Scientists needed in both business and politics


“WE live in unprecedented times.’’

As a phrase, I’m pretty much over it.

Our current times are entirely precedented, and certainly they’ve been repeatedly forewarned.

As we look around the world — thankfully reminding ourselves not to take for granted the fact that New Zealand is so far winning the global lottery — we don’t see anything happening that hasn’t happened before, or that the experts haven’t been warning us about for decades.







Am I talking about Covid?

Sure, but actually I’m talking about climate change; I’m talking about reactionary and nationalist politics; and yes, of course, I’m also talking about Covid.

The global turmoil on offer isn’t revelation of a sudden new reality, it’s evidence that many of our reflexive norms for leadership and decision making are archaic, blinkered, and inflexible.

For example, during this Covid crisis we’ve heard many voices weighing in with their various reckons of what’s going on and what we should be doing.

But an awful lot of those reckons seemed to be based on ignoring reality and embracing unthinking reflex — we should just find a way to keep doing the same old stuff we have been.

In large part, this seems to be because ‘‘business as usual’’ is the primary skill of many of our loudest opiners, and they’re out of their element whenever something new happens.

When we look to our ‘leadership’ groups — whether corporate boards or councils and parliament — they’re chock full of lawyers, accountants, and managers: folks who are good at keeping things ticking along, so long as nothing new happens and the future is going to be just like the past.

But where are the folks who are experts in reality itself, who have insight into what the future is actually going to be, and have the knowledge to deal with new normals as they arrive?

In 2019 — pre-Covid — the NZ Institute of Directors put out a report warning of the weakness of boards without scientific and technical members; while also highlighting that a pitiful 3% of directors had any scientific expertise.

In these Covid days, any board which hasn’t yet appointed if not an epidemiologist, at least a scientist who can keep up with and translate the science, is probably just one step away from corporate negligence.

At the same time, a tiny handful of our parliamentarians have a scientific or technical background; the biggest majority in the chamber doesn’t belong to any political party, but to the parliamentarians who have a background in finance, law, or PR.

Climate change offers us a long-term example of this problem.

For at least the last 20 years, the science has been essentially settled; but corporate and political inaction and opposition has been just as certain.

Even now, as public pressure has forced climate change on to the agenda, many corporate and political leaders have responded with ideas that might have been OK 20 years ago, but today are entirely insufficient for our new and forthcoming reality.

Climate change will dominate our reality for decades to come.

Having climate scientists represented on boards and in parliament should be compulsory.

This is a long overdue, sweeping change needed throughout the corporate and political worlds.

But we are on the eve of having an opportunity to do something about it.

As we all approach the ballot box in the coming days, I would urge us to not think in terms of left, centre, or right; of blue, red, or green.

Instead, think about whose platforms, people, and policies are anchored in science.

Who’s using science and subject matter experts to look ahead to the challenges we face, and the solutions we need — and who’s just soothing you with business as usual, telling you what you want to hear?

AJ Mason’s a resident sci/tech geek, who holds the local record for Queenstown councillor with the shortest tenure but spotless attendance record