Renowned science commentator, author and physics researcher Prof. Paul Callaghan this month embarks on a nationwide speaking tour, sponsored by the Royal Society of New Zealand. Winner of numerous awards and prizes during his career, Callaghan has a simple message for his audience – we need to build on our investment in research, science and technology if we are to grow a prosperous society.
Callaghan is one of a rare species of boundary spanning scientists both willing and able to communicate to those outside of his field. He understands the importance of encouraging the next generation of scientists as well as connecting researchers to entrepreneurs and investors who can help commercialise new scientific knowledge for economic benefit. He is also part of a growing chorus demanding more science funding and a better process for allocating resources within the national innovation system.
Prof. Callaghan’s passion for science is obvious when he speaks in public and I look forward to attending his Wellington event. He discussed at length the importance of science to the economy in an interview on National Radio’s Sunday morning “Ideas” slot recently and reminded us how improvements in our quality of life have come about through advances in technology. He also said that similar sized nations such as Israel, Finland and Ireland are now enjoying bouyant economic times in part due to substantial past investments in research.
He also alluded to some concerns about where the focus lies in terms of New Zealand’s national innovation framework. Citing a strong track record of commercialisation in the physical sciences and engineering technologies, he suggested there was an unwarranted emphasis on biotechnology, despite its promising global outlook. He says New Zealand has struggled to gain traction in biotech because of the huge capital requirements and long lead times that sometimes overwhelm small firms seeking product accreditation and then sales in distant markets.
Callaghan suggested that we need to keep an open mind about where we invest in research, science and technology because good ideas sometimes spring up from unexpected places. He quoted the example of Peter Jackson and the film and graphics industries that grew around his business. Encumbent government Minister Pete Hodgson stated that he was listening to the views of the science community and he was mindful that New Zealand’s investment, although improving, was still below par. He said that forthcoming changes to the tax treatment of R&D from next year should be of assistance to the sector.
Prof. Paul Callaghan tours the main centres from 13th November.