Ian Chubb, Australia’s Chief Scientist, speaks at 2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference

When the 3rd Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) opens tomorrow (Nov. 16, 2011), attendees will find a large number of sessions focussed on innovation. In fact, the keynote panel is titled, Big Picture Perspective on Science & Innovation Policy, and features three speakers all of whom are academics including Australia’s Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb. The other two speakers are Rémi Quirion, OC, Ph.D., CQ, FRSC, Chief Scientist & Chariman of the Board, Fonds de recherche du Québec and R. Peter MacKinnon, President, University of Saskatchewan
& member of the STIC [Science and Technology Innovation Council] State of the Nation Working Group. Here’s a description of the panel topic from the 2011 CSPC agenda page,

With continuing uncertainty about the global economy and with persistent public policy challenges that respect no borders, science and innovation policy is of increasing importance for governments and organizations across Canada and around the world.  How do leaders from various perspectives view the “big picture”?  What are the key challenges and opportunities in the decade ahead and how can science, technology and innovation help to address them?  How can states [nations] improve the performance of their science, technology and innovation systems to ensure better health outcomes, a safe and secure environment, and sustainable prosperity for their citizens?  How are macro-decisions on the state of science and innovation policy being made, and what foundations can support efficient national innovation systems?

Given that the world of academe is not known for its innovation, I always find it a bit odd to see these panels peopled by academics, especially when the speakers’ biographies don’t feature much in the way of innovative accomplishments.

I was a little curious to find out why an Australian (Ian Chubb) was included in this panel and on the ‘science culture’ panel. I did try to interview Chubb but he is making an extensive tour of Europe, Canada, and the US and did not have time to answer my questions. Luckily, I was able to find some information in a June 15, 2011 article by Lucinda Schmidt for the Sydney Morning Herald,

He began his third career, as chief scientist, on May 23 [2011].

”I’ve always loved science,” says the 67-year-old who grew up on the rural fringe of Melbourne, where there were plenty of opportunities for a curious boy to poke about in ant nests and wonder what made the stars twinkle.

He worked part time in a lab while completing his undergraduate degree then headed overseas for almost a decade, including six years at Oxford University doing his PhD.

”It was there that I realised I could probably cut the mustard [as a neuroscientist],” says Chubb, who returned to Australia in 1978 to lecture at Flinders University in South Australia.

After working as a neuroscientist for a number of years, Chubb changed career direction,

His second career included stints as deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Wollongong, chair of the federal government’s Higher Education Council, vice-chancellor of Flinders University for six years, then vice-chancellor of ANU for the past decade.

Chubb earned a reputation as a fearless but politically pragmatic advocate for tertiary education.

It would appear this second career will stand him in good stead as Australia’s chief scientist,

As chief scientist, Chubb’s political skills and forceful advocacy will be invaluable. His predecessor, the US physicist Penny Sackett, resigned halfway through her five-year term reportedly because of lack of government interest in her role.

Hopefully, Chubb will reach past the platitudes and give some insight into how he sees the role of a chief scientist and the political acumen necessary to make the position meaningful.

As I noted earlier, Chubb will also be speaking on the ‘science culture’ panel (along with Denise Amyot who was interviewed in my Nov. 15, 2011 posting here). He will be speaking about the ‘Inspiring Australia‘ initiative. The webpage for the initiative is a little disappointing in that it consists mostly of strategy documents, listings for two programmes which have the appearance of having predated this initiative (Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science and National Science Week Grants), and information about two Expert Working Groups ( Science and the media and Developing an Evidence Base for Science Engagement). The initiative itself is barely one year old.

I wish the organizers, speakers, and attendees an excellent conference.

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