I woke up this morning a bit late, turned on the radio, and the first thing I heard was an ABC journalist referring to the new Australian of the Year as a self-confessed “scientific numbskull”. I left the radio on just long enough to hear Simon McKeon confirm that he is indeed a “scientific numbskull”. Then I turned the radio off.
Enough bad news for one day I thought.
According to the Oxford Dictionary a numbskull is a stupid or foolish person. But we know that Mr McKeon is not generally a foolish person. He has managed to amass a great deal of wealth and play Australian politics so successfully that the Prime Minister recently nominated him our inspiration.
What I think Mr McKeon means is that he doesn’t know very much about science – that we shouldn’t expect him to be able to answer any hard scientific questions.
Mr McKeon was recently appointed the head of the CSIRO – Australia’s premier scientific organization.
Imagine if the head of one of our big banks, said she was a “financial numbskull”? We wouldn’t tolerate it.
So why is it OK for CSIRO to have as its head a “scientific numbskull”?