Building trust in a world where “everyone’s an expert” is one of the biggest challenges facing scientists, according to the Prime Minister’s new Chief Science Advisor, Professor Juliet Gerrard.

 Speaking to ESR scientists in Porirua, Professor Gerrard said in an era of Brexit and the US presidency of Donald Trump, it is fair to ask whether New Zealand has a science denial problem.

 She cited a recent guest on the TV3 programme, The Project, who said she “didn’t trust scientists at all”.

“It is not enough to be an expert – we must be able to be able to say ‘I am someone who can distil this information into useful advice’,” she said.

“Maybe 10, 20 years ago we could do our science and quietly publish in journals.  Scientists were a trusted brand and the public trusted us. With the advent of the internet, social media and a growing global distrust of experts in general, perhaps scientists have a growing responsibility to explain what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and we should listen to the public about what they think we should be doing.”

 Professor Gerrard who is Associate Dean of Research at Auckland University’s Faculty of Science, replaces the outgoing Chief Science Advisor and Auckland University Distinguished Professor Sir Peter Gluckman.

 She paid tribute to Professor Gluckman as the first PM’s chief science advisor for carving out the role.

Professor Gerrard agreed with her ESR audience that funding was an issue and said public engagement was important, so that the message from the public was that science needed more funding.

 And rather than different parts of science contesting funding, scientists should come together to get funding as a whole.

 “As a science community we all need to embrace the whole gig.”

 Julia is pictured with Libby Harrison, GM for Health and Environment

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Gael Woods