All publicly funded research could soon be free for you, the taxpayer, to read



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The new ‘Plan S’ initiative focuses on making all publicly funded research immediately fully and freely available by open access publication.
from www.shutterstock.com

Ritesh Chugh, CQUniversity Australia and Kenneth Howah, CQUniversity Australia

What happens to research that is funded by taxpayers? A lot ends up in subscription-only journals, protected from the eyes of most by a paywall.

But a new initiative known as Plan S could change that. Plan S focuses on making all publicly funded research immediately fully and freely available by open access publication.

It sounds like a good idea – but there are possible downsides. This model could potentially undermine peer review, the process vital for ensuring the rigour and quality of published research. It could also increase costs of publication for researchers and funding bodies. So let’s do Plan S right.




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Strong backing in Europe

Plan S is an initiative of an international consortium of research funders known as cOAlition S. This includes European national funders UK Research and Innovation, the Science Foundation of Ireland, and others. Charitable foundations such as Wellcome and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are also signed up.

Chinese and Indian officials have expressed their support for this open access publishing movement.

Plan S aims to make scientific publications resulting from publicly funded research by national and European research councils and funding bodies directly available in open access journals or platforms after 1 January 2020.

Plan S stipulates that all articles should be published in open access mode only, with no paywalls (including in hybrid journals, where some content is open access and some paid) with the following conditions:

  • unrestricted usage and free distribution
  • authors retain copyright
  • funders or universities pay the open access publication fees.

Flaws in the current publication system

The ethical base for Plan S is sound and would undoubtedly make sense to most Australians – that is, publications that have been funded by taxpayer dollars should be readily accessible to the public immediately.

Currently, members of the public and many parts of the research community do not have easy access to research outputs for comment and scrutiny.

Research is hidden behind paywalls in subscription-only journals. Research institutions spend billions of dollars globally on subscriptions.

Hiding valuable research results – particularly those that were taxpayer-funded – behind paywalls is a drawback of the existing scholarly publication model.




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The model has built its reputation on a rigorous peer review process and a strong track record. Unfortunately, although it does highlight the need for high quality open access journals, Plans S lacks adequate detail on this.

This may lead to a proliferation of journals that comply with Plan S but may not have a good history and an efficient review process, thus compromising the publishing of credible results.

Implications for taxpayer-funded research

The cOAlition S claims that:

Publication paywalls are withholding a substantial amount of research results from a large fraction of the scientific community and from society as a whole.

The basic philosophy is that, in principle, “no science should be locked behind paywalls!”. The coalition website defines “science” broadly, to include the humanities.

Hence, taxpayers can expect to see research articles resulting from public money freely available online.

If adopted, researchers will need access to more funding, particularly as open access publishing costs can be as high as US$5,000 per paper.

The implementation of Plan S could also encourage publishers to increase their publishing prices, as they mitigate potential revenue losses in the transition from a subscription-based model.




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Some researchers have labelled Plan S a serious violation of academic freedom, as it restricts their choice of suitable high-quality publication platforms.

If Australia does not adopt Plan S, it could potentially restrict collaboration, publishing, and funding opportunities with research bodies who subscribe to this ambitious movement.

Are Australians ready?

The basic notion of open access has won wide acceptance. But it’s also attracted strong criticism, with some claiming deleterious effects on young researchers of dividing the world into “Plan S” and “non-Plan S” publications.

Open access is already a policy of the Australian Research Council (ARC), which requires that:

Any Research Outputs arising from an ARC supported research Project must be made openly accessible within a twelve (12) month period from the date of publication.

However, the same policy stipulates that “contractual obligations” is an acceptable reason for non-compliance within a 12-month period. In effect, this still allows publication contracts to effectively keep research permanently behind paywalls.




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Not just available, but also useful: we must keep pushing to improve open access to research


A Plan S implementation would disallow this. It would require that authors retain full copyright even after publication, and open access would be required immediately with no 12-month delay.

In this way, Plan S could be seen as merely extending existing Australian funding policy principles.

Rethink how we do things

Despite the potential for downsides, we argue universities and research organisations in Australia should consider aligning their policies with Plan S and promote the advantages of open access to the research community.

Research funders can consider making mandatory open access a condition of grant funding.

Plan S will enable the public to freely access publications, enabling them to come to their own conclusions rather than having intermediaries interpret.

Plan S appears to be a wave that is heading this way so Australians, researchers and research organisations in particular, should start thinking and talking about how it might affect things here.

