December 2019: Closing out the decade

23 Dec 2019 12:00 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Kia ora koutou 

As president, I’d like to begin providing timely monthly updates to our members and community. In the past, these updates have come as the President’s column in the New Zealand Science Review (NZSR). In this case, I’ll close by taking the rare opportunity comment on the decade just passed, and the decade ahead.

For the present, our big news is the online release of the first of two Special Issues on Mātauranga and Science, with hard copies going out in the post. We thank Ocean Mercier and Anne-Marie Jackson for leading this effort, and Juliet Gerrard and Tahu Kukutai for promoting it through the PMCSA's channels. Generous sponsorship from Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, Te Kawa a Māui, and National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, and NZAS has made these issues possible. This includes wider distribution, and open access. 

Please enjoy the special issue and distribute the link, encouraging others to read NZSR’s contribution to developing the potential of mātauranga and science to work together and in unison. The NZSR issue caps a bumper crop of special issues of New Zealand science journals focussed on mātauranga, kicked off by the New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, and more recently the New Zealand Journal of Ecology. Thus, the decade ends with a rich picture of how the process of using knowledge about the world around us can be enriched with views from Te Ao Māori, diversifying the perspective of western science. 

Looking across the wider world of science, we congratulate the University of Otago for engaging with its Marine Science community, and finding an improved restructuring plan for what many submitters, including NZAS, felt were sudden and confusing cuts to a department critical for addressing global change issues. 

Many submitters and supporters have been thanked for leaping forward to support this department, and the university deserves credit for being open to feedback, and listening usefully. We thank our former President, Craig Stevens, for leading NZAS’s efforts. It is worth pointing out that in the case of restructuring and redundancies, we know how to positively influence proposals, and can be effective in doing so.

The NZAS also raised concern about another area, bullying, where it is much less clear how to engage usefully. When the scope of concerns raised about a New Zealander who has been the high-profile Director the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at the University of Adelaide came to light in the media, we issued a press release commending the University of Adelaide for taking action, and outlining why bullying can have such negative consequences, particularly in fields Australasia has only a limited number of laboratories.

The University of Adelaide has recently announced that the case has resulted in dismissal. That might seem to bring the matter to a conclusion, but as Nature’s news item points out, serious questions remain about why this narrative played out in the shadows since 2005, in ways that led to catastrophic rather than constructive outcomes, and what happens now. 

I remain concerned bullying and associated negative consequences remain hidden in plain sight. This appears to be reinforced by a separate recent revelation that bullying accusations played some role in the surprise dismissal of AgResearch’s CEO earlier this year. Looking in parallel at the cathartic worldwide flash of painful progress on sexual harassment can serve to remind us how far we have to go making progress on bullying, to make it less painful for all involved, but especially whistleblowers. In most cases, striving to make science a better place to work through the Kindness in Science movement may be the best way forward.

Looking back across the decade, and at the isolated yet familiar issues of highlighted above, it makes sense to ask if science faces a problem of either simple underfunding, or of funding not matching our ideals for what science should achieve. Either way, we have heard long-term hype of increased science funding that seems half-true at best, leaving us with the feeling we are often forced to do too much with too little, frequently lack the stability and resources compared to our international peers, no matter whether we think of museums and collections, global change science, technological innovation, or other endeavours. The challenges we face are especially concerning when they have negative impacts on early career researchers and diversity. 

As the decade ends, I’ll skip putting more details to this usual refrain, and highlight the idea of the ‘social contract’ between science and society. Prominent scientist Jane Lubchenco has refreshed a call for the renewal of this contract in which society invests more, and science engages more to deliver on environmental and social issues. Lubchenco’s proposal is even more relevant to New Zealand than the largely American audience she addresses, because our current government clearly has the political will for long-term delivery on social and environmental wellbeing. 

Over the holidays, I’ll be thinking more about these challenges and ways forward. It is clear that our council or committees could use more talent and energy to advance our goals, particularly for furthering the goals of early career and Māori researchers. While you take a break over the holidays, please keep these ideas in mind. Get in touch, let me know your thoughts, or perhaps where you can help.

Meri Kirihimete me te kia pai te tau hou tauiwi

Merry Christmas and all the best for the new year

Troy Baisden

President – NZAS

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  • 23 Dec 2019 20:17 | Cilla W
    Great column Troy - the part on a social contract between science & society really spoke to me. kirihimete!
    Link  •  Reply

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