The Curious Country

The Curious Country

EDITED BY LEIGH DAYTON
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: ANU Press
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hgz0p
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  • Book Info
    The Curious Country
    Book Description:

    By definition scientists are an inquisitive lot. But what are the scientific curiosities and concerns on the minds of Australians? What worries them, baffles them, and sets their curiosity meter to 10 out of 10? To find out, the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) took the nation’s intellectual temperature, surveying 1186 Australians: men and women aged 18 to 65, from all education levels and locations around Australia. The results frame this book: a collection of essays covering the diverse areas of science Australians are curious about. Edited by eminent science writer Leigh Dayton and including a foreword from Australia’s Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb. The collection covers a range of issues, including food and farming technology, environmental upheaval, health, fuel and energy technology and space exploration.

    eISBN: 978-1-925021-36-3
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 3-3)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 4-6)
  3. FOREWORD BY THE CHIEF SCIENTIST
    (pp. 7-7)

    DURING 2012 I travelled the breadth and width of the country, made many speeches, gave many high-level briefings and attended many events and even more meetings. I met lots of people and was heartened by their interest in science.

    It was immensely interesting, but I can’t say it gave me a representative insight into how Australians view science and where their interests lie. Most of the people I met at these events had an interest in the specific topic we were discussing or had come to tell me whether they agreed or disagreed with some aspect of the science.

    This...

  4. CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION BY LEIGH DAYTON
    (pp. 8-13)

    AS AUSTRALIANS recovered from the New Year’s party whistles, fireworks and rounds of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, scientists were on the job at the Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne. “It’s [the record] going down,” messaged one excited meteorologist as the nation’s collective thermometer broke the all-time record. On 7 January 2013 the national average temperature for that day hit 40.33°C, beating the previous record of 40.17°C, set in 1972. Why? Why care? Who to ask?

    The ‘whys’ of weather are complex. Who to ask about them is not. The answer is scientists. It’s their job, their passion and their pleasure to...

  5. CHAPTER 2: LIVING IN A CHANGING ENVIRONMENT
    (pp. 14-33)

    IT WAS JANUARY 2008 and I was on the back deck ofHMS Endurance, wearing a full-body survival suit and eager for the short helicopter ride that would take me onto Antarctic ice for the first time. The ship was travelling through the channel that divides James Ross Island from the Antarctic Peninsula – a trip that would have been impossible not so long ago.

    Since the 1990s, a series of ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula have collapsed, including the ice shelf that had once permanently connected James Ross Island to the rest of the continent. Most famously, the...

  6. CHAPTER 3: PROMOTING HEALTH AND WELLBEING
    (pp. 34-56)

    THIRTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, when Professor Ian Frazer was a young medical student in Scotland, doctors regularly decided not to tell patients they had cancer. Hiding the bitter truth was widely thought to be kinder. After all, there was often little that doctors could do to treat the disease, says Frazer, the 2006 Australian of the Year who helped develop a vaccine against cervical cancer. “It was considered better for them not to know.”

    Cancer treatment has changed radically since then. In the 1970s, when Frazer was in training, doctors might have hoped to cure 15-20 per cent of cancer patients...

  7. CHAPTER 4: MANAGING OUR FOOD AND WATER ASSETS
    (pp. 57-71)

    AGRICULTURE BEGAN with the domestication of wheat and barley in ancient Mesopotamia (part of the Middle East based on modern Iraq and Syria) more than 10000 years ago. The food stability provided by these temperate cereal grains that could be stored over winter, enabled the development of ‘settled’ societies and allowed people free time for intellectual pursuits, culminating in the science we know now. It is on the modern version of this science that our civilisation will now depend in our efforts to ensure the world can feed the nine billion people projected by 2050.

    In 1798, English scholar Thomas...

  8. CHAPTER 5: SECURING AUSTRALIA’S PLACE IN A CHANGING WORLD
    (pp. 72-91)

    ON 11 MARCH 2009, the 24000-tonne container shipPacific Adventurerwas damaged in heavy seas whipped up by tropical cyclone ‘Hamish’ which had been moving southwards through the Coral Sea over the preceding week.

    As the ship floundered off the Queensland coast near Point Lookout, on the north-east corner of North Stradbroke Island, about 270 tonnes of oil spilled into the ocean and 31 shipping containers full of ammonium nitrate were lost overboard.

    Not only did the oil pose a major threat to marine life, the ammonium nitrate was explosive. It might also fertilise an environmentally damaging algal bloom. Moreover,...

  9. CHAPTER 6: SUSTAINABLE ENERGY AND PRODUCTIVITY
    (pp. 92-112)

    ACCESS TO CHEAP and reliable energy has underpinned Australia’s development for decades. Fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – provided the concentrated energy sources required to build our infrastructural, industrial and service enterprises. Yet it’s now clear this dependence on carbon-intensive fuels was a Faustian bargain and the devil’s due, because the long-run environmental and health costs of fossil fuels seem likely to outweigh the short-term benefits.

    In the coming decades, Australia must tackle the threats of dangerous climate change and future bottlenecks in conventional liquid-fuel supply, while also meeting people’s aspirations for ongoing increases in quality of...

  10. CHAPTER 7: CURIOSITY
    (pp. 113-142)

    THE HAIRS WERE standing up on the back of my neck,” says American astronomer Geoff Marcy of the moment he realised he had discovered one of the first planets outside our Solar System.

    Marcy and his postdoctoral fellow Paul Butler were analysing data at the University of California at Berkeley during the Christmas holiday of 1995 when evidence of 70 Virginis B jumped off the computer screen. They had discovered a giant gas planet more than six times the mass of Jupiter orbiting a Sun-like star 72 light-years away. Months earlier, researchers in Geneva had found the first planet orbiting...