After all, if this level of open access becomes the norm in Europe, China and India – which combined account for more than one-third of global output of scientific papers – the resulting critical mass would probably force a progressive action of some kind here.The Conversation

Ritesh Chugh, Senior Lecturer/Discipline Lead – Information Systems and Analysis, CQUniversity Australia and Kenneth Howah, Lecturer, CQUniversity Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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How realistic are China’s plans to build a research station on the Moon?


Joshua Chou, University of Technology Sydney

The world is still celebrating the historic landing of China’s Chang’e-4 on the dark side of the moon on January 3. This week, China announced its plans to follow up with three more lunar missions, laying the groundwork for a lunar base.

Colonising the Moon, and beyond, has always being a human aspiration. Technological advancements, and the discovery of a considerable source of water close to the lunar poles, has made this idea even more appealing.

But how close is China to actually achieving this goal?

If we focus on the technology currently available, China could start building a base on the Moon today.




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The first lunar base

The first lunar base would likely be an unmanned facility run by automated robotics – similar to Amazon warehouses – to ensure that the necessary infrastructures and support systems are fully operational before people arrive.

The lunar environment is susceptible to deep vacuum conditions, strong temperature fluctuations and solar radiation, among other conditions hostile to humans. More importantly, we have yet to fully understand the long term impact on the human body of being in space, and on the Moon.

Seeds taken to the Moon by the Chang’e-4 mission have now reportedly sprouted. This is the first time plants have been grown on the Moon, paving the way for a future food farm on the lunar base.

Building a lunar base is no different than building the first oil rig out in the ocean. The logistics of moving construction parts must be considered, feasibility studies must be conducted and, in this case, soil samples must be tested.

China has taken the first step by examining the soil of the lunar surface. This is necessary for building an underground habitat and supporting infrastructure that will shield the base from the harsh surface conditions.

3D printed everything

Of all the possible technologies for building a lunar base, 3D printing offers the most effective strategy. 3D printing on Earth has revolutionised manufacturing productivity and efficiency, reducing both waste and cost.

China’s vision is to develop the capability to 3D print both inside and outside of the lunar base. 3D printers have the potential to make everything from daily items, like drinking cups, to repair parts for the base.

But 3D printing in space is a real challenge. It will require new technologies that can operate in the micro gravity environment of the Moon. 3D printing machines that are able to shape parts in the vacuum of space must be developed.




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Want to build a moon base? Easy. Just print it


New materials are required

We know that Earth materials, such as fibre optics, change properties once they are in space. So materials that are effective on Earth, might not be effective on the Moon.

Whatever the intended use of the 3D printed component, it will have to be resistant to the conditions of lunar environment. So the development of printing material is crucial. Step-by-step, researchers are finding and developing new materials and technologies to address this challenge.

For example, researchers in Germany expect to have the first “ready to use” stainless steel tools to be 3D printed under microgravity in the near future. NASA also demonstrated 3D printing technology in zero gravity showing it is feasible to 3D print in space.

On a larger scale we have seen houses being 3D printed on Earth. In a similar way, the lunar base will likely be built using prefabricated parts in combination with large-scale 3D printing.

Examples of what this might look like can be seen to entries in the 3D printed habitat challenge, which was started by NASA in 2005. The competition seeks to advance 3D printing construction technology needed to create sustainable housing solutions for Earth, the Moon, Mars and beyond.

NASA’s Habitat Challenge: Team Gamma showing their habitat design.
NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge

Living on the Moon

So far, we’ve focused on the technological feasibility of building a lunar base, but we also need to consider the long term effect of lunar living on humans. To date, limited studies have been conducted to examine the the biological impact on human physiology at the cellular level.

We know that the human organs, tissues and cells are highly responsive to gravity, but an understanding of how human cells function and regenerate is currently lacking.

What happens if the astronauts get sick? Will medicine from Earth still work? If astronauts are to live on the Moon, these fundamental questions need to be answered.

In the long term, 3D bioprinting of human organs and tissues will play a crucial role in sustaining lunar missions by allowing for robotic surgeries. Russia recently demonstrated the first 3D bioprinter to function under microgravity.




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Five reasons to forget Mars for now and return to the moon


To infinity and beyond

Can China build a lunar base? Absolutely. Can human beings survive on the Moon and other planets for the long term? The answer to that is less clear.

What is certain is that China will use the next 10 to 15 years to develop the requisite technical capabilities for conducting manned lunar missions and set the stage for space exploration.The Conversation

Joshua Chou, Senior lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

MYEFO rips A$130 million per year from research funding despite budget surplus



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The shockwaves of this cut will be felt for years to come at Australian universities.
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Margaret Gardner, Monash University

Yesterday morning, the mid-year budget update unveiled research funding cuts of A$328.5 million over the next four years. This budget raid on research was more than double the size expected by the university research community.

