Last year, as a student looking forward to an exciting year in London, I sent out tendrils in search of potential funding. One avenue I tested was making an appeal based on the Inspiring Australia report, published before last year’s Federal Budget, which called for media training for scientists and building international recognition for Australian science. Inspiring Australia was passed over in the budget in 2010, but there’s news: it’s likely to be funded to the tune of $21 million this year.
Hooray. Well. Kind of. It’s going to be replacing a previous program, SCOPE, and most of the funding goes towards Science Week, the Prime Minister’s Science Awards and administration:
This new program is part of the estimated $9.4 billion dollars the Government is investing in Australian science, research and innovation in the 2011-12 financial year alone.
Through this Strategy, the Government will ensure this unprecedented investment is put to good use by business and communities in this generation and the next.
Unprecedented investment? Um, what? That’s about 0.2% of the ‘science’ spend, according to those figures, though I seriously doubt that anything even close to 9 billion goes on the actual practice of science (funding ‘innovation’? What is that?).
I’m not saying it’s bad, but the report has some seriously lofty ideals, and $21 million is enough to cover the skeleton, barely. National Science Week is great – I have a t-shirt that gets regular outings from it – but the activities are not sustained year-round and do not allow for the ongoing development of strong science communication programs. Some do exist, and others, like a Science Discovery Centre proposed for the Gold Coast, could definitely use a sprinkling of funding to help them grow. Those projects are more likely to be grabbing for funds from local authorities.
Recent discussions on the UK PSI-COM mailing list have highlighted the disparity between the requirements of many research grants, which prescribe popularised communication of results, and the actual execution of such requirements. The communication of research usually falls to PR departments of universities, and that’s a strongly restricted and structured mechanism for the communication of science. Useful, yes, but not particularly candid. It definitely doesn’t do much to inspire Australia.
Hopefully, the green-light for funding this year is a foot in the door to a more broad-reaching funding program which can actually foster a future in which “students [have] enhanced experiences in science and mathematics to help ensure an adequate supply of professionals with appropriate skills” and other Inspiring Australia outcomes. Who knows, it might even be able to coax me away from London…