Recent Comments

  • NZAS Press Release: Reaction to Budget 2016 Science Funding   6 weeks 5 days ago

    (Thanks to Chris Bumby for working this out)

    It looks like the MBIE Contestable Science Fund (now Endeavour Fund) increase is to account for the fact that some funding from this fund is now starting to go into the National Science Challenges.  The fact that some Contestable Fund funding was going to be linked in this way to the NSCs was made clear some years ago (for instance, in point 16 of the "Funding Envelopes for the Second Tranche of National Science Challenges, December 2013" document on MBIE's site.  That would have left the MBIE Contestable Science Fund decreasing over time.

    Page 23 of the Budget 2016 estimates shows the new money going in to the Endeavour Fund (top line of the table).

    The sum of this does indeed equal $113.8m, and the increase added to the existing part that isn't incorporated in NSCs gives the values quoted of $182.7m rising to $200.4m.  As you've pointed out, the Endeavour Fund increases by a smaller amount over time from its current level, however the increase does now mean that the National Science Challenge funding announced some years ago is all new money, and does not partly draw on the Endeavour Fund.

     

  • NZAS Press Release: Reaction to Budget 2016 Science Funding   8 weeks 2 days ago

    Can't see how the numbers add up. Contestable funding is said to increase by $113.8m over four years. Yet the difference between $182.7m and $200.4m is only $17.7m. Even if the full increase is in place in year 1, that is still only $70.8m more over four years.

  • The Future for Scientists in New Zealand: NZAS conference 2016   17 weeks 3 days ago

    Hi Cilla, yes, this is very important to us. We're also doing our best to get speakers from across New Zealand, and from a range of career stages. Sorry that the initial list was so imbalanced - I hope you'll agree that it is improving. Still some work to do!

     

  • The Future for Scientists in New Zealand: NZAS conference 2016   19 weeks 2 days ago

    Has NZAS committed to gender equity for keynotes speakers at the conference? I'm hoping so, but not seeing it yet from your list of keynote speakers.

  • Making the boat go faster   30 weeks 5 days ago
  • NZAS press release: Curious minds not welcome here   42 weeks 6 days ago

    There is significant chatter on various social network sites centered around the NZ government’s attitude to science (many governments, not just ours) – of late the events in NZ leading to the decision to lay off agriculture scientists and technical staff from the CRI AgResearch (NZ Herald, Sept 24). We are told this is a result of poor management of the CRI and that new positions will be created to satisfy “growing customer demand and Government investment”, but the logic of dismissing staff from an organization that enhances NZ’s position in global agriculture markets is, at the very least, questionable.

    In more general terms politicians and many in the media, especially economic commentators, frequently demand that science needs to be more relevant, or results dependent and directed towards some prescribed political and/or economic conclusion. This view of science sees it only as a benefit to a modern economy, or the immediate needs of society, commonly without defining what those needs really are; do they want scientists to make more discoveries or invent things to generate revenue according to market forces. It's like being told to turn the thinking on between 8 and 4.30 and report your discovery by Christmas.

    There seems to be a significant disconnect between how our politicians view science in general, and how science is actually conducted. I’ve begun to wonder whether there is a link between the ‘political’ perception of science as largely empirical, data and results driven; either ignoring (because it’s ideologically useful to do so) or ignorant of the way scientists actually make discoveries – i.e. the thinking, creative part of science that can just as easily take place while mowing the lawn or refinishing violins, as in the laboratory or perched in front of a computer screen. The history of science is replete with examples of discoveries that arose from some undefinable or quantifiable kind of insight, a “eureka moment”, or some other creative act that largely defies logic and objectivity (Darwin, Currie, Einstein, Medawar, Feynman, Watson & Crick – the list is endless). Perhaps our politicians, and in fact CRI managers, CEOs and the like who may have little experience in doing science, simply don’t understand the significance of creativity in science to the extent that anyone caught staring out the window becomes a candidate for downsizing.

