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Lax parents blamed for 'attention deficit' behaviour

Matthew Kirkcaldie Matthew.Kirkcaldie at newcastle.edu.au
Mon Aug 4 21:17:45 EST 2003

In article <3f2e64a5 at dnews.tpgi.com.au>, "John H." <john at faraway.com> 

> Then I'm afraid you're going to be a busy boy Matthew! However, let's test
> the waters. Broadly and briefly, how would judge the quality and accuracy of
> a program like Catalyst (Aussie science program for those overseas)?

I like Catalyst, and I have an unreserved admiration for anyone who 
makes an honest attempt to bring science to the general public in a 
demystified way - Karl Kruszelnicki (Dr Karl) and Steve Irwin spring to 
mind, since whatever their quirks as presenters, they always strive for 
accuracy, and communicate their genuine enthusiasm.  Of course, for all 
his supposed failings, Carl Sagan was a massive inspiration to every 
teenaged kid like me who watched Cosmos and realised you could use 
science to ask about people and their environment, instead of the 
acceleration due to gravity.

Like any journalistic endeavour, Catalyst are at the mercy of their 
sources, but they generally do a bang-up job of enlivening their pieces, 
and get the facts straight as they are presented.  Occasionally they 
present opposing sides of a debate in a worthwhile way, too.  The 
problem, of course, is that the current funding climate has created a 
body of researchers who are aware of media power and are increasingly 
sophisticated in the way they manipulate media exposure, which leads to 
some fairly purple claims being made for what is essentially basic 
research.  If "basic science" wasn't such a dirty word in our 
instant-gratification, year-on-year-earnings, patent-or-die funding 
climate then you'd see more scientists being a LOT more candid about 
where their work is headed.  This of course is why fast-turnaround 
methods like fMRI, gene arrays, c-Fos labelling and cell culture are 
being used so much in neuroscience - and frequently misapplied as well.

Most scientists would probably say there's nothing wrong with studying a 
system for the sheer challenge of understanding it, and to hope that 
such understanding will be of benefit down the track.  But those same 
people are forced to write "is likely to be of clinical utility in five 
years" or "addresses an immediate and pressing social problem" in order 
to justify their research for funding purposes.  Or worse, they are 
forced to follow projects which meet these criteria by filling in the 
gaps in established knowledge.  I reckon that in a decade we will find 
we have coloured in the map very thoroughly but there are no new 
countries to explore, because the long punts were discouraged. (end of 

> By the way, I'm an armchair philosopher but make an honest attempt to get at
> the truth still with too many errors. Whatever, as James Joyce noted, "A
> man's errors are his portals of discovery."(Ulysses I think but can't be
> bothered checking tonight)

Oh, I'm an armchair philosopher too!  I just get irritated by people who 
present their opinions and theories as fact, in order to gain notoriety 
or gain financially!  Particularly the latter.  As long as both of us 
are comfortable with having our ideas shot down or rebuilt from the 
ground up, I think we'll be all right.  Actually, I really enjoy having 
a cherished notion yanked out from under me, it tells you fairly quickly 
how robust your other ideas are.  If you strike someone who doesn't like 
to be challenged or questioned, chances are they're out of their depth 
but putting up a bluff for some ulterior motive.



PS: Most fun I've had today, that's for sure ... !

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