Funding boost urged for science
• Policy progress reliant on reforms: Buchan
By John Gibb
Prof Buchan is a University of Otago microbiologist and the immediate past president of the Otago Institute, which is the Otago branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
A recently released report by the parliamentary commissioner for the environment, Dr Morgan Williams, states that science and research are “critical components” of environmental policy-making, particularly in dealing with “highly complex issues and uncertain outcomes”.
The “Missing Links: Connecting Science with Environmental Policy” report suggests ways of making better use of science and research to develop better policies that strive towards environmental sustainability.
Approached for comment, Prof Buchan said the commissioner’s suggestions for improving scientific input seemed sensible, including that the Ministry for the Environment establish a process to enable changes in the New Zealand environment to be identified and reported on at least every five years.
The report also highlighted some problems in policy development arising from a loss of “in-house” research capacity in some government agencies, including the Ministry of Forestry, through state sector restructuring in the 1980s.
Problems with the high level of contestability in New Zealand science funding (100%, compared with 65% in the UK and 37% in Canada) are also discussed.
A high degree of competition for research funds had raised concerns, including a potential loss of co-operation among researchers competing for funds, the report said.
Prof Buchan said the high level of competition and inadequate overall science funding amounted to “two negatives” which could contribute to the scientific brain drain.
Given that some high quality science projects were not being funded, there was a risk that frustrated researchers could head overseas.
Significantly increasing the amount of government research funding was a key reform needed to achieve real progress, he said.
More funding also needed to be directed to curiosity-driven basic research, and not just to applied research, he said. — ODT Nov 16, 2004