The parties on science

Written By: - Date published: 8:28 am, August 13th, 2017 - 40 comments
Categories: science - Tags: , , , ,

There’s an interesting piece by Peter Griffin over at Sciblogs on various parties’ positions on science in NZ. Well worth a read, I’ll quote just the Labour section:

The political parties and where they stand on science

Dr Megan Woods, Labour MP for Wigram, spokesperson for Canterbury Issues, Climate Change, Energy, Innovation & Science, and Research & Development. Associate for Trade and Export Growth:

  • Funding science starts with the education system – Labour wants a review of the Performance-Based Research Fund system and also a review of the Tertiary Education Commission, which needs to be more strategic rather than a “provider of widgets”.
  • Doesn’t want to merge the universities and Crown research institutes, but wants to incentivise them to work more closely together to overcome the overly competitive research environment.
  • Has her doubts about the National Science Challenges, will see what tweaks can be made in consultation with the scientific community and address gaps that aren’t being filled.
  • Need to ensure the Marsden Fund continues to be funded and pointed out that our spending on science is behind the OECD average.
  • Need better career paths for our scientists.
  • We don’t make enough use of our departmental chief science advisors. The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor is held “too close to the executive” and needs to be more independent, like the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

See Sciblogs for other parties.

Not many Kiwis vote on the basis of science – and that’s one of our problems. The Nats have been disgraceful, choosing ideology over the evidence on climate change, water quality, education, and more. They pay lip service to science when it suits them (“social investment”), they ignore it and attack scientists when it doesn’t. You can “get away” with this in the short term, but in the long term in leads to disaster.

How to make the political process in NZ more rational and evidence based?

40 comments on “The parties on science”

  1. Ad 1

    I didn’t find the summaries of either the Greens or the Labour spokespeople convincing. And National has been frankly timid. Where are the great R&D policies from 2014?

    One of the big tasks of science is to help New Zealand productivity. That means: do more and better with the same or less.

    We have miserable salaries and wages, and that’s no way to increase the tax base that gets redistributed by the state. Which both National and Labour governments need to keep all their massive policy promises.

    Our economy is in a productivity recession and relies on migrant-fuelled population growth to expand. That’s pretty common knowledge, but now broker and analyst JBWere are saying it’s so consistently bad that investors should start exiting New Zealand.

    In an economic update on New Zealand, titled “Working Harder, not Smarter,” the advisory firm says headline gross domestic product has continued “to print impressively” but GDP per hour worked has flatlined for five years and per-capita GDP is similar to Japan’s.

    “In the absence of productivity gains, our economy has relied on more people, working more hours,” analysts at the firm said. “Net migration provides a conveyor belt of fresh labour, but it comes with attendant bottlenecks in housing and infrastructure. The profitability windfall for these sectors has not arrived, with earnings warnings from all the major listed construction companies this year.”

    JBWere said having an economic growth model reliant “on pushing the capacity envelope can be prone to mishap”. Record net migration is driving housing demand “but it has a boom-bust history,” they said. “Unfortunately, our two other important cyclical drivers, tourism and dairy, can also evaporate at short notice.” They said New Zealand’s capacity pressures are “unprecedented”, which was unsurprising in a productivity recession.

    On asset prices, the firm said both house prices and stocks have risen to the extent that all possible good news has been built in.

    “Irrespective of the election outcome, we are recommending clients reduce their exposure to the NZ equity market by about a quarter,” they said. While JBWere doesn’t expect a sudden correction, a plausible scenario was for “a long period of low returns – less than 5 per cent.”

    We’ve heard the left side of economic analysis from the likes of Bill Rosenberg on productivity, but any government – National or Labour-led – needs a convincing plan to enable more businesses to do more with the same or less.

    When the brokers are saying the same thing as the leftie economists, the parties need to wake up.

    • ropata 1.1

      Making science serve commercial interests is going to corrupt it, just as we have seen economics lose its credibility in the GFC. One of the biggest problems facing Kiwi researchers is the amount of time they have to put into applying for funding. Not to mention the disgraceful attacks on science and education experts by right wing smear merchants

      • Ad 1.1.1

        I agree that the competitive process for grants is wasteful.
        There is simply not enough public money spent on research full stop.

        We are not going to get better wages and salaries building more houses and roads.

        Science has been recognized since the Helen Clark government as a key part of the economy. If you wonder why Singapore continues to be so wealthy, in no small part its due to their science and innovation programmes from government.

    • One of the big tasks of science is to help New Zealand productivity. That means: do more and better with the same or less.

