by Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, speaking after his release from custody on May 4. Gerry Adams, flanked by Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, speaking after his release from custody on May 4. Brian Lawless/PA

Gerry Adams arrest: when is it right for academics to hand over information to the courts?

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams was arrested by the Police Service of Northern Ireland for questioning over an abduction and murder committed in Belfast in 1972. He maintains his innocence and after four…
We collect climate data. We collect health data. What if we combined the two? We collect climate data. We collect health data. What if we combined the two? Kevin

Data mashups can help answer the world’s biggest questions

As the world wakes up to the power of data, we need to start working out how to join up all this information. We need to turn it into meaningful findings that will help us to make changes to the way we…
Look into the future … what do you see for CSIRO, should its funding be reduced? Look into the future … what do you see for CSIRO, should its funding be reduced? griraffes/Flickr

Scrimp now, pay later: CSIRO cuts could stifle long-term research

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency, is said to be preparing for cuts of up to 20% of government funding – that’s around A$150…
Yeah that’s right: English major with philosophy. Deal with it. Yeah that’s right: English major with philosophy. Deal with it. whatleydude

In the digital age, the humanities can afford to go on the offensive

Humans, as a species, are around 200,000 years old. Compared to the age of the universe we’re clearly infants but compared to the internet, we’re pretty old and compared to social media, which is still…
Modern science is no longer a solo effort. Modern science is no longer a solo effort. Flickr/ only_point_five

The challenge of the modern scientist is to avoid career suicide

Close your eyes and picture a scientist. What do you see? Perhaps an Albert Einstein, staring intently at a blackboard covered in incomprehensible equations, or of Alexander Fleming, hunched over the laboratory…
‘Avoid cat’, or ‘torment cat’? ‘Avoid cat’, or ‘torment cat’? anti_christa

What to expect from Dyson’s new robotics lab

James Dyson’s decision to fund a robotics laboratory at Imperial College London may not lead to the super advanced robot friends of our dreams, but what he has planned could make robotic domestic appliances…
How many R&D teams does it take to fix a lightbulb? How many R&D teams does it take to fix a lightbulb? ed_needs_a_bicycle

Business drops the baton in higher ed innovation

There is a tired old mantra that periodically echoes along the corridors of Whitehall. It goes something like: “The UK is great at science but poor at turning it into innovation”. Yet since the Conservative…
Octopuses are the only non-vertebrates granted ‘animal’ status in the area of animal research ethics. Is this an arbitrary distinction? Octopuses are the only non-vertebrates granted ‘animal’ status in the area of animal research ethics. Is this an arbitrary distinction? Saspotato

When is an animal not an ‘animal’? Research ethics draws the line

Many people are surprised to find that insects, jellyfish and sea urchins are animals. Animals are generally thought of as medium-sized four-legged creatures with two sets of eyes and ears — those with…
There’s no one recipe for creating ‘innovation hubs’ but Australia can look to some of the success stories for answers. There’s no one recipe for creating ‘innovation hubs’ but Australia can look to some of the success stories for answers. Technology image from www.shutterstock.com

Could Australia ever have its own Silicon Valley?

Silicon Valley is a bit like the ancient city of Babylon. A confluence of the right geography, right timing, and the right mix in the melting pot allowed them both to thrive. Even the mythological status…
What does the future hold for research funding under an Abbott government? What does the future hold for research funding under an Abbott government? AAP/David Crosling

Securing Australia’s future: science and research

SECURING AUSTRALIA’S FUTURE: As the Commission of Audit reviews government activity and spending, The Conversation’s experts take a closer look at key policy areas tied to this funding – what’s working…
While they’re very pretty to look at, museum collections are also valuable to science. While they’re very pretty to look at, museum collections are also valuable to science. Curious Expeditions

Right at the museum: collections give clues on climate change

We know museums attract visitors who come to view and wonder at their vast array of displays, but they are also used by expert researchers – locally and abroad – who make use of the ever-growing collections…
‘I’m not so much anti-establishment as pointing out the obvious.’ ‘I’m not so much anti-establishment as pointing out the obvious.’ Imperial College London/Layton Thompson

David Nutt: ‘I was sacked, I was angry, I was right’

The John Maddox Prize for standing up for science is awarded to individuals who are judged to have “promoted sound science and evidence on a matter of public interest” and especially those who have faced…
It’s not what you know, it’s what you do with it. It’s not what you know, it’s what you do with it. Gold image from www.shutterstock.com

