Operations

Free telescopes set school kids dancing with the STARS

Astronomers head to the country to spark student interest in what lies above.

ANU astronomer Brad Tucker showing students from Rockhampton High School how to use their powerful new telescope. Credit: ANU Media

Children in remote and regional schools will soon be visited by astronomers bearing gifts in a quest to kindle interest in the cosmos.

The scientists – drawn from the ranks of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3D (ASTRO 3D) and the Australian National University – will donate a powerful telescope and high-tech accessories to each school so classes can continue to explore the Universe long after the astronomers have left.

[continue reading…]

Orbits of ancient stars prompt rethink on Milky Way evolution

Australian telescopes and European satellite combine to reveal unexpected motions among the Galaxy’s rarest objects

Theories on how the Milky Way formed are set to be rewritten following discoveries about the behaviour of some of its oldest stars.

An investigation into the orbits of the Galaxy’s metal-poor stars – assumed to be among the most ancient in existence – has found that some of them travel in previously unpredicted patterns.

[continue reading…]

Playing detective on a galactic scale: huge new dataset will solve multiple Milky Way mysteries

Australian-led GALAH project releases chemical information for 600,000 stars.

How do stars destroy lithium? Was a drastic change in the shape of the Milky Way caused by the sudden arrival of millions of stellar stowaways?

These are just a couple of the astronomical questions likely to be answered following the release today of ‘GALAH DR3’, the largest set of stellar chemical data ever compiled.

The data, comprising more than 500 GB of information gleaned from more than 30 million individual measurements, was gathered by astronomers including Sven Buder, Sarah Martell and Sanjib Sharma from Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence in All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D) using the Anglo Australian Telescope (AAT) at the Australian Astronomical Observatory at Siding Spring in rural New South Wales.

[continue reading…]

Could Frizzled proteins lead to new cancer drugs?

Dr Alisa Glukhova, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne

Alisa Glukhova is investigating a fundamental cell communication system that guides the growth of embryos but, when it goes wrong, can contribute to cancer and other diseases.

By determining the structure and shape of the Frizzled protein, she hopes to create a path to new kinds of cancer drugs.

The cells in our body need to be told when to grow, what to become, when to multiply – even when to die.

[continue reading…]

$2.5 million CSL Centenary Fellowships announced

Could Frizzled proteins lead to new cancer drugs? (Melbourne)

A new way to fight drug-resistant bacteria (Canberra)

Two Australian scientists have each been awarded CSL Centenary Fellowships, valued at $1.25 million over five years, to investigate new ways to fight two of the world’s biggest health challenges: cancer and infectious diseases. The Fellowships will be presented at the Australian Academy for Health and Medical Research Online Scientific Meeting 2020 on Thursday 15 October.

[continue reading…]

A new way to fight drug-resistant bacteria

Professor Si Ming Man, John Curtin School of Medical Research, Australian National University, Canberra

Si Ming Man is tackling central questions of immunology: how do disease-fighting proteins produced by the immune system recognise pathogens, and how can these natural defence mechanisms be harnessed to fight infectious diseases?

The answers could lead to alternatives to over-used and increasingly ineffective antibiotics, providing new ways to combat multidrug-resistant microbes.

[continue reading…]

Blinded by the light no more: simulations show NASA’s James Webb Telescope will reveal hidden galaxies

Australian researchers find ways to overcome the blinding glare of quasars

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will uncover galaxies never before seen by humanity, Australian-led research reveals.

The telescope, due to launch in late 2021, is the largest, most powerful and complex space telescope ever built.

Two new studies led by Madeline Marshall from Australia’s University of Melbourne and the ARC Centre of Excellence in All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D) find that the Webb will be able to reveal galaxies currently masked by powerful lights called quasars.

[continue reading…]

How do you feel about climate change?

Researchers want to know

Talent available for interview and quotes

Does cutting your contribution to climate change also improve your mental health? Researchers want to know how you’re dealing with eco-anxiety.

The public health scientists – from Melbourne’s Deakin and Monash universities – are exploring how bad news about the environment brings us down and whether taking even small actions on climate change boosts our mental health.

To find out, they are asking people to take a survey which aims to understand the mental health impacts of climate change.

[continue reading…]

Filmmaker becomes co-author on paper published in top international journal, ‘Science’

Written and issued by Genepool

In an unusual turn of events, Melbourne based filmmaker Sonya Pemberton has become a co-author on a paper that has just been published in the top international journal Science.