    Most people can associate creative acts with the Frank Sargesons and Colin McMahons of our world, but not with the scientific endeavor. And yet without these creative acts, however they arise, science as we know it would simply not exist. The scientific community needs to take responsibility to ensure that this part of science is not lost in the babble of political rhetoric.

  • Survey on the proposed Code of Public Engagement   1 year 13 weeks ago

    Yes. this is the reality that the people are prevented from putting a comment on a serious or controversial issue.

  • Going Public: Scientists speaking out on difficult issues - SOLD OUT   1 year 14 weeks ago

    This is a big problem in Canterbury.
    We urge our scientists to speak out. Silence only delays the disaster.

    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/91395608/Chch_Recovery_0315.pdf

  • National Science Challenges: Survey Results   1 year 50 weeks ago

    Over my career I've seen a whole bunch of new funding systems. They are all well intentioned (well mostly). Each time we face at least two years of chaos where nobody knows exactly what is expected in the new grant applications. The NSC is yet another round of new funding tools, this time confounded by the problem of a "challenge" designed by committee. In five years time we'll all know what is expected of an NSC application, we'll all understand what needs to go in and what should be hidden. Some really good science will be done. But for two or three years we'll all lose time and effort and money figuring the system out. However, history strongly suggests that the NSC will actually not change the science landscape of New Zealand in any fundamental way. Scientists adapt to each new funding scheme. We all try and do the best for New Zealand and the world in spite of the funding regime. Given the cost of changing funding systems is high and given that we already have/had some excellent/adequate funding tools, then creating the NSCs would appear to serve no scientific, social nor economic purpose. That for me is the biggest problem, at a time where funding for science is cripplingly low, any new money should go into established proven funding systems, if for no other reason than to minimise the cost.

  • NZAS Survey on the National Science Challenges   1 year 50 weeks ago

    Over my career I've seen a whole bunch of new funding systems. They are all well intentioned (well mostly). Each time we face at least two years of chaos where nobody knows exactly what is expected in the new grant applications. The NSC is yet another round of new funding tools, this time confounded by the problem of a "challenge" designed by committee. In five years time we'll all know what is expected of an NSC application, we'll all understand what needs to go in and what should be hidden. Some really good science will be done. But for two or three years we'll all lose time and effort and money figuring the system out. However, history strongly suggests that the NSC will actually not change the science landscape of New Zealand in any fundamental way. Scientists adapt to each new funding scheme. We all try and do the best for New Zealand and the world in spite of the funding regime. Given the cost of changing funding systems is high and given that we already have/had some excellent/adequate funding tools, then creating the NSCs would appear to serve no scientific, social nor economic purpose. That for me is the biggest problem, at a time where funding for science is cripplingly low, any new money should go into established proven funding systems, if for no other reason than to minimise the cost.

  • National Science Challenges: Survey Results   1 year 50 weeks ago

    Kia ora - I would be keen to write about this survey for our weekly TEU newsletter, Tertiary Update. Is there anyone at the Association to get some public comment on this survey and the National Science Challenges? Regards, Stephen

  • NZAS Conference 2014: Science and Society   2 years 15 weeks ago

    Well done. I see that the next generation has well and truly picked up the ball.

    From an old guarder - Janet Grieve

  • Agile science in a small country   2 years 41 weeks ago

    That was a really nice and interesting piece of article. But being free of an overbearing and burgeoning management structure should allow that to happen. The system as a whole would very quickly become subject to Darwinian pressures. We must tame the system first. Scam Support OmniTech

