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The art of science advice – RNZ

Posted in Reflections On Science on April 1st, 2016.

Radio New Zealand science journalist Veronika Meduna recently quizzed New Zealand’s chief science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, and Australia’s newly-appointed chief scientist, Alan Finkel, at a trans-Tasman celebration at the Australian High Commission.

Science and governmentYou can read more and listen to both speakers on the RNZ Our Changing World website.

An excerpt:

At a trans-Tasman celebration dinner, held at the Australian High Commission, I had the opportunity to ask them about future areas of collaboration, shared investments in infrastructure and perhaps even an open science funding system that would allow scientists from both sides of the Tasman to apply for research grants.

They also had thoughts to share about science communication.

“Never be trite,” says Dr Finkel. “If you oversimplify, you’re not respecting the audience and they go away with what I call a gee-whiz science experience. You see the flashing spark, it’s exciting, but you’ve got nothing that you can remember of significance about that.” …

Dr Finkel says science is best discussed through stories that explain but never dumb down.

Sir Peter agrees. “Science is not a list of facts. It’s about the process about how we establish information about the world within us and around us.”

He says one of the challenges is that a century ago science was largely about facts, but with the power of computation, it is now dealing with complex systems, where some of the facts may never be known.

“But because of the very issues that we can now use science to interrogate – life, environment, society – science increasingly comes into contact with values of society and these values are often in dispute. Science cannot resolve disputed values.”

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