This new freeze on growth in research funding and PhD scholarships follows last year’s freeze on funding for student places.




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The effect will be felt immediately by the nation’s researchers and their research projects in positions lost and projects slowed, limited or not started. But the damage done will be felt for much longer – in inventions, ideas and opportunities missed.

Why has it been done?

As yet, there has been no adequate public explanation from government, save for two paragraphs in Education Minister Dan Tehan’s media release yesterday:

The decision to pause indexation of research block grant programs for 12 months, along with adjusting growth for RSP (the Research Support Program), will allow the government to prioritise education spending, including on regional higher education.

And this further par:

We have invested over A$350 million since the 2018-19 Budget to support students in regional and remote Australia.

In truth, most of Australia’s regional universities will lose millions of dollars more under the 2017 funding freeze than will be redistributed to them via this latest research cut. And under this new research freeze, they, too, will lose scholarships for PhD students – our next generation of brilliant research talent.

Research funding also goes towards keeping the lights on in libraries and labs so researchers can complete their work.
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Nationwide, the government will fund up to 500 fewer of these scholarships for PhD candidates next year due to the research funding freeze. That’s 500 fewer people who will dedicate their talent to the creation of new knowledge in the national interest.

The education minister has tried to repair the damage inflicted by the 2017 decision of his predecessor – Simon Birmingham – only to compound the damage with this second freeze. That’s throwing bad policy after bad.

Regional universities were among those hardest hit by the 2017 MYEFO decision to cut funding for student places. And that decision continues to cut deeper each year – it will be felt more in 2019 than 2018, and more in 2020 than 2019.

How this will affect Australian research

The harm this will inflict is manifold.

First, it will cut the research funding program. This scheme enables universities to pay the salaries of researchers and technicians whose work enables ground-breaking discoveries. It also funds keeping the lights on in labs and libraries.




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These overheads of research are not funded by competitive grants. For every A$100,000 an Australian university secures in competitive research grants, it must find an extra A$85,000 to be able to deliver that research. Where will universities find these funds?

Second, it will cut the research training program. This funds scholarships for PhD students to enable them to complete their higher degrees – a necessary first step on the way to a career in research. This is a cut into their brilliant careers, and Australia’s future research capacity.

Third, it damages Australia’s standing as a global research leader. Why would a great researcher come to or stay in Australia, when the government has sent a message that, in a time of budget surplus, it’s prepared to cut into research?

Research funding is critical to Australia’s status as a global research leader.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Fourth, it will further undermine Australia’s position in research and development investment relative to our economic competitors. China now invests 2.1% of its GDP in research and development – while Australia’s total investment from all sectors in research and development (government, business and research institutions) is now just 1.88% of GDP. China’s economy is ten times bigger than Australia’s, but they’re investing 30 times more than we are.

Our government only spends A$10 billion on research and development each year. Only last Friday, it was revealed Australia’s government spending on research and development was already forecast to fall this year to its lowest level in four decades as a percentage of GDP – to 0.5%. This new research funding cut only worsens this situation.

With the budget in surplus, it makes no sense

University leaders knew research funding was at risk, and so jobs for researchers, technicians and researchers were at risk. But beyond these jobs are the projects they support and the Australians from all walks of life whose lives have or will be transformed by Australian research.




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Margaret Gardner: freezing university funding is out of step with the views of most Australians


Universities Australia has stories of survivors of stroke, cervical cancer and family violence speaking about how crucial university research has been in the lives of people like them at #UniResearchChangesLives.

With a government budget surplus in sight, it makes no sense to cut the research capacity that will create jobs, income and new industries for Australia.The Conversation

Margaret Gardner, President and Vice Chancellor, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australians’ trust in politicians and democracy hits an all-time low: new research


Mark Evans, University of Canberra; Gerry Stoker, University of Canberra, and Max Halupka, University of Canberra

Over the past four years, we have conducted a range of attitudinal surveys with the Social Research Institute at Ipsos on the relationship between trust in the political system and attitudes towards democracy in Australia.

Our latest research, conducted in July 2018 (prior to the Liberal Party’s leadership spill), includes a quantitative survey of a representative sample of 20 focus groups and 1,021 Australians from a wide range of demographic backgrounds. We understood political trust in this survey as “keeping promises and agreements”.

Our findings should give all democrats pause for thought. We continue to find compelling evidence of an increasing trust divide between government and citizens. This is reflected in the decline of democratic satisfaction and receding trust in politicians, political parties and other key institutions (especially media). We also found a lack of public confidence in the capacity of government to address public policy concerns.

