Among many excellent science presentations, including from Michael Bowers (UCSB) a physical chemist who provided definite hope for me personally with regard to an understanding and potential submission of Alzheimer’s disease, was a presentation from Max Kennedy, the National Manager Biological Industries, MSI. Max started by outlining the export landscape of New Zealand highlighting how New Zealand dominates as the international market supplier of a number of primary products, including kiwifruit, butter and milk powder (so no surprises there). What was and is a better story, and something I would imagine is not widely recognised by the New Zealand Government and Public, under the auspices of New Zealand “Primary Industries” is the widely industry acknowledge underpinning that chemistry research and development is playing to ensure that New Zealand’s Biological Industries remain viable, competitive and profitable in an international market. Getting this type of recognition for science research and chemistry in particular, in an area most people believe is and should be “Chemical free” (a nonsensical term unless you live in the ultimate vacuum and the topic of another of the plenary talks), is New Zealand’s right and role in the international market, and even worse is the only type of export industry that New Zealand can and should be participating in is critical. So clearly the recognition of science research as a fundamental aspect of a prosperous biological export industry exists within the industry and we should be supportive and active in getting this message out.
Max also outlined the increasingly active role that many of the other ministries (MAF, MED and TPK) are taking in supporting science research. And the therefore increasingly central role that MSI plays in coordinating science investment within New Zealand. Building and developing this into an active culture across the ministries and agencies will require considerable work, coordination and goodwill so whoever is the new Minister will be vital.
Max also called for the community to be much more demonstrative of the link between science research and prosperity. This is of course an issue that we have discussed often. Part of the problem of this, and much debated in the break, is the disconnect between reality and requirements to get funding. Stories about how in order to be successful in the old FRST grants system it was necessary to stipulate that the research would lead to $50 m turnovers in 5 years and the like, all of which was widely recognised, at least by the scientists as being the best best case scenarios and therefore unrealistic, were widely shared. The problem is of course that we as scientists promulgate this overselling by continuing to include such unrealistic expectations in grant applications. Some wondered if in the history of successful FRST grants which bids had come even close to delivering on the economic outcomes that had been stipulated in order to get the grant. Such practice of unrealistic economic outcomes should be ceased in this new era of MSI funding and better accountability put in place. Most importantly in demonstrative links between science research and prosperity it must be remembered that wealth and economic return are just two aspects of prosperity, not the only and not the central aspects.
Another huge number of new publications this week, have a great weekend.