Political aversion to research, science and technology costing New Zealand


Sometime ago I wrote about a war on science being waged. I return to this subject inspired by the National Party’s commitment to dealing with climate change, an issue it and its A.C.T. Party ally have largely viewed – and at grass roots still do – as a socialist conspiracy based on what they call wonky science.

There seems to be a fear in some corners of science. Reading peoples comments underneath articles on Stuff, and on Facebook make me sad for the people who dedicate their professional careers to bettering our understanding of the world around us and designing new technology and research new ideas.

Whether it is a report on the work being done to understand the geophysical mechanics of the Alpine Fault in South Westland, the ignorance or lack of understanding displayed by many is disturbing. The spreading of untruths that a couple of drills boring into a fault system hundreds of kilometres long is going to somehow trigger a major earthquake is as alarming as it is wrong. The reasoning for the research is commendable: to find out how close the fault is to rupturing and whether any of the findings can be applied elsewhere.

Likewise there is a matching distrust or similar fear of technology. Perhaps it is the loss of privacy that goes with having just a few mega companies providing the bulk of our information technology – Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Samsung, Apple all possess incredibly smart technological brains to have achieved in just under two decades the revolution from dumb phones to smart phones; from small localized networks such Old Friends to Facebook. The ability to post a vast range of multimedia – music, videos, blogs, photos among others

But we should not let this fear of technology necessarily cripple us. During the same time it has become possible that even if no overall cure is found for cancer, some forms of it such as bowel cancer might be significantly reduced in terms of their potency. Perhaps with investment in medical science we can make that happen in New Zealand.

Is it the failure of politicians to keep up with research, science and technology that makes them distrustful of it? Then we need to put pressure on them to get up to speed. The explosion of drones for example requires some urgent legislation changes to require registration of drones, and to make sure that they cannot be used in ways that pose undue threats to privacy, aircraft around airports or in flight paths. Before a major commercial aviation disaster occurs this needs to be tackled.

Is it that toxic old “She’ll be right” attitude that has long cost New Zealand, whereby people assume that on a given day everything will be fine and we worry too much? More cause for getting rid of it then. More cause for the change in public attitudes that inspired me to establish this blog in the first place.

Is the cause possibly a fear of politicians that they will somehow run out of work if they make an obvious effort to address our numerous outstanding social, economic and environmental problems? If that is the case this is simply laughable because being humans like the rest of us even if they do tackle these ills in an honest way and try to do the job they were elected to do, enough mistakes are certain that no shortage of work is ever likely to exist.

Or, is there a conspiracy of some sort to keep New Zealanders wages down by not investing in higher education, the sciences and the trades so that we exhaust ourselves by working too hard? I initially thought that this was a crack pot theory conceived by some believer of alternative politics, but the failure of two successive three-term Governments to achieve meaningful wage rises makes the cynic in me wonder. But whatever the answer may be – whether it is one or more of the above ideas or something completely different – it is costing New Zealand badly. We could be so much richer both in terms of income per capita, environmental and economic performance. I really really cannot help but wonder if there is not some deliberate agenda to make science look devious and discourage the idea of abstract research.

 

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