May 24, 2013

"Issues of Science" at AWRF 2013

Carol's portfolio as reference librarian at Central City Library includes the sciences, so who better than she to tell us about the "Issues of Science" session at AWRF 2013?

This session with Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, interviewed by Sean Plunket, replaced "Bad science, bad pharma" with Ben Goldacre, who unfortunately was not able to attend the festival. Gluckman, who is currently the Chairman of the Prime Minister's Science Advisory Committee, began the discussion with the comment that science has a central role in our future. Technology has led us to where we are (not always for good), but it is also the method for our solutions. First World countries need to be generators of knowledge for growth, and New Zealand also needs to do this - we are not going to get rich by selling milk!

 In a measured and logical way, Gluckman answered every question posed by Sean Plunket. The only time there was a hint of the discussion getting heated was on the topic of journalists. Most decisions in society are based on values, and they need to be made against the background of underlying knowledge. Science, Gluckman explained, is about reducing uncertainties, and the media play a game of balance and bias. Even if there is a majority of 99% agreement on an issue, the media have the need to include the 1% opinion as well. They also want to be commercial, so sell stories using controversy.

So how can we go down the track of science and still be competitive?

 Innovate! Most innovation occurs at the interplay between disciplines, through merging of ideas. For example, what won us the America's Cup? It was the capacity of New Zealand science to work together, with good engineering. New Zealand has the advantage of our small size to get interdisciplinary research working.

 It was also emphasized that we need more people trained in science; just like numeracy and literacy, it is a critical skill set. Everyone should be encouraged into science by removing the "boring bits" and gaining an informed understanding of the issues of the day using scientific principles.

Returning to the topic of scientists and journalists, Gluckman admitted that in the past, some scientists have been arrogant, with a patronising attitude. Scientists and technologists have mostly gotten into trouble when research has forged ahead and not told the public what they have been doing. Communication with the media tends to be about breakthrough stories. Scientists tend not to be good at communication, and the media needs to recruit reporters who are trained in science.

The event concluded with the announcement of the winner of the Royal Society of New Zealand's Science Book Prize for 2013. It was Moa : the life and death of New Zealand's legendary bird by Quinn Berentson.  Professor Sir Peter Gluckman commented, referring to the author Quinn Berentson, "Here is a scientist who could communicate and tell a story".

-- Carol, Information Services

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 04:00
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