The best and the brightest – 13 of 14 missed out. The objectives of the Federation Fellowships Scheme administered by the Australian Research Council are to:

  1. attract and retain outstanding researchers of international renown;
  2. build and strengthen world-class research capability in Australia;
  3. expand Australia’s knowledge base by supporting ground-breaking, internationally competitive research;
  4. forge strong links among researchers, industry and the international research community; and
  5. support research that will result in economic, environmental, social or cultural benefits for Australia.

Reading those words you would think that the winners would be just the kind of people a Prime Minister would want at a gathering of the nation’s best and brightest brought together at a conference to come up with ideas for 2020. Alas you would be wrong. At the weekend Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gathered 1000 people to brainstorm for ideas to guide the future of Australia. Yesterday he announced the 14 winners of the Federation Fellowship Scheme. Only one of the winners of the nation’s most prestigious award for academic research was invited to the Prime Ministerial talkfest. If you wanted evidence that there was something peculiar about the criteria used to decide those most likely to come up with the big ideas to transform our nation then surely this is it.

A Queenslander got the double. The one of the 14 Fellowship winners, who will receive a total of $23 million between them over five years to finance their research, present in Canberra as a delegate at the weekend was Professor Gaoguing (Max) Lu of the University of Queensland who took part in the Parliament House discussions of the group considering the future of the Australian economy. Last night Prime Minister Rudd awarded Prof Lu, Chair of Nanotechnology in Chemical Engineering at the University of Queensland and Research Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Functional Nanomateria, his fellowship to study band-gap engineered visible light photocatalysts: enabling technologies for sustainable energy and the environment. As real national heroes their names should be splattered all over the newspapers but my googling this morning could find no reference at all to the announcement. At Crikey we are pleased to recognise excellence in all its forms and congratulate: Dr Christopher Carilli, Professor Dr Peter Teunissen, Professor Frances Baum, Professor Michael Bird, Associate Professor Trevor Lithgow, Dr James Whisstock, Professor John Dryzek, Professor Michael Eastwood, Professor Tanya Monro, Professor Brett Neilan, Professor Michelle Simmons, Professor Aibing Yu, Professor Gaoqing (Max) Lu, Professor Peter Robinson. For the record I have put details of these 14 fellowship winners on my blog.

Britannia no longer rules. Confirmation that the empire is well and truly over comes with the news that the seated figure of Britannia holding a sprig of olive and a trident with a lion at her side is being removed from the coinage issued by the Royal Mint. Monarchists need not fret. While the new 50p coin no longer has the number 50 on it, the Queen’s head still appears on the other side. The old (below, left) and the new (below, right).

Rubber chicken prize. The influence of the animal liberation movement is taking a new tack with the decision of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to offer a prize of $US1 million to the first person to produce chicken meat without it first being part of a chicken. PETA is not looking for “chicken” from soy or seitan. Instead, its million will go to the first person who can make – and market – “in vitro chicken that tastes just like the real thing.” The in vitro meat production would use animal stem cells that would be placed in a medium to grow and reproduce. The result would mimic flesh and could be cooked and eaten. Not much different from the current factory fowl production really.

The Daily Reality Check

A cruel commentator would keep a record of the predictions made by those economists come commentators every time there is a new consumer price index released or the Reserve Bank issues its monthly statement on economic conditions. The record of the pundits strikes me as appalling and it would be vicious fun to regularly report on which one was most wrong. Maybe it is just my memory that is at fault but I am sure the majority of so-called expert opinion was that inflation would be lower than the Commonwealth Statistician’s figure and that the latest uninformed guesses on the likely course of interest rates was that they were more likely to go down than up. Today I notice that the collective wisdom is that there is more bad news to come which probably means the crisis is passed.

The Pick of this Morning’s Political Coverage

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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