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What is the value of science in New Zealand?

What is the value of science in New Zealand?

The New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) will be hosting a one-day conference on Wednesday 3 April to address the question “What is the value of science in New Zealand?”. More details are at http://www.scientists.org.nz/2013-conference.

In 2013, science in New Zealand is undergoing rapid change. On the one hand, we have the development of Callaghan Innovation, the new Advanced Technology Institute which will “support a step-change in our commercialisation of science, engineering and technology“. This is clearly driven by government recognition of the direct contribution that science makes to the New Zealand economy.

On the other hand, we have the Great NZ Science Project, an innovation which – laudably – has tried to engage the NZ public in thinking about New Zealand’s scientific challenges. Here we see evidence of how the non-economic outcomes of science are valued by the public: Fighting Disease and Protecting NZ’s Biodiversity being the two challenges that scored most highly.

When scientists are asked to describe scientific research that isn’t done for short-term economic benefit, they call it blue-skies research, basic, fundamental, or sometimes investigator-led. But what do these terms mean to non-scientists? Is it perhaps time to discuss the value of the science that we do more explicitly, without necessarily resorting to economic jargon?

This isn’t an easy thing. Scientific issues that impact on the real world – such as fighting disease, biodiversity, and climate change – are complex, and far from black and white.

In the 2013 conference of the New Zealand Association of Scientists, we invite speakers from both inside and outside the scientific community to discuss these issues with us.

NZAS President, Professor Shaun Hendy, said “There has recently been a great deal of change in the science sector. This conference is very timely, and is an opportunity to hear about the issues from the perspectives of people outside the science system, as well as from scientists."

Speakers include Minister Steven Joyce, Labour party leader David Shearer, Green partty co-leader Dr Russel Norman and Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor.

Past President of the NZAS, James Renwick, will talk about the difficulty of communicating climate science to the public; Helen Heath, of the International Institute of Modern Letters and author of Graft, will talk on “Science and Poetic Beauty”; while Nicola Gavey, recipient of a Marsden grant in 2011 on the social impact of pornography, will speak from the perspective of a social scientist.

The day will finish with a panel discussion chaired by Dave Armstrong, with panelists including Dr Di McCarthy, CEO of the Royal Society of New Zealand, and Her Worship the Mayor of Wellington, Celia Wade-Brown.

The one-day conference will be held at Rutherford House (Victoria University, across from the Wellington Railway Station). New Zealand Association of Scientists (www.scientists.org.nz) is a nationwide association of practising research scientists spanning the universities, technical institutes, Crown Research Institutes, government departments, industry, museums, other science institutions, and independent researchers. The association welcomes members with an interest in science education, policy, communication and the social impact of science and technology.

ENDS

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