Beyond the Farm and the Theme Park

 

Paul Callaghan was invited to be the 2007 Royal Society of New Zealand Distinguished Speaker – a first exception to the rule of inviting overseas speakers. Previous distinguished speakers include Robert Lord May and Robert Lord Winston. The series was initiated, and is funded by, the David and Genevieve Becroft Trust. Paul’s reputation as a great speaker certainly drew the crowds in the five main centres, and they were not disappointed.

 

“Beyond the Farm and the Theme Park” started with a quick traverse of some of the major achievements of science and technology since the time of Galileo and the hapless Giordano Bruno. Then, a sobering look, from various interesting angles, of New Zealand’s declining wealth, especially compared with our near neighbour. Many of us now have to go to Australia to see our children and grandchildren, Paul lamented. The possibilities for improving our situation do not, he ar­gued, lie in quantum expansions of our dairy and tourism industries, which are already exceeding comfortable limits. The Tongariro Crossing on a good day is now as busy as Lambton Quay. And it’s not looking as if biotech will get us out of the cow poo either, though government has, through its bias in investment, showed great confidence that it will. Paul criticises government funders for putting too many eggs in the biotech basket, and being too predictive and prescriptive. Instead, he says, they should be funding promising individuals and teams, wherever they crop up, who look like they’ve got what it takes to turn their ideas into compa­nies like Tait Electronics, Navman and Humanware. We need at least 200 such quiet, environmentally friendly high earners to meet Australia again on the ‘y’ axis. These companies all have “physical platforms”, he noted. Strong take home message: physics and engineering are where it’s at.

Audiences were both pleased and depressed to learn from Paul that, sec­ond only to Icelanders, New Zealanders work harder than their OECD col­leagues, but for less than most of them.

The lectures are archived on www.hotscience.co.nz. They were filmed for a documentary Paul has commissioned to take his vision of New Zealand’s fu­ture further. The Royal Society of New Zealand was proud to have such a truly distinguished speaker, to provide a stage for his inspiring message, and thanks him for the phenomenal energy, care and professionalism of his lectures.

For the documentary film noted Paul interviewed both in­dividuals working at the forefront of technological innovation and economic thinkers. They included David Skilling, The NZ Institute, Richard Taylor, Weta Workshops, Michael Daniell, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Rod Oram, interna­tional financial journalist, among others. Some of these interviews can be video-streamed or down­loaded as a video or podcast from www.macdiarmid.ac.nz.” The director was Mark Everton of e-cast Ltd, who also directed Alans’s “SuperPlasticsMan” docu­mentary, and Jason Larraman of ManInYourHead Productions was cameraman and editor.”