NZ in need of scientists, Hodgson tells graduates

New Zealand needs more scientists and engineers and a ''stronger science voice'' to deal with the complexities of global climate change and other challenges, former Dunedin North MP Pete Hodgson says.

Mr Hodgson, who is a former Minister of Research, Science and Technology, was commenting in an address to about 340 graduates, including in science, consumer and applied sciences and physical education, at a 4pm graduation ceremony at the Regent Theatre, Dunedin, on Saturday.

''Graduates, your country needs you whether you research or not.''

New Zealand was getting by with ''too few'' scientists and engineers.

In Germany, Japan and Scandinavia, scientists ran companies and their science influenced management decisions.

''In New Zealand, those same companies are run by accountants or lawyers.''

This was one of many reasons why this country had ''one of the lowest levels'' of private sector research and development in the developed world.

Scientists did not have a ''franchise on wisdom'' but ''we do need a stronger science voice in social discourse''.

In a wide-ranging address, he urged graduates to be proud of their achievements but added he sometimes did not like students.

His electorate office was close to the campus and ''unpleasantries'' had sometimes arisen, given there was a student flat above his office.

One day, a student had arrived home with a drum kit-''you get the idea''.

But sometimes students could be ''very, very funny''.

One story which had ''never been told'' occurred 10 years ago, on election day 2002, when three young men had ''walked into a booth in one of Dunedin North's affluent hill suburbs'' to exercise their democratic right ''wearing nothing but a smile''.

The poll clerk had ''looked disapprovingly down his long, aquiline, cold nose'', paused and then said, ''Very well, get behind those screens, get voting and get lost.''

''Only in Dunedin,'' Mr Hodgson commented.

Mr Hodgson told graduates he remained ''troubled'' over climate change, which was a ''global problem'' and not enough progress was being made.

The situation required the public to ''think very long term'' and ''have faith in what science predicts'', but the public did not ''easily warm'' to either thing.

Nevertheless, young science graduates instinctively thought about the far future and could help ''save the world''.

''If we are to keep abreast of ourselves as a species, then we need a technically literate population who value long-term policies and will embrace change.''

-john.gibb@odt.co.nz