Govt Aims to Improve Science Dialogue

The Prime Ministerial advisor on science, Prof. Peter Gluckman is hoping to facilitate a better dialogue both within the science community and between scientists and the New Zealand government. He may have an uphill climb ahead of him.

In a recent radio interview Gluckman made it clear that his brief was simply to provide advice and to act as a translator to both government and public on science issues, it was not his role to become involved in politics. But when pressed on the subject of why the National government killed both the Fast Forward initiative and the R&D tax incentive scheme, he refused to comment. This suggests that (at least in public) he will be obliged to moderate his tone on some topics.

Professor Gluckman said better scientific literacy was required across the whole of society because we were having to deal with more complex issues such as climate change and the ever increasing impact of technology on our personal lives. He also indicated that it was his view that the science funding system was overly competitive and that this was dampening creativity; perhaps foreshadowing some much needed change in this area.

Prime Minister John Key recently gave a speech on economic direction. It was clearly signalled that, in terms of science research, the government is now primarily interested in supporting the agricultural sector as a bridge to greater economic prosperity. Unfortunately that confines us to a future of increasing pastoral pollution, high carbon output and enslavement to commodity prices that continually devalue in real terms.

But Gluckman agrees with his colleague Paul Callaghan that science must remain “an integral part of the innovation system” and that we need more high tech companies like Navman, Rakon and Weta Digital. If we are to improve economic productivity then science needs to connect with business, both within New Zealand and abroad, he stated. It will be interesting to see if he can similarly persuade the Prime Minister.

2 thoughts on “Govt Aims to Improve Science Dialogue

  1. John Key’s call for advancement via agribusiness is understandable – he’s possibly throwing a bone to National’s traditional rural base. Perhaps urbanised tech entrepreneurs (less numerous than farmers) are less likely to be “natural” National voters? Just an idea.

    I don’t necessarily see increased research in agriculture as being completely negative. If the research occurs in the right places, there are plenty of opportunities to become leaders in biotech (animal serums, genetics etc), value-added foodstuffs and even to pioneer carbon-neutral farming techniques that can be resold around the world.

    However there’s a need for balance – exports based on hi-tech and knowhow have a wealth multiplier effect that agriculture can’t match. NZ must broaden its skills base and productive sectors. To continue to rely on a national economy that’s mostly based on turning grass into money seems short-sighted and unadventurous.

  2. He certainly is and because he is still basking in the warm glow of media adulation, nobody has raised this point.

    However you are correct, there is nothing wrong with investing in moving agricultural production up the value chain. But as long as Fonterra remains in private hands, I can’t see the status quo changing much. They know they can make shitloads of money simply by exporting unprocessed bulk product.

    On the other hand, if Fonterra had proper shareholders they would a) have capital to invest in RS&T and more added value food production and b) be accountable for continuing to grow the value of the enterprise in real terms. In any event I don’t think it wise to rely on such a high greenhouse gas polluting industry to underpin our entire economy.

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