The paper, ‘Global citizen deliberation on genome editing’ is calling for the creation of a global “citizens’ assembly”, made up of ordinary people who are tasked with considering the ethical and social impacts of this emerging science, in humans, animals and plants. The idea was born out of a film-research trip Sonya undertook almost two years ago.

[continue reading…]

SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIAL – Why plumbers and teachers should have a say on designer babies and genetically enhanced potatoes

Extended quotes from selected authors

John Dryzek, Centenary Professor at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis 

“A global citizens’ assembly will be a major step forward as the architecture of global governance of genome editing gets constructed. It will bring to bear the considered views of citizens of the world, who will be able to think about the content of public values and principles for regulation of the technology that could receive reflective acceptance in all parts of the world. 

“The is a big difference between what would be ideal and what is affordable. 100 would be good, 150 would be better, 200 better still. But note the participants are not there to represent countries, so we don’t actually need people from every country. They are there to represent the diversity of perspectives of the world’s peoples.

“This is not the United Nations General Assembly, where every country gets a vote no matter how big or small. For any realistic level of funding, we are going to have to do the best we can to maximise diversity of participants. It would be nice to undertake a global random selection process, but in practice we are going to have to compromise.

“For example, we can only handle about six languages in simultaneous translation before costs start getting prohibitive. If those six were (say) English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and Hindi, that would cover over half the population of the world, and so still enable us to do a pretty good job in capturing diversity. 

“There is now vast experience with citizens’ assemblies and related processes in many countries, and none has ever yielded anything remotely like the madness of the mob. The fact that they are made up of citizens with no history of activism on an issue means they are good at reflecting upon the relative weight of different values and principles (think of how we trust juries in court cases to reach good judgements). Deliberation is a particularly good way (perhaps the very best way) to harness the wisdom of crowds, as it enables participants to piece together the different bits of information that they hold in constructive and considered fashion.

“We hope the GCA will get the attention of relevant international organisations such as the World Health Organisation and Food and Agriculture Organisation. But equally important is the contribution it will make to a more informed global conversation on genome editing, which will take effect via media coverage, social media, and the documentary series being produced in connection with the GCA.”

Dianne Nicol, distinguished professor of law at the University of Tasmania in Australia and director of the Centre for Law and Genetics.

“In the context of this project, my interest is in deeply analysing the ELSI of genome editing and examining how our our regulatory and governance arrangements need to be shaped to accommodate these ELSI. Community consultation is a crucial component of this. Given the global nature of modern genomic science, we clearly need to examine the ELSI from a global perspective. But we also need to recognise that there are particular local contexts.

I think that it is too simplistic to suggest that the purpose of the global assembly is to assist in building global consensus on acceptable uses of genome editing. This is complex technology, raising a host of ELSI. The issues to be discussed in this assembly are different from the types of issues examined in other forums of this nature (for example, whether same sex marriage should be legalised). I don’t think the goal of the citizens’ assembly should be to answer such questions as whether or not germline genome editing should be prohibited globally. Rather, it should be about better understanding community concerns and expectations regarding genome editing, understanding the norms and principles that underly these concerns and expectations, understanding what governance and regulatory arrangements are needed to address these concerns and expectations, understanding the factors that build and destroy community trust in the research, the researchers, the institutions and the regulators, understanding how to build trustworthy governance and regulatory arrangements, and so on.

The assembly is not intended to be representative of the global community. That would be impossible. Rather, the goal is for the assembly to attempt to reflect some of the diversity of the global population. It is not about hearing national voices but hearing community voices.

As noted above, the assembly is not intended to be representative, and any idea of this should be quashed, I think. It needs to be made clear that this is about diversity not representativeness. We will need to go through a very detailed recruitment process to ensure that we have as diverse a group as possible. But we will need to be very careful to avoid being seen as tokenistic – for example, we absolutely should not draw up a list of 100 desirable traits at the start and recruit to those traits.

“John and Simon have spent many years developing recruitment strategies for citizens’ deliberations to avoid the traps of representativeness and tokenism. Although this is their most ambitious project to date, I feel comfortable that they have the tools to bring together a group of 100 people who genuinely reflect some of the diversity of voices within the global population on genome editing.

The aim of the global assembly is not to provide an authoritative account of ‘this is what the world thinks about genome editing’. Rather, the global assembly will provide one account of community views on genome editing. The authoritativeness of this account lies in the robustness of the methodology – providing a form of public participation that has legitimacy, connectedness and reflexivity (as noted in the Science paper).

Pretty much every inquiry into genome editing calls for community consultation, but few if any provide concrete guidance on how this should be done. As noted in the Science paper, it is time to move beyond the rhetoric. The proposal for a global citizens’ assembly is a modest (?) step along the road to answering these calls. The outcomes from the citizens’ assembly will be disseminated broadly in a variety of formats.