  • Hard talk about fresh water   3 years 5 weeks ago

    Good article and point, but there is a worrying truth behind the lawyer comparison. Science is sadly not heeded in urgent matters like ecological degradation because its proponents behave badly elsewhere. We are not in a world were all scientists agree on everything. Research in many fields cause many to be behind the latest research outside their core specialisation. Publication bias is a distorting factor. Sadly it is sometimes those scientists who are not up to date on research who claim that there is consensus. Recent local examples hereof include the fluoride and GMO debates. Many reputable journals and institutes like Harvard School of Public health have published detailed meta studies confirming credibility of the research suggesting a link between artificial water fluoridation and harmful side effects. Most OECD countries do not use the practice for those reasons. Still local some scientists claim there is no research proving harm and much proof of harmlessness. Likewise the expected benefits of GMO have been studied in great detail by the union of Concerned Scientists and their network of nearly 20 000 scientists and proven to be minimal compared to the risks. Some New Zealand scientists still claim there is scientific consensus on the benefits and general harmlessness of GMO. Europeans have woken up to the facts that scientists do not all have the final answers for everything yet and their opinions need to be compared. The New Zealand practice of regarding one scientist's opinion as the infallible truth and representative of the entire scientific community is very dangerous. We have great scientists in NZ, can need to read their research rather than try to worship them

  • Science vs 'developing technology'   3 years 42 weeks ago

    I agree. You can only hope the government realises that the ATI is not the complete answer to our woes.

  • Does NZ have a 'PhD student problem'?   4 years 10 weeks ago

    I did read that study and it does raise some interesting concerns, particularly those concerning PhD student becomeing 'disillusioned' with science in general as they approach the end of their PhDs. It's true, supervisors should be better trained in giving career advice, but that's yet ANOTHER thing for them to do ontop of everything else - perhaps the academic institution should push career advice from a perspective that's not an academic's? Personally I'm excited to see, Kaiarahi beginning in NZ (a group dedicated to finding non-academic menors for interested PhD students) to encourage the broadening of student's horizons. But even this is only a small solution for a select few student who choose to participate in it.
    Personally, I would love some clarity on what a future science career might look like (contrasted to those that exist at the moment). Will we continue to have 'academimcs', industry researchers, etc or will we move to a single scientist occupying multiple roles, i.e. lecturer, researcher and commercializer at different times of the day or week? For instance, I would dearly love to pursue a full-time career in science, but this currently doesn't appear to be a valid career path for myself and about 90% of my peers. So assuming I do manage to find employment in NZ post-graduation in industry or a non-science job (even that'sa pretty large assumption) - will there ever be any role, even in a part time way, for me to continue to participate in science? Or are all the specific science skills I have accuulated during my PhD doomed to go to waste?
    In a world were people are free to travel and connect with researchers worldwide, to collaborate with those from all ends of the Earth, from all fields and disciplines - will science and research keep looking like it does now? Or can we possibly change what it means to be a scientist, and in doing so retain and USE the full gambit of a PhD student's skills and ambition in NZ? Because if we dont, overseas will always be a viable option!

  • Does NZ have a 'PhD student problem'?   4 years 10 weeks ago

    You may be interested in this study published last week. The authors identify essentially the same issue in the US that you describe here in NZ.

    - Most science PhD students favour a career in academia, although this preference slightly decreases when approaching the end of the PhD.

    - Students perceive a bias towards academic careers from their supervisors. Probably not intentional, but that is just what the road they are familiar with.

    - Mechanisms are needed to help students weigh up the costs and benefits of a PhD, and to help supervisors give better career advice. 

  • Want New Zealand to be Prosperous? Build Pathways for Emerging Scientists!   4 years 13 weeks ago

    As much as i would like to see governments and universities solve this problem, i also see that some of the resonsibility for preserving their futures must lie with the emerging scientists themselves. If we want to make things easier for them, we maust make it clear what their options are, as even at the close fo the conference many still have no idea. Setting them up with non-academic mentors, which is the standard in many other career pathways, to provide them with feedback on their longterm career choices and prospects is one way to do this. Another is to expose them to the vast world outside of pure science during the course of their PhDs and make them realise how tantalising and exciting it can be. We must exports PhDs from the ivory tower if we are to benefit from therr skills and to retain them here in NZ.

  • Hon David Carter and David Shearer confirmed to speak at 2012 NZAS conference   4 years 14 weeks ago

    This part of the conference was very disappointing. David Carter was dreadful; reading a pre-prepared speech, then not taking questions. David Shearer was more engaging as a speaker, but didn't say anything!