Research is useless, innovation is gold

Most agree that it’s worth knowing more about the world and everything in it. Research, in that sense, is intrinsically valuable. But for pragmatic governments, intrinsic scientific or scholarly worth…
Soon they will buzz around you much like flies. Soon they will buzz around you much like flies. arselectronica

Not just weapons of war: drones hold much potential for civilians

Robotic aircraft, or drones, are a much-debated military technology. But while this change in military capability challenges our shared senses of threat and protection, robotic aircraft have also been…
We all know the art of politics, but what about The Art of War? We all know the art of politics, but what about The Art of War? kurichan+

An invisible, odourless, weightless science minister for Australia

When it comes to science and research portfolios in his first Cabinet, prime minster-eventual Tony Abbott appears to have taken his lead from Chinese military general Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: Be extremely…
Bad science is easy to spot; but can we tell which proposals are winners? Bad science is easy to spot; but can we tell which proposals are winners? an untrained eye

What is good science? And what gets public funding?

I’ve heard that we should stop talking about “pure” science and “applied” science; that we should only be talking about “good” science and “bad” science. Last year, CSIRO Chief Executive Megan Clark said…
What place for The Thinker will there be in an Australia under an Abbott government? What place for The Thinker will there be in an Australia under an Abbott government? Steven Fettig

Waste not, want not – the politics of why philosophy matters

And so now we officially know: philosophy is a waste. How can we be sure? Because Coalition spokesman for scrutiny of government waste Jamie Briggs has promised an Abbott government would get rid of “those…
Not all pursuits can have their worthiness calculated in dollars and cents. Not all pursuits can have their worthiness calculated in dollars and cents. epSos.de

Guess who defines ‘waste’ in ARC-funded research

I doubt anyone truly believes governments are infinitely resourced. Even the most rabid, single-issue monomaniac can appreciate that to add public money from bucket X, it must come from bucket Y. So it’s…
How are you feeling today? Mobile phones tell us more than ever. How are you feeling today? Mobile phones tell us more than ever. Jonathan Adami

Mobile phones are a window to the soul in modern research

What does your world look like? What are the contours of your neighbourhood? How are you feeling today? Mobile phones are increasingly providing us with the answers to these questions. In our daily activities…
Universities just got a little more chilling … Universities just got a little more chilling … emdot

Spying on academics will not help fight terrorism

Universities in this country are under increased pressure to share information about the activities of students and staff whether for immigration purposes, in relation to activism on campus or even in…
Hartmut Michel discussing the future of energy production and storage. Hartmut Michel discussing the future of energy production and storage. 63rd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Nobel laureate: the world is waking up to biofuel shortcomings

Hartmut Michel won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1988 “for the determination of the structure of a photosynthetic reaction centre”, which helped reveal details of one of nature’s most useful processes…
The world might be a brighter place if we all shared our research. The world might be a brighter place if we all shared our research. Joe Burke

China a research superpower but we could be left in dark

Over the past 25 years we have seen an explosion in top-level clinical trials in China. But only a tiny proportion of that research is available on the main databases used by doctors and researchers in…
When presented with evidence, can you read the science behind it? When presented with evidence, can you read the science behind it? funkandjazz

Scientific evidence: what is it and how can we trust it?

The phrase “scientific evidence” has become part of the vernacular – thrown about like a hot potato during discussions of major environmental, health or social issues. Climate change is one example. The…
Measuring the impact of research in the real world sounds a bit impossible, but Australia is going to do it anyway. Measuring the impact of research in the real world sounds a bit impossible, but Australia is going to do it anyway. Research image from www.shutterstock.com

Research meets the real world – now comes the hard part

So you’re just recovering from the last ERA (Excellence for Research Australia) assessment? Dust yourself off, Excellence in Innovation for Australia (EIA) is heading our way. This is the new paradigm…
A longer academic year would have serious drawbacks for university students and staff. A longer academic year would have serious drawbacks for university students and staff. Academic image from www.shutterstock.com

Idle time? Why we don’t need a longer academic year

This week Coalition MP Alan Tudge wrote a piece in the Australian Financial Review calling for an end to the 26-week academic year. In his article, he said students were spending the remainder of their…
Wayne Swan’s budget has been disappointing for Labor’s education legacy. Wayne Swan’s budget has been disappointing for Labor’s education legacy. AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Does the budget make us a clever country?

