A Science Manifesto or too little too late?

By Kevin 22/04/2008

The Science manifesto is an interesting read. Despite my cynicism when it turned up in my inbox I believe that every scientist every New Zealander should read it.

It is apsirational rather than inspirational though. As the last paragraph sums up, the document outlines the problems but offers very little in the way of solutions:

“This manifesto outlines the challenges and opportunities we face with our science system. The issues are well known. What we must now demonstrate is a determined commitment to address them.”

In fact I will go further than that – I would guarantee that I could find a similar document published every year since the late 70s (at which time I gave up on the RSNZ for a long spell) that says pretty much the same thing.

The document speaks of the last 10 years being bad for NZ science, but I’m sorry the writing was on the wall since I was an undergraduate in the 70s and very little has changed. We scientist have given successive governments of all shades a very easy time, as we New Zealanders have.

With all due respect these documents are written by people (my self included) who have presided over the demised of science in particular and the academic culture in general. So do we trust that we can be lead out of the wilderness by the same people who have fiddled while….What New Zealand scientists must decide, if they realy think it is not1 too late, is “in thrity years time will our current undegraduates be saying the same thing about science and will our children be saying the same things about New Zealand?

The problems are easy to state, but the challenges in solving them are enormous. A cultural change is needed in New Zealand far greater than the rise of feminism or perhaps even the instituion of the 40 hr week.

Near the end of the document the authors use ecological and mountaineering allegories to reinforce their message. The jury is out whether these – or mine – are the most fitting – of a wheel that is so rusty in can’t even squeak any more. In the country that invented the “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” that is not a good situation to be in.

So will we finally make a difference like we keep saying we are capable of?

One thing is certain if we are to make a difference the basic message of this document is true – we must change for change we must!