Is Proof Overrated?
The concept of scientific proof is an important one in a rational society, but what does ‘proof’ really mean and how does it inform public policy in practice?
Policy-makers often cite research as proof on contested issues. But whether or not overwhelming evidence necessarily leads to evidence-based policy is another question. Is proof overrated? How does Australian society use research to inform its decisions?
The indomitable Sally Warhaft hosts a spirited debate on the subject. Our panellists – with a wealth of experience in both policy-making and research – will debate the idea, and importance, of proof in Australia today, each referring to their individual areas of expertise.
Join Professor Peter Doherty, Associate Professor Megan Munsie, Dr Ranjana Srivastava, Professor Kate Auty, and Dr Sara Bice for a discussion of the role of research in the choices we make about everything from energy technologies, social equity, environmental policies to our use of medical breakthroughs and new communication technologies.
In four minute bursts, each speaker makes a case for proof – and then counters their own arguments with an equally persuasive case against it. The debate is followed by a panel discussion and Q&A before the audience decides the final result.
Presented in partnership with the University of Melbourne Research Institutes.
Sally Warhaft is a Melbourne broadcaster, anthropologist and writer and the host of the Wheeler Centre’s live journalism series, the Fifth Estate, now in its sixth year. She is a former editor of the Monthly magazine and the author of the bestselling book Well May We Say: The Speeches that Made Australia.
Associate Professor Megan Munsie is a scientist who combines her extensive technical expertise in stem cell research with an interest and understanding of the complex ethical, societal and regulatory issues associated with the field.
Megan has been involved in stem cell research in Australia since 1996 and is based at the University of Melbourne – where she heads the Education, Ethics, Law and Community Awareness Unit at the Australian Research Council-funded Stem Cells Australia initiative.
Over the last decade, Megan has contributed to the development of related policy in Australia and abroad; co-authored numerous educational resources for the public and health professionals, and routinely held forums to discuss stem cell research and its implications. She is a member of an international research team that is exploring community expectation in relation to stem cell science, and in particular ‘stem cell tourism’. Megan is an advisor to several organisations including Chair of the International Society for Stem Cell Research’s Closer Look at Stem Cells taskforce, and the Policy, Ethics and Translation Sub-Committee of the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research.
Megan has a Bachelor of Applied Science from Queensland University of Technology, a Masters in Reproductive Sciences and a PhD from Monash University. During her PhD in 2000, she demonstrated that stem cells could be made from ‘cloned’ mouse embryos – the first proof-of-concept for therapeutic cloning. She has also worked as an embryologist in IVF clinics and for an ASX listed biotechnology company.
Peter Doherty shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering the nature of cellular immune defence, and continues to be involved in research directed at understanding and preventing the severe consequences of influenza virus infection. He was Australian of the Year in 1997, and has since been commuting between St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Melbourne.
He is a huge advocate for evidence-based reality in areas as diverse as childhood vaccination, global hunger and anthropogenic climate change. In an effort to communicate more broadly, he has published four books for general readers. The Knowledge Wars is the latest.
Kate Auty is a Vice Chancellor's Fellow at the University of Melbourne.
She was the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability in Victoria from 2009 to 2014. During that appointment her office audited the environmental management systems of government departments and agencies and reported on the state of the environment, climate change, biodiversity and private land, water sensitive urban design.
She has formerly held appointments as a magistrate in Victoria and in the goldfields and western desert of Western Australia, in both positions establishing Aboriginal sentencing courts in consultation with Aboriginal people.
Ranjana Srivastava is an oncologist, Fulbright Scholar in ethics and award-winning author. Her book Dying for a Chat: The Communication Breakdown Between Doctors and Patients won the Australian Human Rights Literature Award. Her latest book is After Cancer: A Guide to Living Well.
Sara Bice is a social scientist and director of research translation for the Melbourne School of Government. She’s spent much of her career working with communities, corporations and government affected by mining, oil and gas projects to reduce social impacts and improve policy outcomes.
She is co-chair, corporate stewardship and risk management, for the International Association for Impact Assessment. She has won awards for her academic writing, and her book, Responsible Mining, is soon to be published by Routledge.