1.5th world

Why does it always seem like Australia is a bit behind the rest of the developed world? Movies, music and TV always gets here late, and so does science. Everything from ethanol to stem cells is somehow stymied by the parochial attitudes that are prevalent in our current government.

Australians really seem to enjoy hating America, as if they’re on some kind of moral — and intellectual — high ground. I’d like to contend that we’re not, on the basis of the science that’s practised here vs. there. It’s not just a funding issue: it’s a mental block.

Exhibit A: Ethanol , a potentially green source of fuel, is not just used in the United States, it’s being heavily researched there. While ethanol’s current edge over oil is debatable, it’s very promising if it can be harvested in energy-efficient ways. In Australia, research into ethanol is minimal, and its use is not being encouraged, despite petrol prices rising above $1.40 per litre. So much for progress.

Exhibit B: Mifepristone is currently available in many countries around the world, including “developing” countries such as Turkey and Tunisia. It is approved by the World Health Organization and is also in use in the US, a country supposedly more conservative than Australia. Seems like the pro-lifers don’t have as much effect on what medical treatments are available to women in difficult situations.

Exhibit C: This one’s a little more promising, but I’ll include it anyway. Embryonic stem cell research is currently non-existent in Australia, but it just might be back on the cards. It’s not happening much in the US either, but it is in California. So if an American scientist wanted to do stem cell research, he or she would only have to relocate to California, not to a different country.

Which brings me to my final point. Australia, remote island of small population that it is, can ill afford to lose its most promising scientists to other countries, but the brain drain has been going on for too long already. We urgently need to replace sport with science as the national religion of this country, or we’ll just fall further and further behind.

3 thoughts on “1.5th world

  1. Dear Blogger: you wrote “So if an American scientist wanted to do stem cell research, he or she would only have to relocate to California, not to a different country.”

    actually, this isn’t true. People are working with human ES cells throughout the country at universities and companies large and small, not just in CA. You just have to use “approved” lines, which stinks, but will change.

  2. In relation to embryonic stem cell research in Australia, I’m pretty sure it is happening legally, although the sources of embryos for research are restricted – the following is from http://www.mydr.com.au/default_new.asp?article=3599

    The Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2002 permits research on left-over embryos from assisted reproductive technology (ART), i.e. IVF programmes. Some 70,000 such embryos exist at present in Australia. Researchers will have to apply for a licence to do the research and it will be carefully regulated within an ethical framework. It is permitted to use the embryos to derive embryonic stem cells. Part of the framework is that written permission must be given by the woman for whom the embryo was created and her partner (if relevant), so scientists cannot use your embryos for research unless you give them written permission.