      Although I agree with you I really hate that do more with less line as National uses it as an excuse to cut funding to government services so as to cut taxes.

      We should be increasing productivity so that we can shift people from doing something to doing something else.

      We have miserable salaries and wages, and that’s no way to increase the tax base that gets redistributed by the state.

      I know it’s what’s been taught for centuries but that really is the wrong way to look at how a countries money system works. It should be that it’s government spending that funds the entire economy. Then things work and we can afford anything we want.

      Our economy is in a productivity recession and relies on migrant-fuelled population growth to expand.

      Yes, due to capitalism and the exponential shifting of wealth to the already rich.

      It’s not just the physical sciences that we should be looking at but also the soft sciences which show us that capitalism is pure destruction.

      The threat of investors leaving can be ignored BTW if we go to the government funding model effectively removing the need for foreign investment.

      • Ad 1.2.1

        There is no political party in the New Zealand parliament now proposing:

        – “government spending that funds the entire economy”, or

        – “removing the need for foreign investment.”

        Who knows, maybe you’re right. In a parallel universe.

        • Draco T Bastard

          There is no political party in the New Zealand parliament now proposing:

          True but why ignore how things should be just because the political parties aren’t promising valid changes yet?

          • Ad

            Plenty is being ignored, but there are good practical models for science and innovation in a small isolated state already functioning. Labour policies in previous elections had useful things to say about R&D, but I just haven’t seen them in evidence this time. The whole panel discussion was not convincing.

  2. Incognito 2

    National is singing a familiar tune, which is that research in NZ has to provide (more) value for money. Science is so much more than a tool or exercise to bodybuild and pump up the economy.

    Science gives us a way to view the world and ourselves and make sense of it, give it meaning. National’s narrow-minded and short-term focus on STEM at the expense of Arts & Humanities is doing science and our society no favours at all but rather the opposite: it impoverishes us socially, culturally, and, eventually, economically as well.

  3. millsy 3

    Bring back the DSIR. Or a form of it anyway.

    • Exkiwiforces 3.1

      Here here, well said Millsy. The Ozzie’s still have CSIRO all these years since the muppet national party got rid of world renown DSIR in the horrible 90″s

  4. simbit 4

    NSC’s were structured to reduce competitive process but big players defaulted to territorial games. Excessive oversight and interference, then budgets often cut (I was in two succesful bids; emigrated to better job offshore).

    There’s no game changer in this. Poor productivity data a result of many years neglect. And many researchers rightly scared of being targeted and undermined, particularly those in climate, water and social sciences.

    • Ad 4.1

      Definitely no game-changer moves, and I’m not saying bring back GIF, but a really big start is having policies for a high-inventiveness economy.

      I was closely involved many years ago in the programme that formed the Fast Forward Fund. That took over four years of bringing multiple government agencies and multiple pastoral research entities and NZ major agriculture into a single plan with massive $$ motivation.

      There’s no way around our smallness in R&D, except through aggregating what institutions and companies who need R&D to greater common purpose.

  5. Dennis Frank 5

    Anthony asked “How to make the political process in NZ more rational and evidence based?” Mission impossible. Leftists tried re-education camps long ago but human nature is hard-wired, anchored in nature.

    Also, rationality has been unfashionable in political circles since Robespierre discredited the application of it to the political process. The emergence of romanticism in the 19th century was a civilisational trend in reaction to rationality. Oceanic in the extent of its victory, it sloshed around a small island called Karl Marx, while he attempted to make politics rational.

    He got some help from Darwin, but then social darwinism ended up destroying political rationality again (due to eugenics)…

    • Ad 5.1

      Most NZ policy has rationality. And particularly under this one.

      The current government has rational measurement of policy down to a science throughout its social delivery. It’s nothing short of an “iron cage of rationality”. Adjustments are of a fully command-and-control variety, applied to people via MSD, MoH, and IRD.

      The current government has rational measurement of policy pretty refined in its expansion of the carceral state. It uses really high jailing tariffs, really low rehabilitation funding, and none of the weak leftie softcock stuff like mercy.

      This is a government that treasures what it measures when it comes to the control and enforcement of people, right throughout its important Ministries.

      (The glorious exceptions like Charter Schools are merely the price national pays for being in government, with Act.)

      Anthony Robins would like that same evidence-based and results-based drive applied to science funding. Seems reasonable to me. Even rational.

