I have started this blog because it seems almost negligent for a person charged with promoting science awareness not to use the current fashion in communication.
I realise there is much that my office undertakes that remains unseen through more formal processes. It will provide me with the capacity to comment on lots of matters within science, and in turn to get feedback where appropriate. It, however, will not be a site for debating political aspects of science as my office should stay independent of such matters. It is my contention that good scientific advice must be provided separately from the values dimension, and again I will avoid extensive debate on the values domain except when directly relevant, such as in relationship to science ethics.
This has been a period of considerable international engagement. Last month I was in Washington to meet the new science advisor to the Secretary of State following my participation as member of the NZ delegation to the United Nations high level meeting on non-communicable disease. The USA operates its bilateral science relationship with New Zealand through that office and it was a good opportunity to meet with Dr William Colglazier and canvas a number of matters of joint interest.
While in Washington, Minister Groser and I also met with a number of major agribusinesses and agencies to discuss New Zealand’s leadership in the global research alliance to reduce emissions from agriculture. New Zealand has taken some considerable leadership in catalysing collaborative research in this area by announcing a fund in which international participation is welcome. The fund is to support research aimed at finding ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for pastoral agriculture. The approach being taken is called ‘grand challenge’, where a committee of distinguished international scientists which I chaired identified several questions that could be addressed and has thrown it open to the global scientific community to find solutions. The only requirement is that the work must involve NZ scientists and be relevant and applicable within the NZ farming system. The companies and agencies were genuinely impressed with our leadership and innovation in this space, and I hope it encourages them to work with NZ scientists on these challenges.
While I was in Washington I went down to the Mall to see New Zealand’s contribution to the Solar Decathlon. This is a competition run by the US Department of Energy to build an energy neutral house. The twenty finalists actually have to build their house on the mall, and there is a most elaborate competition to demonstrate its energy neutrality. Victoria University entered and it was shortlisted — the first southern hemisphere entry in the history of the competition. Their design, which was a take-off on a classic kiwi bach, was fantastic — great design, great craftsmanship in the building, great landscaping in the kiwi way and great technology in the design. The students were enthusiastic and excited. And their house came third overall.
This was an exemplar of how NZ can combine design and technology in unique ways. There is enormous potential in building design, materials and technologies in a world where energy conservation will become more important. And 300,000 people saw New Zealand on display. Well done Victoria, and well done to all those sponsors who helped show NZ creativity and innovation to Washington.
I was reading the 17th September edition of New Scientist on the plane; there is brilliant editorial by Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel laureate and President of the Royal Society of London, entitled Stamp out anti-science in US politics. He is addressing the need to separate science from politics and ideology — something I too have written and spoken about a lot in the last few months. It should be compulsory reading for all of us. Just one quote will suffice:
Science is worth fighting for. It helps us understand the world and ourselves better and will benefit all humanity.