Survey of NZ scientists and technologists released

The New Zealand Association of Scientists’ (NZAS) just-released Survey of New
Zealand Scientists and Technologists provides a detailed recent snapshot of working
scientists in New Zealand, and builds on earlier surveys spanning the past 16 years to
provide an evolving picture of the state of the science workforce in this country.

Overall, the survey results support the view that the time is ripe for significant change in
the science system in this country, as has been signalled by the Government reviews of
Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) and of research, science and technology priorities. The
results of the latest NZAS survey provides hard information upon which to assess policy
options and to press ahead with changes to a system that has been static for nearly 20
years.

Full details of the survey findings have just been published in NZ Science Review, the
journal of NZAS, and are available on the NZAS web site at
http://www.scientists.org.nz/files/journal/2010-67/NZSR_67_1.pdf . The NZAS will be holding a one-
day conference to review the findings of the survey, to consider the overall
science environment in New Zealand, and to help lay out the road forward.

Science as a career

Less than half of practicing scientists in New Zealand would recommend science as a
career to young people, according to the survey results. That fraction falls to around
quarter amongst Crown Research Institute (CRI) scientists. NZAS President Dr James
Renwick said that this indicates significant issues in the New Zealand science sector, and
that the recent Taskforce review of CRIs is long overdue.

Diversity of the science workforce

Survey results indicate that while female and Māori participation in science has increased
in recent years, there is still a long way to go. Māori made up 1.7% of the science
workforce in the latest survey, compared to 0.7% in 1996. Around one in three New
Zealand scientists and technologists are women, compared to less than a quarter in 1996.
Most young scientists are female, however: women outnumber men by four to one in the
under-35 age range, while over 60% of male science workers are over 45 years of age.
More young (under 35) science workers tend to be employed in CRIs rather than in
Universities. Women tend to be paid less than men in science, as elsewhere, which is
partly a reflection of the younger female demographic.

Concerns about the New Zealand science system

Of most concern to scientists was the often intermittent nature of Government funding,
followed by accountability and management issues. In fact, more than a third of survey
respondents favour having a straight-out lottery for obtaining funding, rather than writing
proposals and going through the present review system. Around two in five respondents
spend more than 30% of their time on administration and compliance, as opposed to
scientific research.

Most scientists feel a strong sense of obligation to the wider community, and to New
Zealand. Sixty percent felt that science should be responsible to the concerns of citizens,
rather than creating new knowledge for its own sake. Moreover, most scientists (57%)
felt that New Zealand should be the prime beneficiary of local scientific advances.
Despite this sense of social obligation and commitment to New Zealand, only a small
proportion (26%) of scientists felt that New Zealand science is headed in the right
direction.

Controversial issues

The survey also polled scientists’ opinions on thorny issues such as dangerous
technology, genetic modification, stem-cell research, and nuclear power. Results
demonstrate an broad consensus on the underlying science issues, as well as an awareness
of associated risks.