Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Steven Joyce: Prick or Treat

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  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Russell Brown,

    What a fucking disaster.

    Honestly it really isn't a disaster. Yes as a new funding tool it's a cock-up of the first water, but that's no different to most of the new funding tools introduced over the last three decades by Labour and National governments.

    The notable exceptions are The Marsden Fund which has proven to be incredibly successful at funding science with high impact internationally AND that leads to patents and products of potential economic benefit to New Zealand (to coin a hated phrase). The other exception, IMO, is the long gone version of the FRST NERF fund back when it was assessed predominantly by scientists for quality.

    The problem is and always has been that politicians would like science funding to produce predictable economic benefit. They want to hand over $5M and get back $25M of economic growth in specific areas, and within 3 years. It's the last bit that screws everything up.

    All the analysis says that science funding improves the economy. The actual return varies from study to study but numbers around 100 fold are not unusual. But those studies all show that you cannot predict where in the economy the return will appear. That bit really pisses off politicians because they can't take any personal credit.

    Over the last two governments in particular (Clark and Key) we have had science funding controlled by treasury who hate the above even more than politicians.

    So we've had funding tool after funding tool designed to direct research to where the politicians believe it will do the most good - at the expense of quality.

    Oh and they've all continued to reduce science funding in real dollar terms because the public don't appear to care that our science funding is being starved to death to build more roads.

    But it isn't a disaster, because in spite of all that we still have really good scientists doing really good work. They have become very skilled at figuring out how to fit the work they do into the new funding tools. And life goes on. Sure we could do more science and better science if they just gave the money to The Marsden fund but that doesn't seem likely to happen.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart, in reply to Sofie Bribiesca,

    Hear! Hear!

    I believe party lists are the price we pay for MMP, Sofie.
    Of course we could try doing as they do in Baden-Wurttemberg:
    In Baden-Württemberg there are no lists; they use the "best near-winner" method in a four-region model, where the regional members are the local candidates of the under-represented party in that region who received the most votes in their local constituency without being elected in it.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 825 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart,

    I'll respectfully disagree with you there, Bart, though I much admire your pragmatism. In the sector I'm in there's a high level of despondency, cynicism and anger about this new funding structure, which is widely seen as a great leap backwards and a criminal waste of time.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 825 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Richard Aston,

    I wish us viewers had that power

    Great idea - sound mix enabled at home.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19705 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    List MPs are there to represent communities of interest, not place. The accountability mechanism is not an electorate but a party. The idea was that the public would join a political party to influence its list selection processes.

    I’d rather have a parliament that looks more like our whole population, not just old white men in suits. In that sense, List MPs are working well. It seems to be electorate MPs that are causing problems for some parties at present.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19705 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Carol Stewart,

    In the sector I’m in there’s a high level of despondency, cynicism and anger about this new funding structure, which is widely seen as a great leap backwards and a criminal waste of time.

    Oh same here. And yes it's criminal to waste taxpayers (my) money on a dumbass new funding tool. Even worse shoehorning our existing funding into the same "challenges".

    But the first two years of MBIE rounds were just as hopeless. Nobody knew what the funding criteria really were. We all just guessed what MBIE really wanted from us. Even they were guessing what they wanted from us.

    And to be fair I do think the NSCs appear to have all the worst features of design-by-committee.

    But I still trust in the people at the bench to do their best so long as some money gets to them.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Yes, I do too. Scientists are amazing people.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 825 posts Report Reply

  • Jeremy Andrew, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    But I still trust in the people at the bench to do their best so long as some money gets to them.

    And that's the problem we're having around my neck of the woods. Good people who won't be at the bench because the money isn't getting to them.

    Hamiltron - City of the F… • Since Nov 2006 • 900 posts Report Reply

  • NBH,

    It is worth noting that Peter Gluckman's been the driving force behind the National Science Challenges and they're one of his pet projects; I'm somewhat surprised that no one's asked him for his views on all this yet.

    Wellington • Since Oct 2008 • 97 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    If you don’t like a parties list MPs, don’t vote for the party.

    oops ! I meant I agreed with "The manner in which democracy is run and the business of government is conducted is such that neither are a servant of the people " Steven Joyce is just a prick. I have no problem with list MPs, just the ones I don't like ;)

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • stever@cs.waikato.ac.nz, in reply to Jeremy Andrew,

    Yep, same here. No career path, not even a start on one should a youngster be mad enough to want to try.

    So, off they go overseas, taking their intellects with them.

    Hamilton • Since Nov 2006 • 73 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to stever@cs.waikato.ac.nz,

    off they go overseas, taking their intellects with them

    and leaving only politicians behind.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1923 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to stever@cs.waikato.ac.nz,

    Yep, same here. No career path, not even a start on one should a youngster be mad enough to want to try.

