Open Letter to Science Minister Requests Tripling of Marsden Fund Another Update

By Kevin 07/03/2008

Here is an update mailed to signatories by Jeff Talon. Please contact him if you wish to be involved.

I know most of you signed up to the letter last October/November and you probably have wondered since what has happened with this. I felt that it would have got lost over the Summer/Christmas hiatus so held off until now to send out to the media. In the meantime I advised the Minister immediately of this project and each time an additional 100 names were added I sent the updated letter to him.

This gave plenty of warning and the opportunity to meet and discuss — which didn’t eventuate. Last Friday 29th Feb I sent out to the media. It was picked up first by the Press on Monday and then on Tuesday the NZ Herald gave it front page treatment. There was an interview on National Radio on Nine to Noon with Kathryn Ryan and later at 4:15 with Jim Mora. There was also Radio95 at 1pm, Kiwi FM at 15:20, RadioLive at 5:15 as well as Prime/Sky TV news at 5:30pm. Each of the main newspapers ran a story except for the DomPost which had already run a story at the end of last year. ZB Christchurch did an interview at 7:15 this morning (Thurs 6th March) with John Dunne and there is to be a long interview Sunday afternoon with Graeme Hill 2:10 to 2:30pm on RadioLive. There were some excellent and telling statements on the NZ Herald blog site.

All in all there has been pretty good coverage. I have to say that I was disappointed wit the Nine to Noon interview. It was not punchy enough, whereas I think the others were. I guess I had to find my feet. The Opposition spokesperson for Science Dr Paul Hutchings asked to meet up and we had a very positive discussion about all the issues including the wider issues we all face. His response is to be expected in political terms but it was heartening that the challenges for the science system are understood.

The real challenge lies ahead. The Minister has been rather dismissive and he has quoted some very misleading numbers. A few of you have come back to me expressing your disappointment with his response. There is a sense in which an open letter released to the media backs both sides into corners and it would have been better if the Minister had met up to quietly discuss the issues — a media release could have been averted. But that was not taken up. Now he will not want to be seen to buckle to agitation from the research community.

The next step is to meet with the Minister and talk all this through. I will select a couple of individuals from amongst the signatories to come with me. At the end of the day we have the OECD report on our side which insists that the Marsden Fund needs to be increased. We are not out of line here. Denmark’s basic research funds have around 40% success rate dispensing some NZ$243M. Do the sums: Danish population 5.4M; NZ population 4.1M.

Thanks for all your helpful comments.

To be continued…

I just need to clarify numbers. I was reported in the Herald as saying “The country’s spend on scientific research had actually dropped 17 per cent in the past 10 years, despite political rhetoric about the push for a “knowledge-based” economy”. The actual $ spend of course has increased not dropped. What I said in my covering letter was “Much has been said over the last decade about the need for a knowledge-based economy — little has been done in real terms. In that time our overall research funding per scientist has declined by 17% while our competitors abroad are rapidly expanding their investment”. It is research funding per scientist which has dropped. These numbers are taken directly from the MoRST score card recently released. The early version of the Herald got it right but obviously they needed more space so dropped a few words here and there.”


Jeffery Tallon []