The last Labor budget has seen the top half of the Education Revolution fizzle. The ideals that powered the 2009 Gillard policies are in fragments. Demand-driven higher education will survive until the…
Universities Australia Chair Sandra Harding looks at the future of universities. Universities Australia Chair Sandra Harding looks at the future of universities. University image from www.shutterstock.com

National Press Club address: Sandra Harding on the future of universities

Professor Sandra Harding, the Universities Australia chair and Vice-Chancellor of James Cook University addressed the National Press Club in Canberra today. Here is a copy of her speech. In his novel set…
There’s renewed debate around whether universities need to specialise in research or teaching. There’s renewed debate around whether universities need to specialise in research or teaching. University image from www.shutterstock.com

Research and teaching – what do we actually want Australian universities to do?

“We must give universities more freedom to focus on what they are good at… If that means that some universities want to focus significantly more on teaching, then they should confidently do so… Government…
Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz talks with one of our academic experts about the changing role of universities. Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz talks with one of our academic experts about the changing role of universities. Cambridge University

Leszek Borysiewicz and Lynn Meek In Conversation – full transcript

To listen to the conversation between Leszek Borysiewicz and Lynn Meek, please see the link below. An edited transcript is available here. Lynn Meek: Hello, I’m Professor Lynn Meek from the LH Martin Institute…
It would be a mistake to assume that any private money funding research creates a conflict of interest. It would be a mistake to assume that any private money funding research creates a conflict of interest. AAP Image/Alan Porritt

Conflicting research: ARC linkages and the tightrope of academia

The research funding world is not often filled with controversy, but the story of indigenous academic Marcia Langton’s research funding has recently garnered a lot of attention. Langton, who in her recent…
Super funds could fund research initiatives as well as provide good returns to fund members. Super funds could fund research initiatives as well as provide good returns to fund members. Image from www.shutterstock.com

Super funds: an investment vehicle for scientific research?

Can the growing stash of super savings be used productively to fund valuable bio-science and other R&D while still generating good returns for fund members? Such research is typically high risk, but…
Consumers of research should not be satisfied with statements that “X is effective”, or “Y has an effect”. Consumers of research should not be satisfied with statements that “X is effective”, or “Y has an effect”. Gwenae l Piaser

Why hypothesis and significance tests ask the wrong questions

Empirical science needs data. But all data are subject to random variation, and random variation obscures patterns in data. So statistical methods are used to make inferences about the true patterns or…
Australian researchers are frustrated with a funding system that makes job prospects unreliable and often ties them to short term contracts. Australian researchers are frustrated with a funding system that makes job prospects unreliable and often ties them to short term contracts. AAP

Australian researchers held back in struggle for jobs, funding

There’s a lot of bitterness, anger and frustration out there in the world of Australian research. A new survey has shown that researchers like their work, but not the system in which they work. It’s the…
There’s still plenty to discover about how the brain works but what we know now is irrelevant to education. There’s still plenty to discover about how the brain works but what we know now is irrelevant to education. Brain image from www.shutterstock.com

Weird neuroscience: how education hijacked brain research

Neuroscience: the word oozes sophistication and intelligence – the very qualities we might want to nurture in our students, our children, our general populace. Maybe that’s why many people involved in…
Measuring the quality and impact of university research is notoriously difficult but it’s time to watch this space. Measuring the quality and impact of university research is notoriously difficult but it’s time to watch this space. Measuring image from www.shutterstock.com

The dawning of a new ERA: getting research measurement right

Before this morning’s release of the Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) report, the scheme’s champion Aidan Byrne flagged that it could soon be looking at more than just research quality. Measuring…
An In Conversation between federal coalition MP Andrew Robb and the director of the Waler and Eliza Hall Institute, Doug Hilton. An In Conversation between federal coalition MP Andrew Robb and the director of the Waler and Eliza Hall Institute, Doug Hilton. AAP Image/Alan Porritt

In Conversation Andrew Robb: full transcript

Doug Hilton: Welcome Andrew to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. This conversation between me, Doug Hilton, and Andrew Robb is part of The Conversation. So Andrew, it’s been really exciting in the last…
The research funding system needs to be changed to make it more efficient says coalition member Andrew Robb. The research funding system needs to be changed to make it more efficient says coalition member Andrew Robb. AAP Image/Alan Porritt

In Conversation with Andrew Robb: research must ‘back our strengths’

It’s hard to argue with the importance of research, particularly medical research. It leads to breakthroughs and can change people’s lives for the better. But there are some crucial questions about how…
Researchers have invested hundreds of hours to enhance their applications, only to miss out. Researchers have invested hundreds of hours to enhance their applications, only to miss out. Paperwork image from Shutterstock.com

