April 14th, 2011


Research Cuts

I don't know if people have seen this, but:

Thousands of researchers took to the streets of Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide on Tuesday to protest cuts to the research budget of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the main source of public funding for research scientists in the sector. The cuts are thought to total AUS$400 million (US$419 million) over the next three to four years. Further rallies will be held in Perth, Brisbane and Darwin later in the week.

The protests have been organized as part of the Discoveries Need Dollars campaign, a grass-roots organization started by the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne. "The turnout was phenomenal," says Doug Hilton, the institute's director, who took part in the Melbourne rally. And not only scientists joined the protest, he adds. "About 1,000 were from patient groups and the general public — that's what was really inspiring."

Rumours of looming cuts first began to circulate in March, although the Australian federal budget for 2011–12 will not be presented to Parliament until 10 May. The Department of Health and Ageing has declined to comment on the reports. If the leaked figures — which, Hilton says, come from Cabinet-level conversations — are accurate, they would constitute a cut of around 14-19% to the NHMRC budget, which totalled about $715 million last year.


But medical-research funding is not the place to trim fat, says Hilton. The medical-research sector might find some efficiency gains in areas such as general administration, but that's not what NHMRC funding covers. "NHMRC funding simply covers the direct costs of doing experiments," he says. "I think the argument that there is fat in that part of the sector is a complete misreading of the situation by the federal government."

In fact, the cuts would suggest a more fundamental misunderstanding by the federal government, says Cathy Foley, President of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies. "The concern I have is the apparent lack of understanding of how research is done — you can't just turn research on and off," she says. The funding cuts will mean researchers losing their jobs, and they may not come back.

In addition, there's some talk going round that the budget is going to cut into welfare, specifically unemployment benefits. I flipped on the news briefly while eating breakfast and they interviewed an elderly woman who said fat people shouldn't get any government help, which is really missing the point. The government and the media's portrayal of the unemployed as people who are taking advantage of everyone and running wild in parties and living decadent is a terrible one, born out a low key hostility toward the idea of those who don't have to work at a job they dislike or find futile. Ignoring the rather large implications about our society that is part of such a statement, targeting the unemployed or those on benefits is really just targeting those who are in an already disadvantaged position, and who have no voice in our culture. Don't fall for that. If a tough budget is needed (and it probably is) the places to cut it are not where we held the most financially vulnerable, or in the research that will help the country and public in the future, to just pick the two choices being put around.

Also, while I am discussing the current failings of our government, I'd like to point out that I have never seen a more awful and terrible mishandling of an issue as I have with the carbon tax plan. Seriously, the solution to make it palpable to people after Abbott and the opposition ran around cackling like evil super villains is to simply bribe them?

Here is the solution:

"We're putting in a carbon tax. The money raised from the tax will be used to fund alternative energy resources to change our current damaging power sources."

Honestly, it's not hard.

The Writer and the Critic, Above/Below

The latest episode of the Writer and the Critic is out and features a review and, largely spoiler free, discussion of Above/Below:

The Writer and the Critic elects to stay at home and rest its feet this month as your hosts, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond, give you a rundown on the recently announced ballots for the Ditmar and Chronos Awards. Ian grabs a shovel ad promptly digs himself a Ditmar-shaped hole. Kirstyn highlights the emergence of the podcast as a dominant form of "fan publication" on both ballots.They then discuss gender bias in The Periodic Table of Storytelling (which is based on the TV Tropes wiki) -- not to mention gender bias on Ian's hoodie! -- as well as a related blog post by Ann Leckie. Ian laments the likely closure of Salon Futura but hopes Wizard's Tower Press (and its fine online book store) will continue. Kirstyn still refuses to buy an iPad.

Above/Below by Stephanie Campisi and Ben Peek is a listener-recommended title which is comprised of two linked novellas published as a single "flip-style" book.There are very few spoilers in this review but if you haven't read the book and wish to skip ahead, the discussion begins at 39:30 and ends around 54:15.

The official podcast books are The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (chosen by Ian) and Liar by Justine Larbalestier (recommended by Kirstyn). Be warned: both these discussions contains MASSIVE SPOILERS!! They begin at 54:15 for Oscar Wao and 1:20:20 for Liar. If you haven't already read the books, you may want to come back later when you have. Especially when it coms to Liar. Kirstyn and Ian are very serious about that. Look how sternly their fingers are wagging!

To hear a final wrap-up, brief mention of feedback, and some very exciting podcasty news, listen in from 1:39:00.

For the next episode, Ian has chosen The Resurrectionst by Jack O'Connell while Kirstyn has picked Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. In addition, they will be discussing the new split-novel/duology, Black Out and All Clear by Connie Willis, which was recommended by a listener. Whew, that's a whole bunch of words to get through!

*** The Writer and the Critic adopts a book club approach to its discussion and will assume its listeners have either read the books in question or don't care if they find out that it was all but a dream in the end. There will almost certainly be spoilers, so you are encouraged to read the chosen titles ahead of time. It'll be much more fun that way and Ian and Kirstyn won't get near as many death threats! ***


The discussion of Above/Below is pretty positive. Which side to read first is discussed, Thomas Disch is name checked and so is Bruce Willis. Steph is called beautiful and I am called political, and it was all very quite positive, as I said. You should check it out if you have read the book, and even if you haven't.

Above/Below can be purchased here for 15 bucks. Obviously you want to buy it.