“We will engage with relevant bodies during the course of the project and disseminate findings in ways that are meaningful and useful to them. It is hoped that they will make use of those findings because they have confidence in the robustness of the methodology and the features of legitimacy, connectedness and reflexivity.

“I’m not sure I have answered these questions in quite the way you need for the purpose of the press release. However, I don’t think we should oversimplify the challenges, nor oversell what the global assembly can achieve. I look forward to discussing these issues further on Thursday.”

Michael Burgess, philosopher in applied ethics at the University of British Columbia, Canada. 

“I think any focus on a consensus is a mistake. We are not trying to discover what it right or true, but how to live together, in the sense of a justified policy, when there is diversity of perspective and the issues are controversial. A global citizens’ assembly will consider the diversity of perspectives and the extent to which any decision affects the global population.

“Its validity and credibility will depend on the extent to which the full diversity of views has been introduced to the global assembly, and whether the deliberation gives careful attention and engages those perspectives as it considers policy options. The outcome will not be a policy with which everyone agrees, but one about which we can claim that the process to arrive at the recommendations was fair, inclusive and transparent.

“A deliberation requires participants to listen to each other, and the expert and stakeholder views presented to them as background for the deliberation. There is always a need to balance size with quality of deliberation. Too many, and there will be many participants who are not active participants. Too few and the full diversity of perspectives might not be considered.

“Having background materials and presentation from stakeholders introduces perspectives that might not be reflected by the participants. Participants sometimes bring up perspectives with which they are familiar, but that are not their own. The deliberation will need to be assessed for the inclusiveness, not only of the range of participants, but also for the active consideration of diverse perspectives. Also, if there are participants who do not actively engage, then that is a limitation as well. So while there is no magic about 100, it is an ambitious size for good quality deliberation while being likely to capture many of the diverse perspectives, particularly when supplemented by background materials and presentations.

“The weighting in deliberation is not the same a representative democracy. In any society, there are dominant voices, assumed ideologies and marginalized perspectives. Within a country or globally, it is crucial that deliberation does not merely reinforce the dominant and assumed perspectives, which are often mobilized by those with power, money and strong vested interests. The selection of participants in a deliberative forum like a citizens’ assembly needs to consider how to ensure that there is sufficient numbers of people with marginalized and non-dominant perspectives.

“In this sense, the selection of participants is intentionally corrective to a representative sample. Ideally, national deliberations would identify unique perspectives and then the global citizens’ assembly would attempt to be inclusive of those perspectives, regardless of home country.

“There are two common criticisms of deliberative engagement. One is that it is not a version of representative democracy and another is that the participants are not experts.

“The size of the deliberating group has been discussed above. A large number of participants who could not hear from each other or engage with the reasons provided in support of particular views is not much better than a survey that collects and aggregates uninformed and self-interested opinions. The point of introducing a public deliberative engagement process is to supplement the representation of the public by elected and appointed officials with what an informed public believes is in the public interests, having considered the diversity of public interests.

“The participants in a deliberation have expertise as members of public. We all do. This is the ability to consider benefits and risks and costs in particular decisions, and to make a decision. Experts develop an ability to provide estimates of the probability and magnitude of benefits and risks, often narrowly construed within their disciplinary field, or field of application. But when they tell policy makers and publics which of the benefits, risks or costs are most important, they are not acting out of their professional or disciplinary expertise.

“What is most important is not determined by a scientific or other expertise. People who believe that no risk to the global environment is tolerable are not so much rejecting the evidence of risk mitigation and benefits, but placing a high weight on the protection of the global environment. Citizens, often set up to think in binaries by media reporting, tend to decide who they identify with rather than consider the arguments. In a deliberation, participants are supported to individually and collectively consider both the advice of experts and the perspectives of people who assign importance differently for specific policies.

“These deliberations provide the basis and legitimacy for the citizens’ assembly’s recommendations, and it is up to the public and the policy makers to decide whether the process confers legitimacy and how to use that advice.

The global citizens; assembly, like all deliberative public engagements, provide advice. The only exceptions are when they are formed by legitimate authorities specifically to make a decision that will be implements, as in some forms of participatory budgeting.

“If the global citizens’ assembly is successful, that is if it is widely understood to be well informed, inclusive and civic minded in its recommendations, then it will stand independently as a set of recommendations that must be considered, and reasons given for deciding to form policy in ways that are contrary. More directly, if the citizens’ assembly’s recommendations are taken up by governments, NGOs and social movements, then they can utilize the credibility of the citizens’ assembly to motivate support for public policy that is responsive to the diverse interests of a global public.”

