AUSTRALIAN of the Year 2017, Professor Alan Mackay-Sim.
AUSTRALIAN of the Year 2017, Professor Alan Mackay-Sim. LUKAS COCH

Shining a light out of the dark path of stupidity

IN AN age where an opinion however formed seems to carry equal weight with that of considered study it was delightful to see a scientist named Australian of the Year.

And in Alan Mackay-Sim, a biomechanical scientist who used stem cell research to help a paraplegic fire fighter walk again, we have one who aims to use his standing to restore science to the national agenda.

A smart Australia requires inquiring minds with disciplines and skill sets that go beyond a Google search for "evidence” that supports our prejudices.

And it requires a population that appreciates the benefit of knowledge and research and that those with the ability to test the boundaries of knowledge are not grant-seeking elites but people to be cherished for the benefits they can bring.

Prof Mackay-Sim wants the politics taken out of research and a bipartisan commitment to a national investment in it.

He describes a willingness to invest in science and technology as a belief in ourselves and our ability to create and design things rather than to simply be the buyers of the fruits of those who have done that elsewhere.

Professor Mackay-Sim used the profile of his Australia Day Award to argue that if we can agree on the need for a defence force and a fantastic health system we can also agree on the need for a fantastic science base funded to nurture the careers of young scientists.

It's a refreshing change of narrative in an era where scientists have become the punching bags for people wanting to deny the knowledge of climate change and the responsibilities that knowledge brings to bear.

Science is all about the constant questioning of established norms based, not on conspiracy theories, but the genuine rigour of observation and conclusion.

At a time when scientists have been stripped from government departments at both state and federal level in the never ending bid to cut costs without ever addressing areas of extravagance of dubious cost benefit, Prof Mackay-Sim's honour may hopefully bring an end to the book burning we have witnessed in our current age of non-enlightenment.

If nothing more he had raised the tone of national discourse a notch higher than the contributions of Senator James McGrath, Kawana LNP state MP Jarrod Bleijie and that cartoon better known as the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce.

Their responses to genuine calls for debate on the date of the national day perhaps represents their best endeavours to stem votes fleeing their parties, and that in itself brings considerable cause for concern.

Because the discussion needs to be had in a calm, rational manner devoid of hyperbole and prejudice.

Whether that is possible in an Australia where politicians increasingly have exploited the irrational fears and prejudice of people who have become increasingly marginalised by a changing economy and an ever-growing population, is in itself also of concern.

Politicians have a duty beyond their own re-election.

They represent not just those who voted for them but for all Australians.

The discharge of that responsibility was missing in the child-like rants of Senator McGrath, Mr Bleijie and Mr Joyce who instead blew dog whistles as indication of the limits of their intellect and maturity.

"Yawn. Here we go again. All the feral lefties are out typing in their vegan pyjamas calling for #AustraliaDay to be changed. It ain't gonna happen. Australia Day is what makes this country great,” was the thoughtful Senator's contribution to a discussion that could be used to better educate us about the true history of this country.

Mr Bleijie, the state's former Attorney-General, was equally disparaging of a conversation which conducted sensibly, may not ultimately change the date but could at least change the way it is celebrated.

"I say leave Australia Day on January 26th,” he said.

"Everybody get out there, fire up the barbie and celebrate however you want and don't be scared off by the loony lefties that say you are offending them by celebrating our National Day on January 26.”

The politics of now where "leftards” and the "loony left” are those who don't embrace your particular view.

Barnaby well was just Barnaby.

"I'm just sick of these people who every time they want to make us feel guilty about it,” Mr Joyce told radio listeners this week.

"They don't like Christmas, they don't like Australia Day, they're just miserable ... and I wish they'd crawl under a rock and hide for a little bit.”

We should all be forever thankful for scientists and their willingness to challenge the comfort zone of ignorance in favour of the constant search for deeper understanding.

If only our politicians were capable of the same.

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