Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"Boosting science and innovation"

For the past year, the government has been talking a lot about "boosting science and innovation" as the "keys to economic growth". Today, we saw the reality behind that talk, with news that NIWA is planning to sack 5% of its total workforce:

The crown research company NIWA is proposing to cut 17 science and 17 support staff positions. Most of the science job to be cut are at the company’s Wellington regional office but nationwide include marine taxonomists, molecular biologists, fisheries stock assessment scientists, an environmental economist, a renewable energy scientist/engineer, a catchment water quality modeler, an atmospheric physicist, a marine ecologist, and a remote sensing scientist.
SO much for boosting innovation. But hey, who really needs to know how many fish we've got, or what sort of fish they are, or how they work anyway? And who needs to know what our climate is doing, whether our lakes are polluted, and how to build wave turbines? Its not as if these things let us understand our world, manage our resources, and identify and deal with environmental problems, right? We can just rely on Gerry Brownlee to tell us these things, the same way he tells us whether heritage buildings can be preserved...

Note that scientists aren't accountants; when you sack one, their NZ career is over. They are too highly specialised, and there are too few NZ employers, for them to find work elsewhere in their field (sometimes, they are their field). The lucky ones go overseas. Most get out of science altogether. Either way, we effectively lose their knowledge, permanently. But its not just them - this also sends a message to everyone considering a scientific career that they shouldn't bother, or that they should go overseas - because they won't find a stable research environment here

Its stupid. Its short-sighted. It will result in a permanent loss of scientific knowledge and expertise to the country. Far from "boosting science and innovation", this government is doing the exact opposite.