Baogang He, is Chair of International Studies at Australia’s Deakin University.

“A global citizen assembly will help to develop a moral and political regulation on genome editing experiment, and to develop and formulate a fairer distribution principle. Moreover, it will be a part of global civil society against ill use of genome editing for the interest of a few.

“100 is the rough figure, the number that is manageable in terms of logistic and operation. It can be increased a bit if all funding is secured. Ideally the more the better. However, the design a global citizen assembly is more about discourse presentation (on which John Dryzek wrote an important article) rather than country representation. It aims to represent a wide of opinions concerning moral and political principles regarding genome editing. The number of all countries to be represented is not an issue in the original design as the whole project is to develop global citizens’ perspective. 

“Related to the above, 100 participants are likely to represent major continents and major civilisations, in particular the sectors or stages of global genome editing process, like these countries who host experiments of genome and use the product of genome editing.

“Before global citizen deliberation, there will be more than 20 national deliberations in selected country, for example, in Shenzhen, China, where the first genome editing was experimented without governmental approval.

“The participants in each national deliberation will be randomly selected. I guess that there will be a further random selection process from these who participated in national deliberation. Through this double random selection process, the selected participants of about 100 citizens are to some extend representing global citizen perspectives. Moreover, there will be a deliberative process whereby the participants will engage with experts, international organisation regulators, business elites, and fellow citizens, and they will undertake opinion changes.

“These changed opinions after deliberation can be seem as authoritative and considered public opinion which can overcome the “wisdom of the crowd” or “madness of the mob”.

“The conclusion is a representation of global citizen’s perspective and their policy recommendation, that should be a part of global decision-process. Moreover, through national and global deliberation, it hopes that such an exercise can raise global citizen’s awareness of the life-matter issue facing mankind, and ultimately form a part of civil society’s monitoring force and mechanism against the abuse of genome editing.”

Sonya Pemberton, creative director of Genepool Productions, Melbourne, Australia.

“This is an experiment. It’s designed to allow lay people, non-experts from across the world, people off the street to consider the technology and its applications and then have a say in what they feel should happen next. It’s not about building consensus, it’s about listening and learning from the reactions, hopes and fears of a diverse group of people and seeing if, after deliberation, they can agree on a set of shared values, shared principles, that could underpin decisions around using this vital technology. 

“Up until now there has been no mechanism for people, across national and cultural borders, to engage in considering this complex issue, together. The great appeal of this project is that we will come to see how diverse the views may be, and we will discover if and how people can find common ground.

“The evidence from previous deliberative events is clear; when ordinary citizens are given the chance to gain credible information, the opportunity to exchange their ideas with a diverse group of people, and the time reflect on their views, citizens are willing and able to come up with recommendations to shared problems.  

“This is an opportunity to observe a remarkable process of public reasoning that may lead to shared practical outcomes.

“The end result is not to generate an authoritative position, rather it’s to see if it’s possible to determine a set of shared values and principles from which weighty decisions may be made.

“The important thing here is this is not a platform for exposing or arguing ones views; the scientists select for people that demonstrate genuine ability to engage with the issues and who commit to mutually respectful interaction. There is a shared commitment right at the start to the rules of engagement, and the focus of the event. The entire event is facilitated by experts in the deliberative process who will ensure all voices are heard, and that loud voices do not dominate.  It is about engendering trust and respect among participants, with shared purpose.

 “This is not about providing a speakers’ platform, rather a thinkers’ pool.”

Herve Chneiweiss, Director of UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee and member of the WHO Expert Advisory Committee on the Governance of Human Genome Editing

Science and its applications, particularly in the field of emerging technology, must reconnect with the lay public and we absolutely need to fight against a divide between science and society. The simple existence of a debate organise with and for citizen should participate of this project and open debate with open citizen will allow to raise “commons” that will be translated into consensus.

Too many people would make a real deliberation impossible, not enough should make it inefficient. Our goal should be to be representative, thus it is not a Senate where each state would get one vote, whatever the number of its population. The “100” should represent the diversity of cultures and origins.

Our goal is to listen to musics poorly heard today. The diversity and the inclusivness of having people from around the world will make the sound of this original group so peculiar that it will be carefully listened.

“Such a global assembly will be so new and so representative that it will not be possible to take any decision without at least considering it. This does not mean that this jury will decide for every aspect of GE anywhere in the world. Local juridiction and international organisations are there to do so. But this jury will be so special that it will be difficult not to take its recommendations into consideration.”