A better way to award NHMRC’s medical research grants

Last Friday, the results for this year’s round of applications for National Health and Medical Research (NHMRC) grants were released. Because headlines focus on success and rankings, universities and medical…
Researchers who have sometimes been waiting years for funding have been left in the lurch by government. Researchers who have sometimes been waiting years for funding have been left in the lurch by government. Research image from www.shutterstock.com

Time to thaw: the human side of the research funding freeze

The Australian Research Council’s confirmation that all funding awards and rounds are currently frozen has caused major concern, if not panic, in academic circles. The Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook…
Doctors are expected to be attuned to the latest developments in health care. Doctors are expected to be attuned to the latest developments in health care. www.shutterstock.com

Man v mountain: how to overcome the evidence overload

Most doctors shudder at the sight of the growing mountain of unread medical journals gathering dust on their desks over months, if not years. They need not despair though, as there are less time-consuming…
Leave “wicked” to the witches and let’s get on with the job of policy research. Leave “wicked” to the witches and let’s get on with the job of policy research. Witches image from www.shutterstock.com

Too many ‘wicked problems’: how science, policy and politics can work together

Wicked problems, so we are told, are everywhere. Climate change, conflict, an ageing population, obesity… the list goes on. The debate over asylum seekers, difficult and important and politically charged…
The debate around teacher quality should be informed by research, not hunches and misinformation. The debate around teacher quality should be informed by research, not hunches and misinformation. Teacher image from www.shutterstock.com

A political education: hijacking the quality teaching movement

All we seem to hear about these days is failing teachers in failing schools. Those from business, government and the field of economics have all weighed in, criticising teachers, teacher educators and…
Allocating research grants based on past projects and potential profits is immoral – it skews research and damages the academic psyche. Allocating research grants based on past projects and potential profits is immoral – it skews research and damages the academic psyche. URBAN ARTefakte

Thinking for money: moral questions for Australian research

WHAT IS AUSTRALIA FOR? Australia is no longer small, remote or isolated. It’s time to ask What Is Australia For?, and to acknowledge the wealth of resources we have beyond mining. Over the next two weeks…
Investing in research and innovation could pay handsome dividends for a cashed-up superannuation industry. Investing in research and innovation could pay handsome dividends for a cashed-up superannuation industry. Flickr/Truthout

Preparing for the end of the boom: should super funds invest in science and innovation?

Superannuation funds typically invest in the market - ASX 200 companies, property, cash and bonds. These are attractive for several reasons. Management costs are relatively low, the assets are objectively…
Real impact is important when considering how to fund research. Real impact is important when considering how to fund research. Flickr/Mozzer502

High impact: how the story of research can be told better

When it comes to engaging with industry, government and the broader community, there is one secret weapon that is often overlooked in the university sector – the humble story. The art of storytelling is…
Asking for only the primary carer’s views assumes that fathers have no major impact on their children’s health. Asking for only the primary carer’s views assumes that fathers have no major impact on their children’s health. Grant Potter

Mother knows best? Fathers missing in research about kids

If we want to survey families to discover how the children are going, we usually have to ask an adult. It seems common sense to ask the “primary carer”, usually the mother, who knows the child the best…
There are concerns about the take-up of science subjects by students. There are concerns about the take-up of science subjects by students. Ahd Photography

Health of Australian Science: time to call in the doctors (of physics)

The Office of the Chief Scientist today releases the Health of Australian Science report and it’s an intriguing read. The report was compiled to help the office and the public understand the current state…
Is Australia’s standing among OECD countries of national value, or apples and oranges? Is Australia’s standing among OECD countries of national value, or apples and oranges? japi14

Australian R&D measures up globally … but what does that really mean?

How well does Australia’s science, research and innovation system perform compared to other developed nations? The Office of Australia’s Chief Scientist has just released a report addressing this question…
There must be a better way. There must be a better way. Wild Singapore

The end of field ecology?

The image of the bearded, grubby ecologist, out-dated spectacles askew and sporting an eccentric grin of geeky, scientific relish, is one that is shared by many, including novice ecologists themselves…
Congratulations class of 2011, you’ve been given the opportunity to have real-life professors – future classes might not. Congratulations class of 2011, you’ve been given the opportunity to have real-life professors – future classes might not. Flickr/Pauls Creative Cakes

Lost professors: we won’t need academics in 60 years

The University of Melbourne was founded in 1885 with five professors teaching 15 students. In 1952, at the start of the post-war tertiary boom, there were around 3,000 Australian academics teaching 30,000…
If Australia wants to be a leading force in the knowledge economy, strategic investment in university research and infrastructure will be essential. If Australia wants to be a leading force in the knowledge economy, strategic investment in university research and infrastructure will be essential. Novartis AG

A smart strategy to drive Australia’s knowledge economy

At a time when unprecedented levels of investment are being made in university infrastructure in nations such as China and India, it is worth reflecting on how Australia has built its notable areas of…
Universities are centres of research… but what kind of research? Universities are centres of research… but what kind of research? flickr/pcgn

A question universities need to answer: why do we research?

