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.