It's imperative that a better understanding of science must permeate society, said leading scientist and innovation expert Dr Katherine Woodthorpe at Cooperative Research Australia's Collaborate Innovate Conference 2021. And that means putting more science-trained people in leadership positions.
Delivering the 2021 Ralph Slatyer Address on Science and Society during the conference's second day, she said: "We talk on boards of digital transformation of businesses and the need for digital literacy, yet Australian boards have a woefully low number of directors with technology or science backgrounds."
Dr Woodthorpe pointed to what she called two contrary effects that COVID-19 has had on public attitudes to science. On the one hand, governments, media, and the general public are getting fact-based directions for navigating the pandemic from scientists on an unprecedented scale; on the other hand, conspiracy theorists and for-profit "vested interests" are muddying the waters with blatantly false information and attempting to drag public response backwards on an equally large scale.
To keep the facts from being drowned out and to let the Australian economy, society, and environment keep benefiting from science and technology research, she called for more consistent funding for science, and better science education in schools "to educate our future company executives, investors, politicians and law makers."
"I’d wish to encourage more people with science training into senior roles in business, parliament, etc. so that a better understanding of science permeates our society."
Start by calling on the people we already have
Jane O'Dwyer, CEO of Cooperative Research Australia, says that business and government need to leverage more industry-based PhDs like the ones taking place under the Cooperative Research Centres Programme - there are currently around 400 PhDs engaged, with more than 4,000 alumni.
O'Dwyer says this huge highly-skilled workforce has to some extent been untapped for leadership and senior brokerage roles when it comes to commercialisation and harnessing research capacity both in the private and public sectors.
"Knowledge brokers are increasingly advocated as a solution for bridging the gap between science and decision-making," she said.
"There is a vast resource right under our nose, hiding in plain sight. These are the people who advance Australian capacity for research commercialisation. They are the people who industry calls upon to create new solutions to old problems, see and fix new problems, and translate deep knowledge into new products, services and ideas that advance all Australians."