Democratic decline and renewal

Australians should rightly be proud of their hard-won democratic traditions and freedoms and the achievement of stable government, which has delivered social and economic well-being for its citizens.

The majority of Australians dislike the conflict-driven politics of the federal parliament, but don’t dislike democratic values or democracy as a system of government.

When asked to select three aspects of Australian democracy that they liked the most, the top three in 2018 were (in order):

  1. “Australia has been able to provide good education, health, welfare and other public services to its citizens”
  2. “Australia has experienced a good economy and lifestyle”
  3. “Australian elections are free and fair”.

Respondents were least likely to choose features that praised (or showed engagement) with current democratic politics. The findings suggest that Australians are happy with the underlying democratic infrastructure of Australian society that allows them to achieve a high standard of living, but are less positive or engaged about day-to-day political operations.

Australians are deeply unhappy with democratic politics

Fewer than 41% of Australian citizens are satisfied with the way democracy works in Australia, down from 86% in 2007. Public satisfaction has fallen particularly sharply since 2013, when 72% of Australian citizens were satisfied. Generation X is least satisfied (31%) and the Baby Boomers most satisfied (50%).

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At a time of the “#Metoo” movement, women are generally less satisfied with democracy and more distrusting of politicians and political institutions.

In general, levels of trust in government and politicians in Australia are at their lowest levels since time-series data have been available.




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Just 31% of the population trust federal government. State and local governments perform little better, with just over a third of people trusting them. Ministers and MPs (whether federal or state) rate at just 21%, while more than 60% of Australians believe the honesty and integrity of politicians is very low.

The three biggest grievances people have with politicians are:

  1. they are not accountable for broken promises
  2. they don’t deal with the issues that really matter
  3. big business has too much power (Liberal and National Party voters identify trade unions instead of big business).

The continued decline of political trust has also contaminated public confidence in other key political institutions. Only five rate above 50% – police, military, civic well-being organisations (such as Headspace or community services), universities and healthcare institutions.

Trust was lowest in political parties (16%) and web-based media (20%). Trust in banks and web-based media has significantly decreased since the last survey. This reflects the impact of the banking royal commission and the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

People who are more likely to feel satisfied with the status quo include those aged over 55 (Baby Boomers), those earning more than $200,000 a year and those who vote for the National or Liberal parties. They are more likely to be male and an immigrant, because those born overseas tend to be more satisfied with Australian politics than native-born.

Those who are most likely to be unhappy are Australian-born, female, aged in their 40s (Generation X) and struggling on less than $50,000 a year. They are more likely to identify with minor political parties like One Nation, Centre Alliance or independents.

The perfect storm for independents

Levels of social trust are also in decline. Social trust between people has fallen below 50% for the first time to 47%. A majority, though, still believe that people in their neighbourhood would help others out – except for the very rich (47%).

Four attitudinal shifts are on display here.

First, many voters care more about effective and competent government than promises of more dollars in their pockets.

Second, there is a group of voters who are completely disconnected from traditional politics. They are deeply distrustful not just of politicians but almost every major institution and authority figure listed in the survey, except for their local GP.

Third, we can identify an increasingly large group of Australians who are deeply critical of the main political parties and are looking for an alternative across the ideological spectrum.

And fourth, there is a group of Australians who vote independent for tactical reasons, either to secure greater resources for their communities or to register a protest vote against the two-party system.

Appetite for democratic reform is extremely strong

Our survey revealed a significant appetite for reform. Nine out of 15 proposed reforms received net agreement rates above 50%. The top five reforms favoured in the survey were:

  1. limiting money donated to parties and spent in elections
  2. the right for voters to recall ineffective local MPs
  3. giving all MPs a free vote in parliament
  4. co-designing policies with ordinary Australians
  5. citizen juries to solve complex problems that parliament can’t fix.

Reforms aimed at improving the practice of representative politics were the most popular, followed by reforms aimed at giving citizens a greater say. There was also strong support for reforms aimed at creating a stronger community or local focus to decision-making. Only reforms aimed at guaranteeing the representation of certain groups failed to attract majority support.

Remarkably, accessing more detailed information about innovative reforms led to greater support for those reforms. This is an important finding, revealing the importance of strategic communication in winning the war of ideas.

We are at the tipping point

Liberal democracies are founded on a delicate balance between trust and distrust. Our survey findings suggest we may have reached a tipping point due to a deepening trust divide in Australia, which has increased in scope and intensity since 2007.




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Yet citizens still appear to value the overall stability of their political system, even if the lack of political trust means they doubt its ability to deliver, especially on more challenging policy issues.

