I have to thank Andrew Norton for reading the instructions to 2020 participants carefully. Buried in them was a bit of homework that was very easy to miss. Now that I have a better idea of what the “Productivity Stream” is doing, here are the answers I sent through to the 2020 people today.
1. “If you could do one thing in your stream area, what would it be? What is it that you think would make the most difference?”
There has been a trend towards encouraging, and even mandating, commercialisation of scientific knowledge as a pre-requisite for receiving government funding. This, however, can conflict with how future knowledge is created; something that requires maintaining the ability and incentives for current knowledge to be disclosed and used in an unfettered manner. To provide an appropriate balance, my idea is that grants should require open dissemination but with an option to ‘opt out’ of such requirements by refunding monies should conflicting commercialisation properties present themselves. Giving scientists and commercial funders a menu of public support options and requirements will improve the mix and efficiency of scientific knowledge dissemination.
2. What is one issue over which you’ve changed your mind in the past 10 years?
A decade ago I believed that it was important to teach a child to read and have them read (and write) as early as possible. I no longer believe that is the case. There is very little value that can be gained from reading prior to the age of 7. For most children, their thought processes are not sufficiently developed. Moreover, efforts in teaching children to read and write prior to this age do not stack up against the alternative of allowing them to learn other things (e.g., numeracy and creativity) during the ages of 4 to 6. Reading and writing can then be taught later (something that would take months rather than years). We need to rethink our early childhood curriculum as well as experience.
Now, by way of explanation, the first idea comes directly out of research I have been doing on the public support for science. The second idea, which will not come as a surprise to those who might read Parentonomics in a few months time, may seem more out of left field. It actually is not and has been the subject of considerable debate and discussion for many years by educational psychologists (see here and here for accessible examples). For me, of course, it was a view formed through experience as a parent.