Hobbling Australian Universities

He was a small man. At 5’8″ I’m no giant myself, but even I looked down on this lanky character. Yet, a decade on, I still remember that smug leer he would wear in response to my stress. He was the manager of another department, a life long friend of the store manager and my tormentor as a retail trainee.

If I knew then the career trajectory I would later take, his bullying would have had less of an impact.

As a trainee, I reported to the head office with frequent reviews of my traineeship. My experience was far from unique, talking with other trainees from other stores when we had our theory lessons.

Anonymously, I decided to report this back where it would be on record and could be audited.

However, as inappropriate as it was, eventually, by my handwriting, I was discovered. In the proceeding conversation, I was informed that my report would be seen by the independent auditors (which was my intention) and that I was risking the possibility of others enjoying this excellent opportunity I currently had.

And so, in that small oppressive room in the basement of my store (the door closed, of course), with two people from the head office looking at sternly at my from across the table, I took it back…

To go on and enjoy that smug leer.

Is it really possible to discuss uncomfortable criticisms about a boss in front of them? Arguably answering this question has been one of the hallmarks to the success of any religion; with the pretext of some invisible Big Brother overhead, capable of unthinkable punishment, why challenge the orthodoxy?

Gagging the free agent

The new government closed the Climate Commission. Of all the discussions relating to that, what interests me most is in response to the governments claim that Australian universities and the CSIRO are enough to provide the scientific evidence regarding climate change.

The response to this questions their ability to do so with the various political pressures placed on such institutes.

I don’t doubt the reality of this concern. Funding being a major concern, for one thing. Budget cuts seem forever on the horizon… Why would an institute want to be very vocal on a topic that the current boss seems at odds with? Especially when this boss is willing to close down vocal scientific organisations?

Politically correcting reality?

This is a real concern. Can we really have much confidence in the potency of Australian universities if their contribution to scientific endeavour and communication are, at least in part, stunted by political favour?

Micheal Mann once noted that a glacier was neither a Democrat or Republican, it just melts. Science is about precision and accuracy of our interpretation of the universe, regardless of its emotional or political ramifications.

How can a scientific institute possibly hope to function if it needs to place emotional or political pressures before precision and accuracy? It may as well offer Bachelors of Science in “Everything is okay” and “Don’t worry, you’re immortal”.

The school of good feelings and bad jokes

As it stands, it seems that Australia finds many of its so-called prime research institutes at the table, expected to respond to an emotional position before power brokers. For many reasons, I can’t help but feel they are stepping away, even if only a little, from uncomfortable conclusions opposing the position of these power brokers.

The smug leer is, as it was for me in retrospect, the least of anyone’s concern. We threaten to lose all respect in ourselves and our research if we allow political or emotional pressures to undermine the process. Research cannot be expected to place politics or emotions before rigour and still command respect.


About Moth
Situated in Victoria, Australia, I have a background in ecology, atmospheric / meteorological monitoring and analysis as well as web / graphic design. On New Anthropocene, my main interest is scientific accuracy and arguing for sound policies so that we can hope to obtain the best quality lives for our species. My work is entirely my own and does not reflect that of my employer nor does it endorse a particular political party. Please read my full statement for further information.

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