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Australians imagine their democracy in a way that demonstrates support for a new participatory politics but with the aim of shoring up representative democracy and developing a more integrated, inclusive and responsive democratic system. In the light of this discovery, we believe an effective path to reform is not about choosing between representative and participatory democratic models, but finding linking arrangements between them.The Conversation

Mark Evans, Professor of Governance and Director of Democracy 2025 – bridging the trust divide at Old Parliament House, University of Canberra; Gerry Stoker, Fellow and Centenary Professor, Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra, and Max Halupka, Research Fellow at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Budget 2018 boosts aged care, rural health and medical research: health experts respond



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A$1.6 billion over four years will allow 14,000 more older Australians to remain in their home for longer.
Tanoy1412/Shutterstock

Kees Van Gool, University of Technology Sydney; Andrew Wilson, University of Sydney; Helen Dickinson, UNSW; Lesley Russell, University of Sydney; Peter Sivey, RMIT University, and Rosalie Viney, University of Technology Sydney

The winners of this year’s health budget are aged care, rural health and medical research.

The government has announced A$1.6 billion over four years to allow 14,000 more older Australians to remain in their home for longer through more high-level home care places. For those in aged care, an additional A$82.5 million will be directed to improve mental health services in the facilities.

The budget includes A$83.3 million over five years for a rural health strategy, which aims to place more doctors and nurses in the bush and train 100 additional GPs.

There’s A$1.3 billion over ten years for a National Health and Medical Industry Growth Plan, which includes A$500 million for new research in the field of genomics.

Other key announcements include:

– A$1.4 billion for new and amended listings on PBS
– A$302.6 million in savings over forward estimates by encouraging greater use of generic and bio similar medicines
– A$253.8 million for a new Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.




Read more:
Infographic: Budget 2018 at a glance


Aged care

Helen Dickinson, Associate Professor, Public Service Research Group at UNSW

It was well foreshadowed that this budget would bring with it significant provisions for aged care. It has been widely reported that reforms to pension and superannuation tax have resulted in disaffection in the Coalition within older age groups.

Making older Australians the cornerstone of budget measures is a calculated political tactic in a budget that in the short term makes only limited tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners.

The A$1.6 billion for 14,000 new places for home-care recipients will be welcome, but are a drop in the ocean, given there are currently more than 100,000 people on the national priority list for support.

Additional commitments around trials for physical activities for older people, initiatives to improve connections to communities and protections for older people against abuse will bolster those remaining in homes and communities.

Commitments made for specific initiatives for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and aged care facilities in rural and remote Australia will be welcomed, although their size and scope will likely result in little to address older age groups with complex needs.

While investment in aged care services will be welcome, it remains to be seen whether this multi-million-dollar commitment will succeed in clawing back support from older voters.

Recent years have seen around A$2 billion of cuts made to the sector through adjustments to the residential care funding formula. The current financial commitments go some way to restoring spending, but do not significantly advance spending beyond previous levels in an area of the population we know is expanding substantially in volume and level of need and expectation.

A number of new budget commitments have been announced in relation to mental health services for older people in residential aged care facilities, for a national mental health commission, and for Lifeline Australia.

However, given the current turbulence in mental health services, it’s unclear whether these will impact on the types of issues that are being felt currently or whether this will further disaggregate an already complex and often unconnected system.

It’s unclear whether this will be enough to win back older Australians’ support.
U.J. Alexander/Shutterstock

Equity, prevention and Indigenous health

Lesley Russell, Adjunct Associate Professor, Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the University of Sydney

The government states its desire for a stronger economy and to limit economic imposts on future generations, but this budget highlights a continued failure to invest in the areas that will deliver more sustainable health care spending, reduce health disparities, and improve health outcomes and productivity for all Australians.

We know what the best buys in primary prevention are. But despite the fact that obesity is a heavy and costly burden on the health care system, and the broad agreement from experts on a suite of solutions, this can is once again kicked down the road.

There is nothing new to address the harms caused by excessive alcohol use or opioid abuse.

The crackdown on illegal tobacco is about lost taxes rather than smoking prevention.

There is A$20.9 million over five years to improve the health of women and children – an assorted collection of small programs which could conceivably be claimed as preventive health.

There is nothing in this budget to address growing out-of-pocket costs that limit the ability of many to access needed care.

Additional funding (given in budget papers as A$83.3 million over five years but more accurately described as A$122.4 million over 2018-19 and 2019-20, with savings of A$55.6 million taken in 2020-21 and 2021-22) is provided for rural health that should help improve health equity for country Australians.

Continued funding is provided for the Indigenous Australians’ Health Program (A$3.9 billion over four years); there is new money for ear, eye and scabies programs and also for a new Medicare item for remote dialysis services.

