Geologist, science communicator and PSA member Hamish Campbell can look back on forty years of “exploration, adventure and discovery” as he retires this year.
As a curator of the hugely popular Awesome Forces exhibition at Te Papa Museum, and co-presenter of TV show, Coast New Zealand, he has also helped bring science to a wider audience.
“What’s the point of doing any science unless we communicate it to society,” Hamish says. “Especially when we are running on taxpayer funding.”
He joined the New Zealand Geological Survey back in 1978, which became a Crown Research Institute in 1992, and was rebranded as GNS Science in 2006.
“The biggest change was becoming a CRI. The politicians asked what are scientists doing, and encouraged us to sell our expertise.”
Initially Hamish wasn’t sure about the change, but he says GNS scientists have gone on to gain revenue and rich experiences working everywhere from Oman to Indonesia.
“Because of our unique geology on a highly active plate boundary we are in demand wherever there are serious seismic hazards and wherever there is geothermal energy potential.”
When GNS Science became a founding sponsor of Te Papa twenty years ago, Hamish became the museum’s geologist and a GNS science communicator.
“There was a noble reason for the sponsorship, to help the public understand the relevance of earth science to our economy and society.”
In the last year though, Hamish has become a victim of restructuring at GNS Science.
“They were looking for ways to ‘modernise’ and cut costs, allegedly, and I fell through the cracks between the science and corporate functions.”
Hamish is also critical of the governance structures of CRIs, with boards that seem to have “vast powers that are coloured by risk-averse ideological or political whim rather than any objective science imperative ”.
“They tend to stifle science and creativity, while also being a financial drain. As a union we need to be making efforts to raise some of these issues.”
He is also concerned by the appointment of managers who appear to “know almost nothing about science and are hopelessly ill-equipped to lead scientists”.
But despite the recent restructuring at GNS Science and Te Papa, Hamish has “huge faith” in the next generation of scientists to continue to preserve and communicate scientific knowledge to New Zealanders. He is now an Emeritus Scientist at GNS Science, and in recent years has enjoyed a role co-presenting Coast New Zealand, a programme which has screened in 26 countries.
“It’s been immensely successful and great fun. The key message from the series is that ‘New Zealand is so beautiful!’”
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