The winners of the NZAS 2020 Awards have been announced:
Marsden Medal: Prof. Martha Savage
Shorland Medal: Prof. Mark Costello
Hill Tinsley Medal: Assoc. Prof. Frédérique Vanholsbeeck
Cranwell Medal: Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu
Congratulations to all of the medal winners!
For full details of these outstanding scientists and their achievements, see the 2020 Awards Recipients page.
The Environmental Protection Agency is calling for information on the use of the weed killer glyphosate in New Zealand. See Glyphosate: Call for information | EPA
This request is the first step in deciding whether to change the rules around its use. Glyphosate is used in weed killers, such as Roundup, by gardeners, farmers and councils, but the possible environmental and health effects have been subject to public debate.
If there are grounds to reassess glyphosate and a formal reassessment application is made, the public will have an opportunity to make submissions on the application once it has been publicly notified.
The EPA's current position, similar to Australia, Canada, the US and the EU, is that glyphosate products are safe as long as all the rules for use are followed. Its use is currently being reviewed in Europe.
Meantime you may read an extensive review of glyphosate’s discovery, use of Roundup® in New Zealand and its impacts on human health, livestock, and ecosystems by Ian Shaw Professor of Toxicology at Canterbury University.
Is it time to round up Roundup®? The changing science of glyphosate - Prof. Ian C Shaw - NZSR article advance publication
We all talk about building back better after COVID, and its time to talk about what this can look like for science. Here's our press release (or below) and discussion document on renewal of the science and innovation system, also featured in the most recent issue of the New Zealand Science Review.
14 May 2021
Advances or Austerity: What Will Budget 2021 Bring For Science?
“Many New Zealanders credit science and scientists with the successful strategies that saved us from the worst of the pandemic.” said NZAS President Prof Troy Baisden. “Yet most if not all the nation’s scientists got the message this week that their institutions fall into the broad areas of the public service expecting a pay ‘freeze’. Now is the time to read the signal: will we invest in advances and build back better?”
“Other nations, notably the United States, appear poised to invest massively in science and technology to stimulate their economies. They’re building off wide public support for the biotech that built vaccines.”
“If Aotearoa wants advances and excellent use of science like we’ve seen during COVID, we have to invest like other nations. Instead, our scientists are coping with 30 years of austerity. Scientists are wondering if the current Government’s pledge to double R&D investment is real.”
“If the budget signals no new path for New Zealand’s science funding, this means that smart Kiwis going into science face many difficult years of low pay. Top PhD scholarships were once close to a living wage, but have now crossed under the minimum wage and even under training wages for apprentices. They risk no pay if their work stretches into a fourth year, and then years of gruelling applications for grants and fellowships while juggling short contracts.”
“Next Thursday, the Government’s Budget will let our scientists know if they get their wish for a society that supports them, and the advances they create across issues ranging from health, to climate change, agriculture, and technology. Government investment spills over into society and the private sector in nations with higher well being.
“Australia’s Budget delivered austerity for their scientists this week. If our Budget copies our neighbour’s, we failed to understand that New Zealand science’s emergency response to COVID was a special case. Do we need a renewed and reformed science system that looks and feels like the COVID response? What would this look like?"
The New Zealand Association of Scientists has developed a vision for rebuilding the science system Aotearoa deserves. Here are two starting points that deserve highlighting as we look ahead to the Budget and beyond:
“Scientists are asking whether the budget will bring advances or austerity? Will they finally see the end to 30 years underneath a sinking lid of austerity that has weighed on them and left our international competitiveness on the back foot? What’s needed to build back better? How can we all work together to build the science system New Zealand deserves?”
The reach of online events was a highlight from 2020 that brought science communities together. For 2021, NZAS will bring you webinar panels in an interactive 'town hall' format.
Mark the first in your diaries for lunchtime Friday 5 February (start at 12:15):
Shaun Hendy hosts a panel of young scientists:
Kannan Ridings, University of Auckland
Audrey Lustig, Manaaki Whenua
Anastasiya Kiddle, University of Auckland
Nicholas Steyn, University of Canterbury/Auckland
"How did early career scientists contribute to NZ's COVID-19 response?"
Please look for more information, and registration (which will email you the zoom link) on our event page. Or post our flyer (pdf).
The announcement of charges laid against a science institution involved in advising emergency response in relation to the 2019 Whakaari White Island eruption has shaken many in the New Zealand science community, yet scientists have also felt reassured by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor's (PMCSA’s) blog post released on the day charges were announced. The PMCSA provides a timely reminder of the paramount importance in emergencies of free and frank scientific advice to decision makers, and one can note that the advice provided must also be fast and unfiltered yet expert and careful.
Increasingly, our science community and wider public look to the PMCSA for steering on difficult issues that go beyond her central role of coordinating science advice to government, which is the focus of the blog post. Many are surprised that the PMSCA isn’t able to comment further in this case, but in a small nation it is inevitable that any important person or office will sometimes have conflicts of interest or confidential involvement that prevents public engagement. It is important for others with relevant expertise to fill the void.
I do that here, and point out that there are two additional issues that need consideration in this case. First, the success of advice to government also depends on public trust in science and government institutions, and this requires an adequate level of public and media access to scientists as events unfold.