There are promises for a new funding model for primary care provided through Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (but no details) and better access for Indigenous people to aged care.

The renewal of the Remote Indigenous Housing Agreement with the Northern Territory will assist with improved health outcomes for those communities.

PBS, medicines and research

Rosalie Viney, Professor of Health Economics at the University of Technology Sydney

The budget includes a notable increase in net expenditure on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) of A$1.4 billion for new and amended listings of drugs, although most of these have already been anticipated by positive recommendations by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC).

Access to a number of new medicines has been announced. The new and amended medicine listings are clearly funded through savings in PBS expenditure from greater use of generic and bio-similar medicines, given the net increase in expenditure over the five year outlook is around A$0.7 billion.

The budget includes A$1.4 billion for pharmaceuticals.
Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

In terms of medical research, there is an encouraging announcement of significant further investments through the Medical Research Futures Fund. This will be welcomed by health and medical researchers across Australia.

What is notable is the focus on the capacity of health and medical research to generate new jobs through new technology. While this is certainly important, it is as much about boosting the local medical technology and innovation industry than on improving health system performance. And the announcements in the budget are as much about the potential job growth from medical innovation as on providing more or improved health services.

There is new funding for medical research, development of diagnostic tools and medical technologies, and clinical trials of new drugs. The focus on a 21st century medical industry plan recognises that health is big business as well as being important for all Australians.

All of this is welcome, but it will be absolutely critical that there are rigorous processes for evaluating this research and ensuring the funding is allocated based on scientific merit. This can represent a major challenge when industry development objectives are given similar standing in determining priorities as health outcomes and scientific quality.

Rural health

Andrew Wilson, Co-Director, Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the University of Sydney

Rural Australians experience a range of health disadvantages including higher rates of smoking and obesity, poorer survival rates from cancer and lower life expectancy, and this is not solely due to the poor health of the Aboriginal community.

The government has committed to improving rural health services through the Stronger Rural Health Strategy and the budget has some funding to underpin this.

The pressure to fund another medical school in rural NSW and Victoria has been sensibly addressed by enhancing and networking existing rural clinical schools through the Murray Darling Medical Schools network. This will provide more opportunities for all medical students to spend a large proportion of their studentship in a rural setting while not increasing the number of Commonwealth supported places.

There is a major need to match this increased student capacity with a greater investment in specialist training positions in regional hospitals to ensure the retention of that workforce in country areas. Hopefully the new workforce incentive program will start to address this.

The budget includes a Stronger Rural Health Strategy.
jax10289/Shutterstock

Hospitals and private health insurance

Peter Sivey, Associate Professor, School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, RMIT University

There was no new money in today’s budget for Australia’s beleaguered public hospitals. The government is still locked in a deadlock with Queensland and Victoria, which have refused to agree to the proposed 6.5% cap on yearly funding increases from the Commonwealth. With health inflation of about 4% and population growth close to 2% the cap doesn’t allow much room for increased use due to ageing or new technology.

There is no change in the government’s private health insurance policy announced last year and nothing to slow the continuing above-inflation premium rises.

The ConversationOn the savings side, there was also no move yet on the private health insurance rebate which some experts think could be scrapped.

Kees Van Gool, Health economist, University of Technology Sydney; Andrew Wilson, Co-Director, Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney; Helen Dickinson, Associate Professor, Public Service Research Group, UNSW; Lesley Russell, Adjunct Associate Professor, Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney; Peter Sivey, Associate Professor, School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, RMIT University, and Rosalie Viney, Professor of Health Economics, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia can do a better job of commercialising research – here’s how


Ian Jacobs, UNSW

Australia can benefit much more than it does currently from the world-leading research in our universities. It ranks near the top of the OECD for research excellence but is less effective at collaboration between industry and researchers to drive the economic benefits of research. I suggest two important measures that could go a long way to achieving more translation of research to achieve commercial outcomes.

The first is to create a separate fund to support the translation of non-medical research. (The translation of medical research is already supported via the Medical Research Future Fund.) The second is to reform the tax incentives for business and enterprise research and development to better reward industry-university collaboration in the translation of research.




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Five things to consider when designing a policy to measure research impact


Commercialising an idea, innovation or great piece of research is a key driver of new sources of revenue, jobs and industries, and the lifeblood of increasingly knowledge-intensive economies.

But it is not an easy process. For an idea to make the successful journey from discovery to commercialisation, basic research must be tested through prototypes and trials. If we want this to happen, we need funding that specifically targets the research translation process.

