New journal issue explores the future of science in New Zealand

Future-NZ-science-homeA special themed issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand that considers the place of science in New Zealand’s future has been published.

The special issue explores science in New Zealand through a number of different lenses from science funding mechanisms, though to public engagement and future scenarios of how science could change New Zealand’s society.

In putting the issue together, guest editors Ian Yeoman and David Bibby were driven by curiosity about what the future could hold for science in New Zealand.

Its papers include opinion pieces, stories and speculations, some by active researchers and some by others, but they are all concerned with different directions New Zealand science could take, says Associate Professor Yeoman, who is a ‘futurologist’ at the School of Management, Victoria University of Wellington.

“The volume asks questions about the future, aiming to understand what might or could happen.  We wanted to hear from experts in science, those that understood the bigger picture or those that could understand the dimensions and interconnectivity of science and how events could unfold.  Fundamentally, we were curious with what the future may be and how others imagined it.

“We asked potential contributors to consider the near future or far future, on any topic that related to the future of science and New Zealand. We did not prescribe a particular thought, paradigm or idea – rather, we strived for diversity.  In the end, the papers in this special issue are not right or wrong, but scenarios and ideas to ponder and reflect upon.”

Emeritus Professor David Bibby of the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington, says the papers throw light on the pressing problems that face science in New Zealand today, and on possible ways to move forward.

“What emerges is a vision of New Zealand as a small but focused ‘ecosystem’ comprising both science and society, which is able to make the most of our resources and to contribute to the global effort to solve the problems of the future such as climate change and shortages of energy, food and water. This can be achieved if we use our science capital, if we have robust funding systems, if we focus on the areas in which we can excel, if we recognise that ‘science is the discovery of the unknown’, and if we work across disciplines and coordinate our efforts.

“It is up to us to imagine how good we can help to make the future that we can leave to our children and grandchildren.”

Six themes emerged from the accepted papers, he says:

  1. Science and society: The role of science in New Zealand’s society
  2. Mātauranga Māori:  Forms of knowledge and ways from a Māori perspective
  3. Imagination: the role of science in creating a better picture through innovation and application
  4. Communications: How the story is told
  5. Good science: Exemplars of practice
  6. Which way:  Decisions to be taken

1. Science and society

Kate McGrath, Victoria University of Wellington, suggests that stability in funding, infrastructure and processes is needed to produce high calibre scientists who choose to make their lives and careers in New Zealand.

Wendy McGuinness, McGuinness Institute, suggests that the future of science is likely to be shaped by how well we create connections between science and society.

2. Mātauranga Māori

Rhian Salmon and Rebecca Priestley, both Victoria University of Wellington, believe that bringing western and traditional perspectives together could improve the quality of science research and engagement so that it is better linked to the needs of communities.

Debbie Broughton and Kim McBreen, Te Wānanga o Raukawa,  tell us that revitalising mātauranga could assist in developing skills that promote conversation and learning from different systems.

3. Imagination

Robert Hickson, Department of Internal Affairs, proposes four short, almost science fiction type, scenarios of what the future could hold, depending on what approaches are taken to science in New Zealand.

Leon Gurevitch, Victoria University of Wellington considers the relationship between computer science, industrial innovation and New Zealand’s research future, using Weta Digital as a case study.

4. Communications

 Rhian Salmon and Rebecca Priestley propose a future in which “universal science literacy plays a fundamental part in the functioning of our democracy”. They put forward a vision for how a more publicly-informed science, and science-informed public, might be achieved in New Zealand.

5. Good science – exemplars of practice

Craig Stevens and Joanne O’Callaghan, both from NIWA, speculate on a marine future for New Zealand and how, as a society built upon a foundation of maritime endeavours, we could benefit from a re-engagement with the ocean domain.

Jacqueline Rowarth, University of Waikato, and Anthony Parsons, Massey University, in discussing our food production systems through agriculture, propose that fundamental science is needed to make the fundamental changes that we need.

6. Which way? Decisions to be taken

John Robinson says that planning science for the future is dependent on an understanding of that future. We need a social, political and economic environment that enables scientists to apply their skills, knowledge and innovation to solve global problems such as scarcities of energy, food and water.

David Penman, David Penman and Associates, and Steven Goldson, Agresearch, say that, as a small and advanced nation, we have the opportunity to reshape our scientific approach using existing personal connections.

Juliet Gerrard, University of Auckland, celebrates 20 years of the Marsden Fund. She identifies some of the unexpected and useful discoveries that came from the research that has been funded over the years.

Sir Peter Gluckman, University of Auckland, says that, given New Zealand’s small size and nature of the economy, we face particular challenges and opportunities. Prioritisation is necessary in a small country and we need to balance what is spent on applied research which has known direct benefits with money spent on pure discovery science.

The final item in the issue is from Peter Hunter, University of Auckland, who is leading a Royal Society of New Zealand panel to review the New Zealand research system (including research in the humanities) and to develop a strategic plan for research investment.

Professor Hunter notes that the articles in the present special issue will provide valuable contributions to many of the issues being addressed in the review.  

The journal issue is available online and will be free to access for the month of August:

The Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand is an international journal of the science and technology of New Zealand and the Pacific region. It is published quarterly.

The complete list of articles in the issue is: