[ASC-media] Media Release: "Scientific independence is slipping away"

Australasian Science science at control.com.au
Wed May 4 09:14:05 EST 2005

4 May 2005
For immediate release

"Scientific independence is slipping away"

There is "a disturbing departure from the principles of honest and open
science communication in favour of corporate self-promotion, commercial hype
and a growing secretiveness about the real work" of science, according to
one of Australia's most experienced science writers and analysts. Julian
Cribb says this has three adverse effects:

1. "Public mistrust in science generally and its institutions, which
benefits neither the nation nor science";

2. Substitution of "institutional vainglory for the reporting of actual
scientific findings"; and

3. The loss of hard-won knowledge offshore before Australians are aware of
it. "The achievements of Australian scientists are less known to the people,
who in turn wonder why they should pay more for universities and science
agencies when there are so few apparent benefits."

Cribb writes about the constrictive character of current Australian science
in the May edition of Australasian Science magazine, published today. He is
Adjunct Professor in Science Communication at the University of Technology,
Sydney, chairs the communications committee of the Australian Academy of
Technological Sciences & Engineering and runs a science communication
business in Canberra.

Cribb recalls that Sir David Rivett, who founded CSIRO, championed a "free
trade in scientific knowledge [and] understood clearly that if Australia was
to assemble the best scientific minds and nurture their best work, the
essential guarantee was scientific freedom".

He concludes: "How ironic that Australia should be pursuing so many policies
that will limit the prospects for public good and wider commercial
successŠWe need to re-absorb the lesson that the best and most productive
science is the kind which is free to enquire where the greatest
opportunities beckon, and in which the knowledge flows freely to all those
who need it."

The May issue of Australasian Science also includes critical commentaries by
veteran reporters on the communication of science. Dr Peter Pockley, the
magazine's Senior Correspondent, assesses the 40 years of science in
Australian media (which he pioneered through the ABC) and writes a mixed
report card for today.

Dr Rob Morrison of Flinders University questions whether science is
"becoming the prostitute of the PR machine as institutions sensationalise
their science" and calls for a code of practice among the burgeoning ranks
of public relations operatives. The magazine's editorial points out: "The
growth of this PR army has coincided with public mistrust over the handling
of scientific issues such as mad cow disease, the safety of genetically
modified foods and the necessity of embryonic stem cell research".


Summaries and quotations of selected passages for reporting or review are
permissible provided AUSTRALASIAN SCIENCE MAGAZINE is credited as the source
of this story. 

Julian Cribb's contacts are (02) 6242 8770 and (0418) 639 245.

For permission to reproduce the text partially or in full call the Editor,
Guy Nolch, on (03) 9500 0015.

Julian Cribb's full article can be downloaded as a PDF at
www.control.com.au. A photo is available.

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