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Science needed — ODT Clippings

Science needed, Hodgson told

By Tom McKinlay 

Scientists have rallied behind an open letter to Research, Science and Technology Minister Pete Hodgson says inadequate science funding is jeopardizing the country’s future. 

    The letter was presented to Mr Hodgson with the signatures of 725 scientists drawn from the country’s leading crown research institutes and universities. 

    Among the submissions in the letter was that New Zealand’s research funding infrastructure was “so flaky as to be unbelievable”. 

    “The public science sector is ‘bleeding’ talent, as short-term interests are allowed to predominate over planning science policy for the longer term,” it said. 

    One of the signatories, University of Otago School of Medical Sciences Associate Prof Glenn Buchan said yesterday that without a rethink of science funding, New Zealand risked slipping further down the international league tables for its economic performance. 

    The countries doing well economically were those that had recognised the importance of putting money into “blue skies” research, he said. 

    The letter said changes made in the last 15 years to the structure of research institutes and the fragmentation of research funding, together with an emphasis on short-term outcomes, meant the more fundamental science that underpinned marketable applications was not being done. 

    Associate Prof Buchan said current funding models would not produce figures such as Prof John Tagg, the microbiologist responsible for the Blis range of health products and remedies. 

    “ . . . no-one’s going to spend 25 years struggling along doing the fundamental science,” he said. 

    Top talent was leaving the country. 

    While Mr Hodgson had improved the situation, the solutions so far were just sticking plasters, he said. 

    Mr Hodgson said he agreed with some of the suggestions in the letter, which were worth exploring. But since the open letter was launched last year, the Government had announced changes that would address many of the concerns. 

    “I am confident we are making some really useful changes that are going to benefit New Zealand science.” 

    The last budget had contained the largest single budget science funding increase to date, Mr Hodgson said. Since the Government took office, science funding had increased 42%, CRIs had been given more discretion about how money was spent and the funding emphasis was moving away from contestable models. 

    A further meeting with science representatives about the open letter is planned for the coming weeks.  — ODT Oct 29, 2004