    So, off they go overseas, taking their intellects with them.

    Scientific careers are difficult to come by everywhere; here in the US, for example, the odds of a biomedical PhD getting a long-term (i.e. tenure-track) job are somewhere between 10-20%. Maybe lower. NZ certainly isn't making itself a haven for scientists right now, though.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    The vast majority of people who might embark on a science degree aren't aiming or expecting to be tenured academics though.

    But NZ doesn't have grad-level jobs for people with science degrees, either. I know several people with reasonably good degrees in bioscience who have been unable to get any kind of grad-level job (often winding up in IT/teaching/overseas).

    That suggests to me that we're a long way from any kind of knowledge based economy.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • st ephen, in reply to NBH,

    It is worth noting that Peter Gluckman’s been the driving force behind the National Science Challenges and they’re one of his pet projects; I’m somewhat surprised that no one’s asked him for his views on all this yet.

    Don't be surprised if few scientists are willing to go public with their views on Gluckman's role in the process.

    dunedin • Since Jul 2008 • 254 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    often winding up in IT

    Yeah we seem to end up employing a lot of them at work.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    It was interesting for me to learn fabrication engineering, and compleat an arts degree at the same campus. The art* academics and the boilermakers, had no idea what each other did. They couldn’t even speak the same language. I was at pains to explain to the engineers, that artists creat markets for the fabricators to employ there technology. I also tried to argue with the artists, why introducing yourself as an artist, could be seen as leading with the chin in almost all circumstances.

    * art + academic = oxymoron.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4411 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    But NZ doesn’t have grad-level jobs for people with science degrees, either. I know several people with reasonably good degrees in bioscience who have been unable to get any kind of grad-level job (often winding up in IT/teaching/overseas).

    Yup. The brutal fact is that a good MSc is worth almost nothing. We pay our managers, finance and admin staff "market rates" but we pay our technicians the lowest amount we can get away with. We see people all the time make the entirely rational decision to take their talent and intelligence and use it in careers that actually will allow them to pay their mortgage. And yet our senior executives continue to get pay rises.

    Part of the problem is the continued starvation of the science funding but a part of it is a management problem.

    As for teaching - most of our techs can get an instant pay rise by going to teachers training college with a clear defined career path from there - sigh.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen R, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    often winding up in IT

    I applied for a job as a programmer sort and explained that my BSc degree was in philosophy (no, really), and the head of the department replied that since his degree was in classics, he completely understood...

    It's not just science degrees.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2009 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    My friend with a doctorate in thermal dynamic physics, went into partnership with Victoria university, during his undergraduate study’s. He went over to chemistry and synthesized what ever it is that skunks spay at predictors. This has turned out to have been a commercial success.

    Paul Callahan advocated that sort of thing.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4411 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to linger,

    and leaving only politicians behind.

    And the estate agents.

    And don't forget the all-important telephone sanitisers!

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to steven crawford,

    It was interesting for me to learn fabrication engineering, and compleat an arts degree at the same campus. The art* academics and the boilermakers, had no idea what each other did. They couldn’t even speak the same language. I was at pains to explain to the engineers, that artists creat markets for the fabricators to employ there technology. I also tried to argue with the artists, why introducing yourself as an artist, could be seen as leading with the chin in almost all circumstances.

    Something of a bugbear of mine. My experience at university in the UK was that graduate engineers had little to no idea how to actually get their hands dirty (for want of a better phrase). There was a real white collar/blue collar split between those who worked with tools, and those who sat behind a desk/CAD machine. We spent three years learning hardcore maths, thermodynamics, etc, and a cursory 2-3 weeks at the end of the course at the local college learing how to weld, bend pipes, cast metal, etc.

    So this happens even in what is nominally the same tech field/industry.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    yet our senior executives continue to get pay rises

    That's a problem in any industry. Those execs wring their hands about not being able to afford payrises for their staff - because increased profits are going back to the shareholders/owners.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19705 posts Report Reply

  • NBH, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Yup. The brutal fact is that a good MSc is worth almost nothing. We pay our managers, finance and admin staff “market rates” but we pay our technicians the lowest amount we can get away with. We see people all the time make the entirely rational decision to take their talent and intelligence and use it in careers that actually will allow them to pay their mortgage.

    Yeah, and this is why current government 'STEM' policy is so misguided; it insists on treating the 'problem' in this area as an education one, when the real issue lies in the labour market. We already have a pretty high number of people studying in these areas (48% of degree students in 2013 were studying in STEM areas; 68% if you include Health under that umbrella), and simply trying to increase the number of students studying in these areas is pointless and a waste of everyone's time if there aren't sustainable jobs (& postdocs) available at the end.

    Wellington • Since Oct 2008 • 97 posts Report Reply

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