New Zealand’s Chief Science Advisor (CSA), Professor Juliet Gerrard, has been asking where research can most effectively influence policy – one post-it note at a time,
The comments after this piece are open for readers to offer their thoughts on where science should best influence policy. Please do!
As I’m currently off-shore so I can’t attend these meetings. Besides, I always have too much to say… I’ll add my contribution below and hope readers will join in.
She posted a photo to give me (and others) some idea of what’s happening –
Some people have written 3 or 4 words. Others have crammed a mini essay onto a post-it. These must be the people who, when sitting exams, thought, “how much can I fit on this page” and proceeded to write in about 5 point font. That’s about this big.
Some notes even have ‘PTO’ on them. Ha! Why, yes, there’s more paper on the other side. Scientists are so into lateral thinking…
She has built quite a collection. Here’s a photo of her office wall –
Scientists are people with great curiosity. I’ve tried reading the post-its but most of the writing is just too small. The curious part of me would love to the full collection, to see what people are thinking for myself.
Here are the themes Prof. Gerrard has identified (the larger white notes), from the left:
- How is/will NZ meet its UNDP sustainable development goals?
- Alternatives to plastic
- Water quality
- Climate change
- Public health e.g. diabetes
- Antimicrobial resistance
- Evidence for harm reduction on legislation of cannabis
- Mental health
- New Zealand’s framework for science in emergencies – to include, communication of risk
- Connecting the Innovation Economy
- Well being
- Artificial intelligence
- Data governance and data sovereignty
- Diversity in science – beyond gender
- GE regulation
- A variety of environmental toxicology concerns
- Incorporation of kaupapa Māori
- Science education
- Earning the trust of the public
- How do we science
I’d add a few thoughts about some of these points to encourage discussion—perhaps in a later post—but first my own thoughts. I’ve got to get a word in here!
Priorities, priorities, priorities
Prof Gerrard is asking for what issues she might prioritise. What should come first?
I can think of dozens of things we might do; I’m sure you can, too.
While each theme is important in their own way, it seems to me that thinking ahead what we’d like is for research to contribute to policy in an on-going way. With this in mind, my over-arching priority is a science commission for parliament.
A science commission
As a small nation New Zealand has the ability to lead with new ways of doing things. A Science Commission can provide an on-going way to aid evidence-based policy, assist MPs and parliament, and temper populist-style politics that the world is presently suffering.
It might provide a means for all of the issues to be better considered by parliament. It’s important to stress that I can imagine this benefitting politicians, too, as well as the country as a whole. This isn’t about ‘favouring’ science or scientists.
There’s much more to this than a post-it. I’ve a piece dedicated to this coming up. I’ll link it here once it’s done.
We have a chance to build something that might go on into the future, something that can potentially help everyone, including individual MPs faced with policy challenges from the public, and the public themselves. Done well it could be something that might, in time, set New Zealand apart, something to be proud of. A stronger, saner form of policy formation. I’m actually quite disappointed that the incoming coalition didn’t make this a priority from the very start of their tenure.
As I’ll explain in my follow-up piece there appears to be some reluctance from politicians on this. I believe the scientific community should push back firmly on this. It’s an institution (for want of a better word) that is sorely needed in these ‘post-truth’ times.
Go to it. The comments are open to all.
(Keep those contributions polite, of course.)
I’ll challenge you to make them post-it sized. Or at least offer a pithy take before warbling on!
While you’re here, check out the new-look website for the Office of the CSA. It features her staff, the departmental science advisory network, news feed, her twitter stream, and more.
The Otago Daily Times noted that quite a few people were concerned with countering claims made on media and social media among other issues,
Hot topics identified by the audience included supporting science teachers, potentially making ”trade pathways” for scientific careers better known, and educating politicians so they did not mistrust scientific data.
Fellow Sciblogger Alison Campbell has written on the need to support science teachers on BioBlog. Among her too many roles she also works in this space.
I’ve previously written about the non-academic science careers. There is a need for graduate students to better understand the career options, and be better linked to them. Some suggest the training might be tweaked in reflection of that only a minority of graduates go on to academic careers.
The trust issue is important but has some ‘gotchas’ that I will try to tackle in a later piece. I’d like this one to focus on encouraging readers to discuss their ideas, not just mine.
On that note, I hope to see you in the comments.
Other articles on Code for life
USA Court ruling on glyphosate— the role of IARC and Eugenie Sage’s call (I hope to bring more on this in a later piece)
Regulating GMOs: time to move forward (including a list of issues to consider)
Public opinion of gene editing and enhancement (results of a survey and the implications)
Natural Health Products bill gets quietly dropped (the government quietly dropped this needed bill; little reported on in media)
GMOs and the plants we eat: neither are ‘natural’ An attempt to point out that, among other things, both our ’natural’ foods and GMOs are not really ‘natural’.
Deleting a gene can turn an ovary into a testis in adult mammals I was startled to learn that ovaries may not be permanently defined to be ovaries in some adult mammals.
Haemophilia – towards a cure using genetic engineering Using ‘designer’ zinc finger proteins to insert a working copy of a missing gene.
About the featured image
Taken from the PM CSA’s Twitter feed (she posted this in reply to me so I might see what is happening); used with permission.