This is the first Coffee and Politics that has been broadcasted and includes a panel discussion about mental health, the March for Science, and the recent win for gender pay equality in Caregiving.

The spiel I gave on the March for Science is here (scroll down for text):

 

Here is the full video for those interested:

 

On Saturday, there were over 600 rallies around the globe to March for Science. The march was to raise awareness around the need for science to be readily available and communicated freely without misrepresentation or fear of retribution, but also to boost recognition of science as an essential part of a well-functioning democracy.

One of the most common reasons why markets and political systems often fail to provide optimal outcomes is misinformation in decision-making. What’s worse is that it seems misinformation is growing rapidly all around us. “Alternative facts” or dodgy health supplements anyone? We need science for a more well-informed, critically thinking public.

Science is not a religion. It culminates from the continual testing of hypotheses. It’s not perfect. It doesn’t provide all the answers. And views often change. But it’s far better than blind faith or simply randomly generated answers. It learns from the past, it has humility, and it aims to inform based on the best available knowledge at the time. With universities being scientific powerhouses that are the critics and consciences of society.

Unfortunately, research is gradually transitioning from being a public good to simply being another tool in the spin-doctor’s toolbox, policy is often based on cherry picked rather than complete and honest science, and universities are being turned into businesses as part of a get rich quick scheme.

Academics are also increasingly reliant on commercial funding which not only risks the integrity of their work but transfers science from being for public benefit to being for private benefit. 40% of scientists are also now in fear of publicly communicating results that are controversial in fear of losing funding, with many also gagged by employment contracts to protect the company image. The little government funding that is available is often targeted towards advancing political goals rather than scientifically driven ventures.

Enough dreariness for now, on to solutions! I would like to see a government that:

  1. Invests in both theoretical and applied scientific ventures. One that simply invests in science for the sake of developing knowledge. We don’t know what we don’t know. Penicilin, the microwave, the big bang, coca-cola and Viagra are just a few of the many important discoveries that were stumbled across accidentally in the pursuit of knowledge.
  2. Revokes the ability of employers to ban or punish scientists who speak openly and honestly about their findings.
  3. Directs universities to once again be a place of open debate, knowledge development, and being the critics and consciences of society. Universities should not be run solely for economic development or as just another business.
  4. Change copyright laws to ensure New Zealand research is freely available.
  5. Invest in a media portal to communicate scientific findings with the public.
  6. And finally, that they practice frank, open and independently peer reviewed evidence-based decision making.

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