Science community fading, says PM's adviser

By James Ihaka

Peter Gluckman. Photo / Martin Sykes
Peter Gluckman. Photo / Martin Sykes

The chief science adviser to Prime Minister John Key says the local science community is in the doldrums, is losing bright young minds and cannot be competitive if scientists are continually marginalised.

Professor Peter Gluckman will today give his inaugural public speech at Massey University, where he will address the core issues he says have limited the potential for the science industry to transform New Zealand.

One of the world's leading researchers in the fetal origins of subsequent growth and health and founding director of the Liggins Institute in Auckland, Professor Gluckman said the science sector was in the doldrums.

"Bright young New Zealanders are simply not entering science in the numbers they should be, the science community is fractious and morale is declining," he said.

"New Zealand cannot sustain competitiveness if science and scientists continue to be marginalised."

He said the science community's issues were partly compounded by local media, whose scientific reporting was "terrible by international standards".

"Currently science is naively presented as a series of breakthroughs rather than something of continuity," he said.

"I fear the journalists are going to see the CSA [chief science adviser] as the source of instant ability to address every issue from the risk of volcanic eruptions in Auckland to swine flu."

Professor Gluckman said he would raise the question of what New Zealand should expect from its public investment in science.

"Science can do so much more for New Zealand's transformational future. But the science community, in pleading to the state to 'just give us more money', has slipped into a set of platitudes.

"This elicits an equally platitudinous set of responses. I see my role as raising the quality of the dialogue to a much higher level."

Professor Gluckman said the competitive nature of the New Zealand research funding system was a barrier to adopting a cohesive, inter-institutional, interdisciplinary approach to research.

"New Zealand has only four million people. Unless we act as 'NZ Inc', our poor performance and the scepticism of the policy-maker will be reinforced."

He plans to call on the scientific community to work together in taking ownership of this issue and demonstrating the true value of what science could offer New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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