[ASC-media] Media Release: Put People First for Science Success

Australasian Science science at control.com.au
Mon Jul 30 01:39:45 CEST 2007

30 July 2007       
For immediate release

Put People First for Science Success
Australia needs high quality leaders ³who are trusted to nurture creative
scientists and free them of pressures to deliver quick commercial outcomes,²
according to a senior science manager in a critical comment on the state of
the national innovation system.
Dr Annabelle Duncan puts her views in the August issue of Australasian
Science, published today. A microbial ecologist with broad experience in
managing science, she is Deputy Director of the University of Melbourne¹s
Bio21 Institute and a former Chief of CSIRO Molecular Science.
³Australia¹s milieu for research is our major barrier to long-term success,²
Dr Duncan writes. ³At the very heart of a knowledge economy are people who
have the ideas, and we do not lack them. The culture in which they work
determines whether they can develop those ideas for social or economic
³Characteristically, our researchers are driven by pressures to appear
Œhigh-performing and outcome-driven¹ over short timescales. We need balance
in the strange hybrid of anarchy and discipline. Highly innovative people
tend to have a strong streak of anarchy. Restrict the anarchic streak too
much and you inhibit creativity, but allow anarchy to rule and everyone
works on their favourite topic, resulting in chaos. An element of discipline
is needed to temper the anarchy.
³Currently in Australia we seem to be working at the two extremes. In parts
of our innovation system we have little discipline. In the name of academic
freedom we have large numbers of fragmented, poorly resourced projects with
little leadership.
³In other publicly funded research, we have the push from remote,
centralised planning groups who dictate what will be worked on. They require
so-called Œaccountability¹ with requirements for long, tedious Œinvestment
processes¹. Autocracy rules.²
Dr Duncan concludes: ³In nurturing the high performers, [decentralised
leaders] must not fear being looked over their shoulders continually. Too
much discipline clips the wings of scientists ready to fly. To capitalise
upon high quality science and produce original results we need the correct
structure in our industry. Of course, to invest in creativity we still need
adequate money that is competitive with international norms. Here we have
lagged behind for decades.
³But without confident science leaders and the right culture, the structure
is meaningless and the money and talent are wasted. Let us get these people
issues right first.²

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

Dr Annabelle Duncan on (03) 8344 2248.
For permission to reproduce this article (partially or completely) call
Editor, Guy Nolch, on (03) 9500 0015 or Senior Correspondent, Dr Peter
Pockley, on (02) 9660 6363. A photo of Dr Duncan is available.

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