Science plea: drop 'boffin'


Scientists today (Thursday) launched a campaign to end the use of the word 'boffin' in media headlines.

Professor Chris Fell, President of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies ( FASTS ) said that 'boffin" was a jaded word which bordered on the offensive for many scientists.

"It conjures up images of weird old men in flapping lab coats, pouring strange chemicals into test-tubes, like Doc Brown in the 'Back to the Future' movies.

"The term reinforces a negative perception which stops people seeing the value of science. It inhibits young students looking at science as a possible career.

"The true picture is vastly different. Science is lively, useful and generates wealth. It's about finding solutions to problems and creating new industries and new jobs.

"Every new industry created in Australia this century will have a basis in science and technology. Every environmental problem we have in Australia - water, global warming, rampant weeds, salinity - has a solution that begins with science."

Professor Fell was releasing FASTS' 'Ten Top Issues" for 2003.

"Our Ten Issues concentrate on industry, education and developing a national strategy. For instance, we want more scientists working in industry - the 100 Postdocs proposal - to open the way to producing new products and improving existing ones.

"We're proposing a new program to bring more science into Parliament, with scientists seconded to work for a year with Parliamentarians on crucial issues.

"We want to change the HECS scheme. Young science and mathematics graduates who go teaching currently take home less pay than their colleagues teaching history or art or woodwork.

"At a time when the number of students doing science and maths subjects is falling rapidly, we need to encourage bright young graduates into teaching."

Professor Fell said that Australia was inching towards setting a long-term vision for our national future, with the identification of the national research priorities.

"As a country we need to know where we are going, and how scienceand technology can help us get there," he said. "Priority research areas are important, so is proper funding.

"Everyone welcomed the Government's Innovation Statement and the new funding it brought into science two years ago, but everyone agreed this was just a first step.

"It's time now to look at taking the second step, to announce the second stage of a long-term project to transform Australia into a competitive modern economy."

Ten Top Issues for 2003

1. AUSTRALIA NEEDS A MAP AND A COMPASS
We have a 10-year plan for defence - why not for science and technology? We should plan for the future, set national goals, and ensure that science serves the national interest.

2. BOOST FUNDING FOR UNIVERSITY SCIENCE
Science and technology are expensive courses to run but vital to Australia's future. The special funding requirements of these courses need to be recognised by Government and universities.

3. ENHANCE INDUSTRY INNOVATION
Meet half the cost of employing new PhD graduates in industry for two years, to encourage industry make the best use of science in developing new products and improving existing ones.

4. BRING ON "BACKING AUSTRALIA'S ABILITY"
The Innovation Statement was the first step to re-invest in Australian science, but we continue to lag in international terms. It's time to take the second step and increase our national investment to OECD average by 2012.

5. VIVE LA DIFFERENCE!
Encourage universities to pursue individual excellence in teaching and research, rather than being clones of each other. Foster institutional cooperation on expensive equipment and joint projects.

6. ENCOURAGE INDUSTRY TO BE INVENTIVE
Give tax breaks on a sliding scale to companies prepared to invest more in research, because enterprising and inventive companies grow and provide more jobs.

7. SCIENTISTS ADVISING PARLIAMENT
Place scientists in Parliament for one-year secondments, to advise MPs on science-based issues such as water, salinity, energy sources of the future, climate change, health and resources.

8. EQUAL HECS FOR SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS TEACHERS
Science and maths teachers are in short supply in Australia, but they still are forced to pay higher HECS fees than teachers in other subjects; and so they take home less pay.

9. ATTRACT VENTURE CAPITAL INTO NEW INDUSTRIES
Venture capital is in short supply. Make it more attractive to invest in new ideas and new industries by introducing new measure such as diminishing annual rates for capital gains tax.

10. IMPLEMENTING NATIONAL RESEARCH PRIORITIES
Australia has adopted research priorities. Now we need to implement them, and find effective ways to measure the progress our science makes to meeting the goals.