Fundamentally, there are two big motives for research. On the on hand there is intellectual ambition: the desire to know and understand the word, to appreciate the best that has been said and thought on…
Driving technology: Prime Minister Julia Gillard has outlined a $275 million package to keep Holden in Australia. Driving technology: Prime Minister Julia Gillard has outlined a $275 million package to keep Holden in Australia. AAP

It’s time to weigh the cost and benefits when it comes to the car industry

Carmaker Holden will receive a $275 million government package, in return for committing to stay in Australia until 2022 and promising it will invest $1 billion. Phillip Toner, senior research fellow…
In the UK, innovation and research has been at the forefront of the government’s economic policy agenda. In the UK, innovation and research has been at the forefront of the government’s economic policy agenda. bisgovuk

Innovation or stagnation? Lessons Australia could learn from the UK

After decades in the wilderness, industry policy is back centrally on the economic agenda in the UK. What is striking is how the policy is being driven by strong evidence on what works from years of accumulated…
They way we research Asia has been misguided. They way we research Asia has been misguided. Flickr/-AroFarMeR-

Beyond Asian literacy: understanding what makes us the same

Australia desperately needs to invest more on research into Asia if we’re to better understand a part of the world so vital for our future economic prosperity. But not only do we need more research, we…
Australian universities must raise their game to compete in the global education market. Australian universities must raise their game to compete in the global education market. Flickr/Reality-check

Sink or swim? Australian universities in the next decade

The world is in a state of transition. The Indian and Chinese economies continue to grow at around 9 and 10 per cent respectively each year, while the North Atlantic economies - the 20th century epicentre…
Working to improve the performance of the resources sector is a challenging, yet important research focus. Working to improve the performance of the resources sector is a challenging, yet important research focus. AFP/Christian Sprogoe/Rio Tinto

Research funding does not have to equal industry bias

There is common assumption that those of us who undertake applied research with the commercial world must be biased. This month the University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI), which…
Bushfires are a greater risk in areas of human habitation than in alpine regions. Bushfires are a greater risk in areas of human habitation than in alpine regions. AAP

Alpine grazing: let’s research fires where they pose most threat

Last summer, the Victorian government allowed cattle to graze in the Alpine National Park. They claimed it was part of a scientific trial to assess grazing as a tool to reduce fire risk. Now it seems there…
Keep track of your efforts and learn from doing. Keep track of your efforts and learn from doing. John A Kelley USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

One small thing you can do for the environment: learn from your failures

Welcome to “One small thing …”. We asked our authors what one small thing they, or you, could do for the environment. We’ll bring their answers to you on Friday afternoons. Today’s one small thing comes…
When is comes to research, it seems quantity has become much more important than quality. When is comes to research, it seems quantity has become much more important than quality. Flickr/Iscan

How ‘publish or perish’ is ruining finance education

Imagine the following conversation between a finance academic and his or her supervisor during an annual performance review: Academic: So, do you think I am ready for a promotion? Supervisor: Well, I see…
The university funding system discourages research on volunteers like these men who are risking their lives to help their community. The university funding system discourages research on volunteers like these men who are risking their lives to help their community. Flickr/Rob Down Under

In universities obsessed with research here’s what falls between the cracks

In Australian universities at the moment research is everything. They obsess over the rankings in the new ERA system which measures research performance. For academics publishing in the top journals isn’t…
Publicly funded scientists have a responsibility to the public. Publicly funded scientists have a responsibility to the public. AAP

Science and alpine grazing: politics and responsibility

Australian science institutions and scientists must retain the confidence of the public and Australian governments. By blurring facts, disrespecting other institutions' research processes and turning their…
Cattle grazing in Alpine National Park is not supported by science. Cattle grazing in Alpine National Park is not supported by science. foxypar4 on flickr

Science the loser in Victoria’s alpine grazing trial

In January, 400 cattle were released into Victoria’s Alpine National Park as part of a research trial to investigate the influence of strategic grazing as a tool to reduce fuel loads and bush fire risk…

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