A future fund for research translation

We should create an Australian Research Translation Future Fund (ARTFF). Its role would be to focus on translation of the research currently funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC). In so doing it would mirror the role played by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) in translating research funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).



Author provided/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

The importance of funding medical research is beyond question, but there are many challenges facing our society that fall outside the medical category. Advances in science, technology, engineering, humanities, social sciences, arts, design and mathematics are also critical to our prosperity and wellbeing.

Grants for fundamental research and industry linkages in all these areas are administered by the Australian Research Council (ARC) which has funding broadly equivalent to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

But while the NHMRC funding is complemented by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), the ARC has no equivalent. A new translation fund for ARC-funded research could support research in priority areas such as food, soil and water, transport, energy, environmental change and cyber security.

While there is still some debate about the best way to administer the relatively new Medical Research Future Fund, in broad terms it presents a model that could be followed in the creation of research translation fund for non-medical research.

Established in 2015, the Medical Research Future Fund is an endowment fund that will hit A$20 billion upon maturity in 2020-21. It is expected to spend A$1.4 billion over the forward estimates to 2021. The average annual spend over this period is shown in the schematic. Beyond 2021, annual expenditure is expected to be some A$1 billion.




Read more:
$20 billion for medical research: but who will do the research?


Ideally, an Australian Research Translation Future Fund (ARTFF) would make an annual investment in research translation of similar scale.

A tax incentive for research translation

My second proposal addresses Treasurer Scott Morrison’s recent call for an overhaul of the research and development Tax Incentive. It aims to reward R&D undertaken on projects additional to business-as-usual.

The Australian Government refunds about A$3 billion of the A$16.7 billion that business spends on research and development through its R&D tax incentive scheme. Currently, this scheme does nothing to encourage collaboration with publicly-funded research organisations such as universities.

This needs to change. Both the 2016 review of the tax incentive and the the government’s Australia 2030 innovation report recommended a collaboration premium to encourage industry to partner with publicly-funded research institutions.




Read more:
Starting next year, universities have to prove their research has real-world impact


We should endorse the 2016 review’s recommendation for a collaboration premium up to 20% for the non-refundable R&D tax offset for companies with a turnover of A$20 million or more (a rise from 38.5% to 58.5%).

With company tax at 30% this would deliver a net saving as a percentage of eligible R&D expenditure of 28.5%, that is substantially higher than the current 8.5%. The recommended premium also applied to the cost of employing PhD or equivalent graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths in their first three years of employment.

A collaboration premium would pull industry towards universities. If implemented alongside a proposed cap on the annual cash refund to small to medium enterprises and a threshold R&D percentage, the R&D tax incentive collaboration premium could be largely budget-neutral.

Tackling the problem from both ends

A university push toward collaboration through an ARTFF, and an industry pull through an R&D collaboration premium, would be a powerful combination. It would help us deliver on education minister Simon Birmingham’s goal of promoting “good research ideas that can be applied or commercialised to provide real-world measures that benefit all Australians and our economy.”

The current R&D ecosystem has imbalances in the funding of medical and non-medical research, coupled with insufficient engagement between industry and universities. Both are factors in the worrying discrepancy between Australia’s research excellence and our ability to apply and commercialise our ideas.

The ConversationA tax incentive coupled with a new fund to support research translation could go a long way toward closing that gap.

Ian Jacobs, Vice Chancellor, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Plinky Prompt: What Non Profit Organizations Do You Support? Would You Ever Start Your Own?


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I don’t have any non profit organizations that I support on a regular basis. I do support various non profit organizations from time to time, but it tends to be a bit all over the shop.

I have supported such environmental organizations as Bush Heritage Australia and WWF, among others. I have also supported Compassion and other similar organizations from time to time, such as when the appeal went out for assistance during the tsunami crisis on Boxing Day a few years ago.

I do have an interest, should I have access to any money, to start a foundation-type organization for diabetes research and support. The reason for this interest is that a dear friend died a few years ago who suffered badly from diabetes.

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Pakistani Woman Appeals Death Sentence for ‘Blasphemy’


District judge bows to pressure of local Muslims, handing down stunning sentence to Christian.

LAHORE, Pakistan, November 13 (CDN) — Attorneys for a Christian mother of five sentenced to death by hanging for allegedly speaking ill of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, have filed an appeal of the verdict, they said.

Bowing to pressure from Muslim extremists in Pakistan, according to the Christian woman’s husband and rights groups, a district court judge handed down the stunning sentence to Asia Noreen on Monday (Nov. 8). Additional District and Sessions Judge Naveed Ahmed Chaudhary of Nankana Sahib district delivered the verdict under Pakistan’s controversial “blasphemy” statute, the kind of law that a resolution before the United Nations condemning “defamation of religions” would make legitimate internationally.

