Robb bags “wasteful” research spending

The Australian    |    9 November 2012

Coalition finance shadow Andrew Robb will be at the centre of decision making in an Abbott government so what he says carries weight.  And he’s been saying a bit about research funding recently.  Following lobbying by Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt, Robb has said he is appalled at the amount of time established researchers have to spend simply applying for grants.  Schmidt says researchers with international reputations have  to spend between 30 and 50% of their time each year either applying for grants, in the same way junior colleagues have to, or in peer-reviewing grant applications.  Robb says it’s

…insulting and such a waste having someone of the calibre of Professor Brian Schmidt, a scientist recognised as being at the pinnacle of his profession, required to be bogged down in endless grant applications as though he’s just finished his PhD,” Mr Robb said. “If the time tied up with this sort of activity was reduced to 10 per cent it would dramatically increase funding for research without spending any more money.

Robb also says there has been “considerable waste of grant resources” under Labor, with many projects supported by the Australian Research Council looking to be of limited value.

The Coalition has identified several recent grants awarded by the research council it views as wasteful, including $578,792 to research the history of an ignored credit instrument in Florentine economic and social and religious life from 1570-1790.  Also cited is a $65,000 grant on a study on who reads Thomas Keneally’s work and $24.25 million for researchers in the Perth-based ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (Europe 1100-1800).  A study of Charlotte Bronte and the Romantic imagination cost $70,000.

We should be focusing on research that produces innovation, that will help drive growth and productivity and genuine medical and scientific advances. We should be backing our strengths.

Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions director Philippa Maddern defended the centre’s role as contributing to modern day wellbeing and better political and social decisions.  Maddern says part of her team’s seven-year $24.25m research grant was dedicated to examining how people’s behaviour in Europe between 1100-1800 reflected on modern Australia.  A study of the reasons for suicide and community reactions during this period has helped fill gaps in understanding for psychiatrists today.

Understanding our past can really help us to modify our future in a better way.

Aidan Byrne, the head of the Australian Research Council,  also  hit back at Robb’s criticism of grant decisions, accusing him of picking on projects without understanding the detail.

It is unfortunate that some critics randomly pick short titles of projects and infer that they aren’t useful research.  I advise critics to take the time to understand the research projects and not make assumptions from project titles.

One $210,000 project from last year’s grant round criticised by Robb was titled “Investigation of the early history of the moon”, a biochemistry project on planet formation.


ARC research grants announced

No ducking Robb

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