May 100 words bloom

[Update: I’ve added Amy’s mind-changer. Joshua’s is here.]

My friend and coauthor Amy King is in the governance stream for the Australia 2020 summit, and has kindly allowed me to post her 100-word big idea (and 100-word mindchanging experience) for the summit.

Question: If you could do one thing in your stream area, what would it be? What is it that you think would make the most difference?

My goal in the governance stream is to find ways to provide more and better data to the public on how Australia is faring in education, the economy, the environment, healthcare and other major social and economic indicators. Measuring and opening up access to public information puts governments in a vulnerable position; failures cannot be easily hidden. Yet the benefits are immense: data transparency means researchers can find better solutions to public problems; traditional and newer media sources can critically debate their government’s actions; individual citizens can better understand and take responsibility for their own problems; public policies can be more objectively evaluated; and governments remain answerable to the citizens they serve.

Question: What is one issue over which you’ve changed your mind in the past 10 years?

My attitude towards feminism has changed. Growing up, I never questioned women’s equality and resented any suggestion that women required special treatment. But two things shifted my views: community work and research alerted me to both statistical and real-life evidence of sex discrimination and domestic violence in particular, while living in Japan and China showed me that although Australia does not tolerate the overt sex discrimination present in these countries, it does tolerate more covert forms of discrimination in terms of childcare and work/life balance. My views on feminism are still shifting and it frustrates me when rhetoric doesn’t stand up to data or reality, but this is one issue over which I have changed my mind.

And here’s Joshua Gans’ big idea.

There has been a trend towards encouraging, and even mandating, commercialisation of scientific knowledge as a pre-requisite for receiving government funding. This, however, can conflict with how future knowledge is created; something that requires maintaining the ability and incentives for current knowledge to be disclosed and used in an unfettered manner. To provide an appropriate balance, my idea is that grants should require open dissemination but with an option to ‘opt out’ of such requirements by refunding monies should conflicting commercialisation properties present themselves. Giving scientists and commercial funders a menu of public support options and requirements will improve the mix and efficiency of scientific knowledge dissemination.

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5 Responses to May 100 words bloom

  1. Seneca says:

    Thanks to Amy King and Joshua Gans for allowing posting of their ideas.
    Couple of questions: on Amy’s idea, is there a gap between how Australia is faring and how governments are doing: for example, is government necessarily responsible for private hospitals and private schooling, or generally for everything that happens in Australia? Also, how far down does public information go: data on individual government and private schools for example, or information on individual hospitals (both public and private?).
    I like the idea of researchers’ refunding grants if they commericalise (if I have got it right…) but why not ask for some additional return to the taxpayer for providing the seed money?
    Thanks again.

  2. Patrick says:

    I like those ideas. On the basis of the previous post, I am confident that neither will make it. Both, but Amy’s in particular, will be far too boring, practical and darn plain useful to get past the kind of halfwits that came up with the list in the previous post.

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  4. cba says:

    I sympathise with both ideas.

    wrt to Joshua Gans, I’m not sure “buying out” the govt funding goes far enough toward an open policy.

    If we believe that commercially viable ideas are “better”, which is presumably why we are skewing funding in that direction, a policy that requires opening up of the projects that aren’t viable doesn’t sound all that useful (e.g. ten attempts to produce a vaccine, one of them successful). Is there any evidence that federally funded research that isn’t commercially viable does not disclose whatever good ideas it has?

    Wouldn’t patent protection better serve the dual goals of funding open but commercially viable research?

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