      • Dennis Frank 5.1.1

        Hmm. I graduated with BSc in physics long ago. What had been an entirely rational discipline took a hop, step & jump into irrational intellectual terrain in the 1920s. Physicists who found this distasteful retreated into technology. To this day, physics is distinguished by a chasm: those who interpret the discoveries of the Nobel prize-winning physicists of the 1920s to inform us about the deeper dimensions of our collective reality are on one side of this chasm; those who feel reality is something folks ought to run & hide from are on the other side.

        Then there’s all those ongoing controversies in science in which individual scientists cite an experimental fact as evidence and other scientists deny that it is. So much for the evidence-based stance. If you read both sides of the chasm in climate science, you’ll know what I mean.

        • DoublePlusGood

          Well, this has to be the daftest comment I’ve seen all year on science.

          • Dennis Frank

            Yeah, subjective reactions are such fun, eh? Objectivity is way too rational, so best not do it. Neuroscience, for instance. How many decades did they tell us that neurones didn’t get replaced in the brain? Then one of them proved they did. The so-called fact instantly turned into myth. Plenty of other such examples around of bullshit being promoted as fact by scientists.

        • Incognito

          Then there’s all those ongoing controversies in science in which individual scientists cite an experimental fact as evidence and other scientists deny that it is.

          There’s lot of controversy in science and there always will be. At the same time there’s a lot of consensus in science and there always will be.

          A fact is a fact. Evidence is not proof. You may know of the ongoing debate about the standard (AKA P-value) for statistical significance in research studies. Scientists will always argue about models (and paradigms) and data interpretation. Science is undoubtedly getting more complex (and more interesting!) but this does not mean that there is some ‘existential crisis’ in science!

          Using ambiguous and vague language is a sure recipe for confusion, misunderstanding, and talking past and/or over each other.

          To this day, physics is distinguished by a chasm …

          I (also) have no idea what you mean with this. Is it specific to physics only?

          Science is an evolutionary process; nothing is in isolation AKA “discovering truth by building on previous discoveries”. Not sure where the “chasm” fits in.

          • Dennis Frank

            Yes, the outline you gave is similar to my view in many respects. Bateson said it best: “the map is not the territory”, a quote recycled by many science writers since. A theory functions as a map of reality. Essentially, it paints a broad picture, seems accurate enough to most users, while discrepancies between map and reality can be found if one looks very carefully.

            The chasm has always been more evident in quantum physics while evident to a much lesser extent in related fields such as the science of complexity (originally known as chaos theory). In quantum physics it produced a majority opinion in favour (Bohr’s Copenhagen interpretation) and a minority opposed (Einstein, Bohm & a few others) re the non-existence of absolute reality. Absolute reality provides a common ground for the viability of objectivity & proof. The consensus that there is no such thing was arrived at by sheer weight of numbers amongst leading theoretical physicists (based on their interpretation of what the subatomic discoveries provided evidence for).

            • Incognito

              O.k. but I am still unclear about that “chasm”.

              I am no expert in physics but my limited understanding is that quite a few predictions that came out of QM (or from Einstein, for that matter) were supported by cosmological observations and not just by scientists (e.g. CERN) studying the world of sub-atomic particles.

              The boundaries between object and subject have become fuzzier with QM as have become the apparent separation between the sub-nano and the macro.

            • simbit

              Rutherford’s contribution (to the philosophy of science) being “There’s physics and stamp collecting…” 😉

        • lprent

          I presume you’re talking about quantum physics.

          Like the predicted effects like entanglement that engineers have been steadily demonstrating actually work in my work field of computing. I keep eyeing it up and deciding if I want to spend my last decade in shifting into that kind of coding.

          But of course being vague probably makes you think that you are being mysterious. Roughly speaking I’d say that there are at least 200 regular commenters here who have science degrees. There are at least 4 current authors who do. Including me. A BSc was my first degree.

          So don’t be shy. Demonstrate that you actually know what you are talking about

    • Stuart Munro 5.2


      Improve the standard of journalism, form a corruption commission with teeth, and rewrite the speakers rules so that a corrupt one like Carter can’t subvert the ministerial accountability process and MPs will become much more reluctant to favour their funders’ ‘reckons’ over reality.

    • Incognito 5.3

      I have really tried to understand what you wrote but I cannot.

      Rationality is man’s basic virtue, the source of all his other virtues.

      From The Virtue Of Selfishness – A New Concept of Egoism by Ayn Rand.

      The neoliberal ideology that runs so strong through the veins of many New Zealand politicians especially at the right of the spectrum is predicated on Rand’s ramblings philosophy. Therefore, we have ‘enjoyed’ a rather large number of pseudo-rational politicians and policies over the last 9 years. Politics is a mixture or hybrid of rationality, ideology, common sense & bias, interest and self-interest, power play, etc.