  • Agile science in a small country   4 years 18 weeks ago

    Thanks Greg. I think that group research has some analogies to software development. My experience in managing software development projects over a 37 year IT career is that small, focused, agile groups with good people can (almost) always beat the large groups. Give me 4 good programmers and a couple of good support staff and we will be much more productive (by often factors of 10 or more) than much larger groups. In fact the research in software development shows that beyond a relatively small size (around 12-17) the losses involved with adding more people are greater than any benefits gained from additional "man-hours".

    Large projects are best broken up into smaller sub-projects that can be assigned to agile teams.

    Of course, the analogy is not perfect because in software development the equipment needed for development is often relatively small in terms of capital expenditure and where large resources are required (such as an international network of servers) then these resources can be effectively and reasonably cheaply rented from firms such as Amazon. With this in mind, perhaps some emphasis in scientific research should be given to setting up services that "rent out" access to capital intensive equipment needed for research. But even here, technology is coming to the rescue in many instances with cheap equipment now coming onto the market that is affordable by individuals that previously cost hundreds of thousand or millions of dollars.

  • 2012 NZAS conference: Do Emerging Scientists have a Future in New Zealand?   4 years 19 weeks ago

    Let's look at other 'small' nations and compare. At least two countries, Portugal and Singapore, that I know of offer PhD students fellowships to attend top universities overseas (not just in specific universities in the UK). I believe that Singapore has an excellent system that helps to get these top students home, and to establish their careers at a mid-level stage. They require the award recipients to return home, but in addition they provide post-doctoral funding for five years. In this way they avoid the 'brain drain'. If NZ establishes a clear consistent vision for NZ science policy that gets students into the targeted field from the start, it seems to me that you could avoid the current situation where many talented 'emerging scientists' feel that they cannot return to NZ without harming their careers or switching fields. I look forward to reading the outcomes of this conference.

  • Agile science in a small country   4 years 19 weeks ago

    Hello Pablo, thanks for your comment on my post. Email me at greg@bodekerscientific.com and we can talk.

  • Agile science in a small country   4 years 19 weeks ago

    Greg, I really enjoyed reading your article. I believe that there are people that will be happy with a stable job in a large oranisation while other people will prefer the challenges of a small dynamyc company. Personally, I prefer the second and I admire your courage in taking the leap. I would love to learn how did you go about starting your own scientific company.

  • Agile science in a small country   4 years 20 weeks ago

    Your question of whether more science could be done by small groups, as opposed to large CRIs, is a good one to ask, if nothing else because it prompts us to consider another approach to NZ ScInc. But I’m not as optimistic as you.

    I agree that smaller companies could be more nimble, due to less rigid top-down control and organisational inertia, but in some respects they can be less nimble too. Consider a large research organisation. It typically has ready access to a wider skill base, or the capital to acquire a wider skill base at short notice, so that when new opportunities arise it can adjust accordingly.

    And who needs a permanent position? Well, a lot of people would like one, making that career more attractive in the first place. And from a different angle, society benefits greatly from them. If you don’t have to learn new things, you don’t have to waste resources reinventing a wheel. The security of a permanent position allows you to take more risks and be more imaginative with your research, all else being equal. Hence tenured positions at universities. A permanent position doesn’t necessarily equate to stagnancy.

    On the Darwinian analogy, evolution also has a some counterarguments. If our scientific talent is the gene pool for our research organisms, the failure of an organisation to secure funding when times are tough may lead to the loss of that talent from the broader community. They may leave science or leave New Zealand. Indeed, large organisations can help keep talent in NZ. They shift scientists’ roles around, storing temporarily unneeded talent like a seed bank. Also, while you equate CRIs to behemoths, we could alternatively equate them to generalist organisms with a large gene pool.

  • 2012 NZAS conference: Do Emerging Scientists have a Future in New Zealand?   4 years 22 weeks ago

    As an emerging scientist I look forward to any conclusions drawn.