Australian scientists join outcry over social sciences and humanities research veto

Dozens of leading Australian scientists have joined in the growing condemnation of a minister’s decision to veto funding for humanities projects, calling for an end to “political interference” in the process. peer review.

In an open letter to Sue Thomas, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Research Council (ARC), and the country’s Acting Education Minister Stuart Robert, 63 ARC laureates expressed concerns about the cancellation of six research grants on Christmas Eve on the grounds that they “” do not demonstrate value for taxpayers’ money or contribute to the national interest. “

“Research in Australia has become political and short-sighted,” warns the letter signed by recipients of Australia’s most prestigious and important award for individual researchers and includes researchers from all disciplines. He also asks Mr. Robert to overrule his veto and approve ARC grant applications that “go through the tried, tested and rigorous peer review process and meet the conditions set out in the call for candidates ”.

“ARC be allowed to return to its primary mission of funding basic curiosity-driven research,” adds the letter, the signatories of which include Australian National University Vice-Chancellor – and Nobel Laureate – Brian Schmidt.

The letter, which also more broadly criticizes the decision to announce grant decisions just a week before funding begins on January 1, follows scathing criticism from the Australian Academy of Sciences who claimed that political interference in the selection of research grants eroded Australia’s international reputation and the integrity of its research system.

Academy President John Shine explained that it was reasonable for governments to align part of funding programs with widely agreed national priorities and strategic goals, which should be clearly stated during the call for proposals. . But independent peer review should “remain the central basis for awarding research to be supported” after that, Professor Shine said.

“The subsequent political control of what is done, where and by whom is contrary to the spirit of a democracy based on free and open critical inquiry,” he added.

In another demonstration of interdisciplinary solidarity, the Australian Institute of Physics released a statement that called on “STEM colleagues from across Australia to join us in standing up with our humanities colleagues against political interference in independent grant processes ”.

“Last minute intervention by politicians should not be a routine part of this process and not result in good value for the Australian taxpayer,” he said.

Outrage follows criticism from around the world, with more than 1,400 academics, writers and intellectuals – including Nobel Prize-winning novelist John Coetzee – signing a petition that insisted that the cancellation of the projects – including four in literary studies – “demonstrates a dismissive attitude towards the value of imagination and creativity”.

“The government’s actions show that it is determined to fund Australian literary culture by overriding academic autonomy and determining what kinds of knowledge can and cannot be pursued,” he said.

Meanwhile, the move has also been condemned by leading international scientists, including the recent President of the European Research Council, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, who said the event “very negatively affects its international image, in especially for countries that are working hard to attract scientists from other countries like Australia ”, the Australian Financial Review reported.

This is the third time in 15 years that a coalition government has vetoed ARC grants in the run-up to an election – with the cancellation of two China-focused projects criticized by the former premier Minister Kevin Rudd as “consistent with the politically partisan principles of the Morrison government.” , professionally immature, neo-McCarthyist approach to any Australian seeking to know more about the precise nature of the Chinese challenge ”, the Review added.

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