Experimenting with our future

Science makes the world go round, as one version of the popular saying might have it.

It helps us understand why things are the way they are, how matters may develop in future, and offers an avenue from which clever thoughts and bright ideas can be turned into products and services with real economic benefits.

OK, so that is what it’s like in utopia. Now step away from there and head to New Zealand instead.

For years, decades even, our government-funded science sector has been struggling — for funding, to offer secure career paths for young scientists, with unnecessary competition, and to keep up internationally and show we have great science and great ideas in this part of the world.

Science, Innovation and Technology Minister Judith Collins. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Science, Innovation and Technology Minister Judith Collins. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
To describe our state science sector as creaking is an understatement. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have brilliant brains, keen scientists of all ages and from all backgrounds, and oodles of talent.

What it does mean is that the nurturing environment at the institutional level can be seriously deficient, which has obvious effects on recruitment and retention of the best and brightest.

During the past few years, New Zealand’s science and research community took part in a huge Labour government project aimed at boosting the sector and supporting its people.

Te Ara Paerangi, first a green paper and then a white paper, formulated ways to improve the sector, ensure equal access for all to science careers, and do something about the Crown research institutes, set up more than 30 years ago and now really showing their age.

But this coalition government has a problem with most things started by its predecessors. Te Ara Paerangi has become yet another victim of that modus operandi, to rip up plans and start again, and has been canned by Science, Innovation and Technology Minister Judith Collins.

Instead, she has announced two advisory groups, for science and the tertiary sector, to be chaired by former chief science adviser Prof Sir Peter Gluckman.

Ms Collins says the work of all those involved with Te Ara Paerangi won’t be wasted. In a media statement she recognises that improving both sectors will help rebuild the economy.

If the government can by some miracle get quick and effective results via the advisory panels, the scrapping of the white paper might be welcomed.

But it is unclear what Ms Collins and Sir Peter might have up their sleeves that trumps the years of work that hundreds of others have put into reforming our science sector.


And another thing

"It happens in war," says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the world rounds on him for the appalling and hard-to-forgive air-strike which killed seven international aid workers in Gaza earlier this week.

The victims — three British nationals, citizens of Poland, Australia and Palestine, and a dual United States-Canadian citizen — were working for the World Central Kitchen, a charity which has so far delivered more than 40 million meals to people in Gaza.

According to the BBC, their three-car convoy was leaving a warehouse and carrying more than 100 tonnes of food aid when it was struck by missiles. The vehicles carried the charity’s logo and their route had been co-ordinated with the Israeli Defence Force.

Phones have been running hot between the leaders of the countries where the aid workers lived and Mr Netanyahu. US President Joe Biden was outraged and said Israel was not doing enough to protect aid workers, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told Mr Netanyahu the situation was "increasingly intolerable".

Charities, aid agencies and politicians around the world say the attack shows Mr Netanyahu is happy to use food as a weapon of war.

An independent investigation has been promised. Israeli President Isaac Herzog has apologised for the attack and the military has admitted it was a "grave mistake" which should not have happened.

The closest the warmongering Mr Netanyahu appears to have come to an apology is to acknowledge innocent people were killed, call it tragic and say they will do everything to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Mr Netanyahu has very few friends left. Even the US is now routinely highly critical of the war he is pursuing and the innocent lives he is taking. Protests are continuing in Israel demanding an early end to his rule.

His days certainly appear numbered. Few tears will be shed at his departure.