Public funding decisions up to politicians – Carnaby

Decisions on where to invest more public money in research are “political”,  says the head of the national science academy, Dr Garth Carnaby. As president of the Royal Society, he had tried to set out for politicians the different “value propositions” for public intervention in alternative areas.

“There are a wide range of views in the academy and among obviously-conflicted recipient organisations as to where public investment is most effective,” he told an Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science forum in Wellington on October 4. The forum, on the role of agricultural and horticultural science and innovation in the nation’s future, featured a panel of politicians answering questions on their parties’ policies in the run-up to the November 26 general election.

Dr Carnaby argued that the applied research commonly seen in the agriculture sector needed to be assessed according to the objectives of the research. The Royal Society had “gone out of its way” to be inclusive of the value systems of research organisations such as Nelson’s Cawthron Institute, or Palmerston North’s Fonterra Ingredients Research, and state-owned science companies. These were not necessarily well represented by papers published in big science journals, such as Nature — though they could be — “but they are mission-critical for wealth creation in our large commodity industries,” he said. The Royal Society had sought to recognise those researchers, without taking anything away from more traditional academic research and scholarship.

Dr Carnaby noted that though state-imposed levies played a significant role in agriculture, the Commodity Levies Act was an inadequate tool. An example of its deficiencies was the lack of adequate research to support earnings from the wool, leather and meat of the sheep on which hill country farmers depended.