      Rationality most definitely has its place in politics but by itself it is not sufficient; it needs to be balanced with (contemporary) human ethics and values, for example.

      Evidence-based decision making is a sound basis for governing but we should never succumb to ‘raw’ rationality and its twin-sibling meritocracy. Taken to the extreme, this would advocate AI as/at the apex of good government.

      Politics is because of humans, by humans, for humans and to err is human too. This is our way.

      • Dennis Frank 5.3.1

        I appreciate that you tried. No worries, thanks for your explanation of your perspective. Rationality to me means exaltation of reasoning, with consequent discounting or ignoring other ways of knowing. I use reasoning because of its utility in explanation, while knowing that my quality of life has improved immeasurably since I realised I had to stop ignoring my intuition & gut instinct. The repression of the latter parts of the psyche was normal in kiwi culture in the fifties & sixties. I do agree that evidence-based policy-making has utility in many contexts and only oppose those who insist on it as a general rule.

        • Incognito

          Thank you for your response.

          Rationality and reasoning thus are different things.

          I have the opposite experience in that conscious rational reasoning is like a turbo engine going at full engine speed with the driver not having a clue as to where he was going or what he was doing. It wasn’t until I paid attention to the other ‘input’ that my life improved beyond boundaries that had been unimaginable by simple & pure rational reasoning before. In my line of work I must rely on rational reasoning alone …

          I leave it at this because we’re going off-topic.

          • Stuart Munro

            I have tended to teach my students that rational and intuitive thinking are both essential critiques on each other. Rationality uses observation but it can take you to strange places like feeding one’s dead grandmother to the dog – no rational reason not to. Intuition is faster at dealing with large sets but lacks the checkable working so that when it screws up it’s often hard to pinpoint why.

            I’m not so sure about politics erring because of humans – we have these fictitious entities, corporations, that are not entitled to political representation that increasingly act to subvert the public interest.

      • lprent 5.3.2

        AI’s are just dumb. I don’t think that you really realise how dumb until you get into how to code any kind of generic algorithms – let alone one capable of learning.

        The best ones to date have been the evolutionary ones with severe self selection. To date their best output has been to elucidate some of the sub-areas with specialised resonances that no-one who was sane or rational would have looked at in the first place.

        But it roughly uses the same kind of ‘logic’ that perfected the methods for how to prepare casava so that it didn’t poison you. You kill a lot of programs who payed it either too safe or too daring.

        I never quite understand why anyone thinks that the AI field is about logic.

        • Dennis Frank

          Someone reporting on the tv news the other day predicted that soon robot newsreaders will follow driverless cars. I thought “Yay! Time to bring back Max Headroom!”

          • lprent

            I am pretty sure that max headroom didn’t have driverless cars. Max wasn’t a robot. he was badly transcribed engram program.

            I have it on file, I should brave the 4:3 very lo-res again and have a look.

          • simbit

            Exactly. (Though Mr. Headroom was played by an actor). We don’t need overpaid talking heads. Gimme a bot!

  6. Cinny 6

    Just one science/political policy question..

    Which parties will fund ongoing un-suppressed R&D for universal free energy?

  7. Science?… science?… do we mean the Darwinian theory accepted as fact?

    What a joke.

    Its a theory. And a poor one at that.

    The only difference being that so many academics careers rely on reinforcing it that they loose their cajoolie’s trying to defend it.

    Tell me now, why is it that there is never EVER a chronological fossil record of Point A to Point B of the ‘ evolution’ of any one species ???

    Yeah , … we’ve got a whole bunch of bones , – often in random layers that seem suspiciously like they were deposited there because of massive sedimentary wave action, with homo sapiens bones mixed in with ‘ dinosaur’ bones – but bugger all else.

    How else do you explain THIS ? :

    Upright Tree Fossils – Tennessee – YouTube
    you tube▶ 1:03

    Nephilim Giants of Catalina Island – L.A. Marzulli – YouTube
    l a marzulli catalina giants you tube▶ 10:59

    Bloody bullshit artists, Marxists or Capitalists … all the same old shit…. I only care about the truth. I don’t give a shit about political expediency or whether the Smithonian Institute wants to cover up giants in America that covers up an Antediluvian period . Couldn’t give a shit . I just care about the truth. And the truth is there IS a God, and one day we will have to reckon with him for what we did in this life. End of story.

    WE FOUND THE NEPHILIM! | LA Marzulli on Sid Roth’s It’s … – YouTube
    Video for l a marzulli smithsonian covering up about giants youtube▶ 1:27:26

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