Additional to the NZ Science Challenges

By Grant Jacobs 01/05/2013

As others at sciblogs have noted (two links), the National Science Challenges and their funding were announced midday today.

I’d like to quickly highlight a few items not in the science challenges, as noted in the Report of the National Science Challenges (PDF file) under section 12: Other points the Panel wishes to bring to Government’s attention.

There were many examples amongst the submissions where the real deficit was not the absence of knowledge but the absence of its application. This was true for example in relationship to addressing issues of fresh water but it was also true in many other domains, particularly those where public policy settings were involved.

[My emphasis added.]

A desire to see more use of evidence in policy formation is something I’ve seen widely remarked on – and not just from the science sector.* I’d certainly like to see more of this myself.

ThePanel noted that for the Challenges to be successful there would be the need to ensure scientific excellence and that would require organisational structures similar to MBIE funded Platforms and TEC funded Centres of Research Excellence.

To my reading, this might suggest that organisation is intended to be based around the broad aims (as with the CoREs), rather than direct to tightly-focused projects (as with the ‘traditional’ grant-funding agencies). Some have remarked that the challenges look to be largely ‘business as usual’. Reading this I wonder if it will prove to be perhaps familiar broad research areas, but with the new funding channelled through a different organisational approach that reflects a focus on the larger objectives.

The Panel was concerned by the lack of significant proposals in educational research.

Those in education will appreciate this point. Alison Campbell** has written on this from time to time.

Elsewhere there is mention of leadership and communication issues. That last, I imagine, will catch the eye of those in science communication circles.

There’s also a hilarious typing typing error in section 12,

[…] if we are to advance on several fronts, not the least in suing the biological and physical sciences to greatest effect […]


I don’t mean to take away from what are in the challenges, but draw attention to that the report says there is more than what are in the challenges to be done,

[…] the mere fact that so many gaps exist suggests that there is a lack of strategic oversight in mapping our science and research capacities to national need.

If you think other things were not present in the funded challenges that deserve attention, feel free to tell people in the comments.


* Ben Goldacre takes this further to randomly controlled trials of policy. I’ve (briefly) touched on the general topic of evidence in policy in some earlier posts (e.g. Communicating complex and post-normal science to the policy maker and the public — lessons from New Zealand Elections – time for policies to be deposited in advance? and  What do scientists want from politicians?).

** Marcus Wilson and Michael Edmonds come to mind as others at sciblogs who likely have written the odd article on the topic.

Other posts at Code for life:

Social media for scientists

Ag Science hub to form near Christchurch, New Zealand

More inclusive re-entry to encourage departure to businesses?

Nature’s reproducibility effort: when to get data specialists on board

François Jacob

Publish a ‘popular science’ version of your thesis?

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