National Science Challenges investment – In the News

The Government’s mid-way review on the National Science Challenges has been met with a mixed response from scientists, with several news stories angling on the need for greater transparency.

On Saturday, Minister Megan Woods announced the review had found the 11 challenges were “fundamentally changing the way science is being undertaken in New Zealand,” approving a further $422.5 million, bringing investment so far to $680m.

But both the NZ Herald and Noted reported requests for the full review were withheld by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) – the government department responsible for the review.

Instead, media was provided with a summary document, but this did not include detail on the review findings or how any of the challenges had progressed against their agreed targets, Noted reported.

MBIE’s strategic investments manager Danette Olsen said the ministry did not release assessment or peer-review reports that supported investment decisions made by the Science Board. “This empowers reviewers and experts to provide their free and frank advice, and also protects potentially sensitive information and intellectual property,” the NZ Herald reported.

Professor Shaun Hendy, the director of Te Pūnaha Matatini at the University of Auckland, wanted to see more public data on who is being funding for what, Stuff reported.

“Right now its very hard to tell whether the challenges are engaging well with emerging or Māori researchers, for example, or whether funding is going to an old boys’ network.”

Professor Jim Mann, director of the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge said his team had made some progress on their brief – addressing the burden of cancer, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“We obviously can’t answer all the questions but we are working in those three areas and in the past three or four years we’ve already made some inroads, and hopefully there’ll be some more to come in the next five.”

The announcement was widely covered by national and local media, including:

Noted: A big science investment – but where’s the transparency?
Stuff: More transparency wanted around Government’s national science challenges
Stuff: National Science Challenges to get $422.5m in Government research funding
NZ Herald: Questions over secret review of $1.6b science programme
RNZ: More than $420m in funding boost for National Science Challenges
RNZ: Inroads into national health research in new studies
Otago Daily Times: Funding boost for health project