Arriving home from Berlin and Beijing my strongest impression is that Germany and China are using science to drive their economies forward. Watching the Q&A on science the day after my return, I get the strong impression that in Australia science is seen as getting in the way of our mining based economy – and is bulldozed out of the way. How has it come to this?
Freedom of the press is an issue that has been unusually prominent in Australia in recent months – taking ‘the press’ to encompass all public media. But most of the discussion has focused on the wrong questions and has failed to notice that whether Australia has a free press is a question that can be answered empirically; and regrettably the facts demonstrate that, taken as a whole, we do not have a free press.
Growth is a big issue, and getting bigger all the time, but not one that yet generates serious discussion in the community. Nor has it been the subject of mainstream political critique. That economic growth is good is a view unchallenged by any major political party in Australia, with the exception of the Greens – and more than anything else it is their questioning of growth that has seen the major parties condemn the Greens as a fringe political movement.
No doubt there are deep philosophical – or at least ideological – reasons for this, but the problem might also be explained by our simple failure to understand the mathematics of growth.
Whether the Abbott government is prepared to turn its back on the Enlightenment and adopt policies which are directly contrary to accepted science is an issue orders of magnitude greater than any other matter which is at play in our current politics.
Commentators on recent articles on climate change in this journal have argued that the scientific study of climate change is useless and/or untrustworthy. Useless because all we should and do care about is the weather, and it is not possible to attribute any particular weather event, no matter how unusual, to climate change. Untrustworthy because the basis for identifying what counts as the accepted science is expert peer review and this process is corrupt or unreliable.
So far as I can recall these are recent claims. The relationship between weather and climate used to be thought straightforward, and peer reviewed publication followed by peer reviewed criticism was accepted as the basis of progress in science. But now both have become hot issues.