Noreen is the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s widely condemned law against defaming Islam.

Noreen’s lawyer, Chaudhry Tahir Shahzad, said that among other allegations, she was accused of denying that Muhammad was a prophet.

“How can we expect a Christian to affirm a Muslim belief?” Shahzad said. He added that he and lawyer Manzoor Qadir had filed an appeal against the district sessions court’s verdict in the Lahore High Court.

Asia (alternately spelled Aasya) Noreen has been languishing in isolation in jail since June of last year after she argued with fellow field workers in Ittanwali village who were trying to pressure her into renouncing Christianity. Her husband, Ashiq Masih, told Compass that the argument began after the wife of an Ittanwali elder sent her to fetch water in Nankana Sahib district, about 75 kilometers (47 miles) from Lahore in Punjab Province.

The Muslim women told Noreen that it was sacrilegious to drink water collected by a non-Muslim, he said.

“My wife only said, ‘Are we not all humans?’ when the Muslim women rebuked her for her faith,” Masih, a field laborer, told Compass by telephone. “This led to an altercation.”

Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) General Secretary Katherine Sapna told Compass that the women told Muslim cleric Muhammad Salim about the incident, and he filed a case with police on the same day, June 14, 2009.

On June 19, 2009, Masih said, the Muslim women suddenly raised a commotion, accusing Noreen of defaming Muhammad.

“Several Muslim men working in the nearby fields reached the spot and forced their way into our house, where they tortured Asia and the children,” said Masih, who confirmed that his wife is 45 years old and that they have five children – four girls and a boy, the oldest daughter 20.

Police arrived and took his wife into custody, presumably for her own protection, he said.

“They saved Asia’s life, but then later a case was registered against her under Sections 295-B and C [blaspheming the Quran and Muhammad, respectively] at the Nankana police station on the complaint of Muhammad Salim, the local imam [prayer leader] of the village,” he said. “Asia has been convicted on false charges. We have never, ever insulted the prophet Muhammad or the Quran.”

Salim reportedly claimed that Noreen confessed to speaking derogatorily of Islam’s prophet and apologized. Under immense pressure from local Muslims, according to Masih, CLAAS and Sohail Johnson of Sharing Life Ministry, local judge Chaudhary ruled out the possibility that Noreen was falsely accused. In spite of repeated efforts by the Muslim women to pressure her into renouncing her faith, the judge also reportedly ruled “there were no mitigating circumstances.”

Chaudhary also fined her 100,000 rupees (US$1,150), according to CLAAS.

Ataul Saman of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) said that lower court verdicts in blasphemy cases are usually overturned by higher courts. He said lower court proceedings take place under intense pressure, with local Muslims gathering outside and chanting slogans to pressure judges. Saman added that NCJP research showed that up to 80 percent of blasphemy charges are filed against people to settle personal scores.

Rights groups have long criticized Pakistan’s blasphemy laws as too easily used to settle grudges or oppress religious minorities, such as the more than 4 million Christians that Operation World estimates out of Pakistan’s total population of 184.7 million. To date no one has been executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, as most are freed on appeal after suffering for years under appalling prison conditions. Vigilantes have killed at least 10 people accused of blasphemy, rights groups estimate.

Noreen was convicted under Section 295-C of the defamation statutes for alleged derogatory comments about Muhammad, which is punishable by death, though life imprisonment is also possible. Section 295-B makes willful desecration of the Quran or a use of its extract in a derogatory manner punishable with life imprisonment. Section 295-A of the defamation law prohibits injuring or defiling places of worship and “acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class of citizens.” It is punishable by life imprisonment, which in Pakistan is 25 years.

Between 1986 and August 2009, at least 974 people have been charged with defiling the Quran or insulting Muhammad, according to the NCJP. Those charged included 479 Muslims, 340 Ahmadis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus and 10 from other religions.

Johnson of Sharing Life Ministry, which is active in prisons and has been following Noreen’s case from the onset, said he was impressed by her continued faith.

“A week before the verdict, I went to visit Asia in jail,” he said. “I asked her what she was expecting. She told me that Jesus would rescue her from this fake case.”

The verdict was shocking in that no one was expecting a death sentence for a woman, he said. Masih agreed.

“Asia was hoping that the judge would free her and she would come home to be with us, but this conviction has dashed our hopes for now,” Masih said.

He said that since the sentencing, authorities have not allowed him or other members of their family to visit his wife.

“We don’t know yet how she is, but we trust the Lord,” he said. “Asia is suffering for Jesus, and He will not forsake her.”

Report from Compass Direct News