An RMIT professor’s appointment to an international council will provide a platform to address current issues facing science in Australia.
John Buckeridge, Professor of Natural Resources Engineering in the School of Civil, Environmental and Chemical Engineering, was elected to the position of Ordinary Member of the Executive Board of the International Council for Science (ICSU) at the recent General Assembly in Auckland.
He was nominated by the International Union of Biological Sciences and received full support from the Australian Academy of Science.
Professor Buckeridge, who has named well over 100 new species during his career, said he was delighted to be recognised and nominated by well-known international scientists and looked forward to having the opportunity to represent Australia.
“The General Assembly is a very political environment, where the successful candidate must be seen and heard,” Professor Buckeridge said.
“Candidates are expected to ask questions and raise issues from the floor during the three-day assembly.”
According to Professor Buckeridge, there are a number of current challenges for science in Australia which need to be addressed.
“Although Australian governments are aware of the critical role that science plays in our national well-being, there is a reluctance to fund many aspects of science properly,” he said.
“In the biological sciences, for example, we are faced with a rapidly diminishing cohort of scientists who can undertake systematic taxonomy.
“This – the science of classifying organisms – is now being restricted more to gene sequencing rather than ‘whole organism study’ and, as a consequence, there are fewer scientists capable of recognising species.
“This will have significant ramifications in biosecurity, disease control and ecological management.
“Unfortunately the identification of new species and the description of them is not popular - and ‘popularity’ is ultimately driven by the potential for jobs and funding.”
In addition to his appointment on the Council, Professor Buckeridge continues to focus on research in marine biology and palaeontology, where he currently leads a team describing new taxa from deep sea hydrothermal vents.
“This research is important as it will illustrate the extraordinary plasticity of the phenotype, placing significance on the role of the environment on determining what ‘the organism’ will become,” Professor Buckeridge said.
The ICSU in a non-governmental organisation, represented by over 140 countries and 32 international scientific unions, whose aim is to foster the knowledge and resources of the international science community.
In a letter presented to Professor Buckeridge after the announcement, the Australian Council of Sciences congratulated him on his appointment, and thanked him for advice provided in previous years regarding the International Union for Biological Sciences.