Science under attack

18 April 2012

And it's time to fight back, Robyn Williams tells Deakin researchers.

Science is under attack and must fight back to ensure that our democracy remains intact and our world a decent place in which to live. 

That’s the considered view of Australia’s pre-eminent science reporter, the ABC’s Robyn Williams.

“What we see these days is people making decisions based on their personal view of the world and ignoring the scientific facts, or just selecting those that appear to support their view,” said Williams during a visit to Deakin University’s Waurn Ponds campus.

“They no longer want to see the whole picture or to look at all the science and that is very disturbing.”

Williams was addressing a whole new generation of scientists who have been awarded prestigious Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellowships to work on a number of breakthrough projects.

Some of the issues which have caused people to doubt the work of the scientists are climate change, genetically modified foods and HIV as the cause of AIDS.

“When you have someone like Sir Paul Nurse, a Noble prize winning geneticist and the head of the Royal Society going on the BBC to defend science, you know there is a problem,” Williams said.

Sir Paul’s  was a passionate defence of the importance of scientific evidence and the power of experiment, and a look at what scientists themselves need to do to earn trust in controversial areas of science in the 21st century,

“There are a number of reasons why scientists need to rebuild their trust, and to learn how to better communicate their science,” Williams said.

“One of those is that it is fun, there are so many great stories in science to be told, and that is why I love what I do.

“Another reason is that it is a key to our democracy, the politicians need to be properly informed about the science on things like climate change if they are to make the right decisions on policy.

“That re-affirms something that I have been saying for a long time, science communication is the key to saving civilisation.”

Williams encouraged the Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellows to not only get on with their research, but to get on with getting the message out about their new discoveries, a message not lost on the six fellowship holders – all Geelong-based – featured on the day.

Dr Hongia Wang is working to produce the ultimate waterproof jacket - it keeps the wearer dry on the outside without, because of that age-old problem, getting wet on the inside through sweat and condensation.

Recently arrived from Great Britain, Dr Richard Williams is looking at ways to help combat the deterioration of the body in old age.

An Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellowship, plus the creation of Deakin’s Medical School, has brought home local girl Dr Kathryn Aston-Mourney from her recent  job  as a postdoctoral fellow in Seattle.

Dr Aston-Mourney, who went to Matthew Flinders College, is investigating the gene expression signature of dysfunctional ?-cells and potential new drugs for the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Dr Nishar Hameed has made Geelong his home after come from India to do his PhD. A core component of his research is finding sustainable alternatives to plastic that are biodegradable and use renewable resources.

Dr Ming Kalanon is working with Professor Tania de Koning-Ward to find new ways to treat malaria, particularly as the make-up of the disease changes.

Dr Luke Henderson, one of the original Alfred Deakin postdocs in 2009, now heads up his own research group with four PhD students and three honours students.

Dr Henderson’s cutting edge research projects include the photothermal treatment for prostate cancer.

“As well as addressing some issues that are very important to the community, the Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellowships are really helping Deakin raise its research profile,” said Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Lee Astheimer.

“Initially, they had something of internal focus, but we are now attracting very talented young researchers from all around the world.

“Equally it is interesting to see where some of our fellowship holders end up when they leave Deakin, researchers like Dr Frederick Ochanda who was recruited by Cornell University in America.

“Obviously the work they do here at, and Deakin itself, is being held in high regard.”

Locally and overseas, Deakin is helping produce the fight back that Robyn Williams believes is so critical to the future of the world.

Stay tuned to ABC Radio National's Science Show for interviews with Deakin's Vice-Chancellor, Professr Jane den Hollander, and researchers Professor John Endler and Associate Professor Tiff Walsh.

Science communication is fun, there are so many great stories in science to be told, and that is why I love what I do, says Robyn Williams. Science communication is fun, there are so many great stories in science to be told, and that is why I love what I do, says Robyn Williams.

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