Prime Minsters Prizes: great scientists, shame about the politicians

pm prizes releaseLook, I love the work done by those amazing scientists who received the Prime Minster’s Prizes for Science yesterday. But I can’t help but read a press release from a Prime Minster who decided to chop science from the Cabinet with some cynicism.

The entire thing links scientific research to commercial benefit – and perhaps that’s inevitable when the press release is jointly issued by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Industry. The only quote in the release is from, wait for it, Robert Menzies [Welcome back Bob, I’m going to guess that it’s been awhile since you got quoted in a Government press release]. And while I wholeheartedly agree that Florey has probably saved more lives than anyone else on Earth, perhaps instead of a sort of pointless quote popped in to demonstrate the long-standing Liberal support for science, the Prime Minster would do better to emulate Menzies’ actual, material support for science.

And, more importantly, an Australian saying that an Australian was the most important man in Australia does not prove that we have a ‘proud history of science’.  It proves that a politician said something. What might prove that we have a proud history of supporting science is a ministerial position and a graph showing an upward trend in funding.

The release starts by saying, “Our lives today are testimony to the links between scientific research and industrial applications that have shaped the modern world.”. And that really sums up why this frustrates me. It’s all about science providing innovations and cures; there’s no sense of pure scientific research or a sense of wonder and discovery. Science is there to do a job, to deliver those cool gadgets we all love and a solution to our health problems.

For those wonderful scientists and teachers who won Prizes, and those others who toil without prizes, I have nothing but admiration. For a Government who stands on their shoulders and shows no signs of providing anything beyond rhetorical support, I have nothing.

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