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Govt. to Science: “Show me the money!”

May 13, 2011

Seems the Australian synchrotron isn’t worth running.

”I understand its scientific value, but it will have to go through the budget and expenditure review committee process,” Ms Asher said.

Forgive my skepticism, but I am ever so slightly doubtful that Ms Asher really does understand the scientific value. But maybe I’m just a rah-de-rah pro-science person and the money could be better spend on mining research or something, you know, stuff that really is important to Australia.

The Clayton facility…creates intense beams of light used by medical researchers as well as the pharmaceutical, mining, engineering and telecommunications industries…

But is it really worth it? Guess we’d better do some sort of proper cost/benefit thing.

The Labor government maintained that the synchrotron would eventually turn a profit, but sources close to the development process say this was always unlikely. One source said that no synchrotron in the world had become commercially viable, partly because they are expensive to run but mostly because they operate at the primary stage of research, not at the lucrative commercial end.

I suppose you could try to somehow measure the value of the facility beyond simply whether it ‘turns a profit’…but I guess that would require listening to scientific opinions of its value. How much are we talking here?

Scientists told The Sunday Age the synchrotron had overcome the controversial spate of resignations that dogged the facility in 2009 and was now credited with scientific breakthroughs of international importance.

”Day by day the synchrotron is giving us new data. It is an invaluable resource, ” said Professor Robert Williamson, of the Australian Academy of Science.

But I guess it will be expensive to run eh? Wonder if it’s worth it…

The Clayton facility, which creates intense beams of light used by medical researchers as well as the pharmaceutical, mining, engineering and telecommunications industries, needs $156 million over five years to continue operating or $294 million to make it world-class

OK, pretty pricey. I guess it might not be worth it.

Scientists used the synchrotron to examine sheep skin at a nano-scale, allowing them to devise a processing strategy that doubles its strength so it can be used for shoe leather, which will add about $100 million to the value of the Australian sheep industry.

Ah, well there’s a third of the money! Probably that was just a lucky break though and nothing much else of value will come from it I guess.

Seriously though, I hope they can save it. Getting rid of something this big and obviously useful seems like conceding that there is no point in your country becoming an important place for scientific research. Another step towards every country just being good global leeches off the important countries that do all the hard work…until every country starts doing the same thing.

They're shutting us down, Scully.

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