In addition, a unique and unusual second factor has now appeared. Prolonged and possibly expansive silencing associated with the as yet undefined scope of Worksafe's prosecution of a science institution could create a cone of silence and confusion around the same areas of scientific expertise that need to be called on in an emergency. So far, the apparent silence is worrying with only one university academic, Prof Shane Cronin, commenting and appearing widely in the media. Comments available from Prof Tom Wilson help on key issues, but many other voices are missing.
To help keep New Zealand as safe as possible, we can ensure a public conversation is occurring about the free flow of scientific information and advice in emergencies ranging from pandemics to earthquakes and eruptions. It should consider how science can best provide advice and public information, but can usefully extend to whether scientific expertise is sufficiently involved in the funding, management and governance of our science institutions. Such a conversation will have to be separate and hypothetical to avoid the cone of silence around the Whakaari White Island investigations.
In this case, we need to keep in mind that hypothetical does not mean irrelevant. New Zealand remains at high risk of natural hazard emergencies that can occur at any time.
Responding to the challenges of the pandemic's impacts on hiring, travel, migration and other factors, we are now hosting an ECR group. Our goal is to support NZ ECRs (from PhD students onward) across institutions and disciplines. We currently have over 60 participants, initially on Slack and email deciding what to do next. A group of ECRs has joined our Council in November.
Please contact our Councillor and ECR group coordinator Georgia Carson to join.
Tēnā koutou NZAS Members
The New Zealand Association of Scientists AGM will be held on Tuesday 17th November at 5.30pm, by Zoom. The agenda and Zoom link are below.
Nāku iti noa, nā
Fiona McDonald, Secretary to NZAS Council ,
Please write to email@example.com if you are interested in the AGM and have not received the zoom link.
Tuesday 17th November, 2020
1. Introduction and apologies
2. Minutes of 78th AGM of NZAS
3. Matters arising
5. 79th Annual Report – President’s address
6. 2019/2020 Financial Report
7. Election of officers
8. General Business
Zoom: NZAS AGM
Time: Nov 17, 2020 05:30 PM Auckland, Wellington
In the lead-up to the election, the New Zealand Association of Scientists, the Public Service Association and the Centre for Science in Society collaborated to bring you a political discussion on Government as the funder of science and employer of scientists.
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A panel of science spokespeople from the major New Zealand political parties were invited to join us for this pre-election discussion, hosted and facilitated by Rebecca Priestley, Associate Professor in Science and Society at Victoria University of Wellington.
Rebecca Priestley served as MC and the panel was made up of
Published this month - part 2 of a two-part Special Issue of New Zealand Science Review
Mātauranga and Science
Guest Editors: Ocean Mercier and Anne-Marie Jackson
Foreword – Jessica Hutchings and Willy-John Martin
Mātauranga and Science – Introduction – Anne-Marie Jackson, and Ocean Mercier
Māori Astronomy and Matariki – Hēmi Whaanga, Pauline Harris, Rangi Matamua
A Pūtaiao Resource – Georgina Tuari Stewart and Peter Buchanan
Marine Management Futures – Kura Paul-Burke, Tuwhakairiora O'Brien, Joseph Burker, Charlie Bluett
Visualising Mātauranga – Maui Hudson, Hēmi Whaanga, Jordan Waiti, Hohepa Maxwell, Kyle Davis, Te Awhina Arahanga, John Proctor, Matt Sword, Thalia Ullrich, Mike Taitoko
Environmental Decision-Making – Doug Jones, Dan Hikuroa, Erica Gregory, Hana Ihaka-McLeod, and Te Taiawatea Moko-Mead
Dismantling Cook's Legacy – Arama Rata
Part one of this special issue of New Zealand Science Review is also available freely online.
There were some great additional questions at my recent PSA Progressive Thinking Webinar, "Restoring research for the restoration of well-beings." You can see the draft chapter at the PSA page. If you want to see the video, I hope it goes up at the PSA page, but for now the best option is to catch my main presentation (also below), and then the rest of the Q&A.
I'm posting answers to most of the additional questions below. Register here for the next PSA session Wednesday 10 June at Noon.
Q: Do you think that it will be easier or harder for scientists to speak out in the post COVID world? On the one hand science has never been more important but on the other their is a populist reaction against science.
A: It will be harder if jobs are at risk and the finances of institutions are fragile. I hope society will review and reinforce protections, because we need our researchers and thinkers to be active, creative and unafraid to propose and develop bold and innovative solutions.
Q: Can Troy also explain where "reusable' fits in - by the citizens who fund science research via their taxes?
A: My idea of reusable is that the principles, data, or models science develops should be accessible, useable and useful. Reusable is the ultimate proof of this: we want to see knowledge being re-used and adapted.
Q: Please don't forget all of the research done by local, regional and even central government. We are doing a lot of applied research. Local govt does have a problem connecting to the CRI's because of funding stream linkage gaps (the money does not flow) and this can limit our research capacity.
A: I agree, and that’s one of the strengths of having the PSA (which represents CRI, central government and regional council staff) host this webinar and chapter. I tried to highlight the opportunity without going too deep into this. Recall that I explained research can be both fundamental and applied, and we often create an unnecessary separation by assuming it is one or the other. One of the newest research classifications driving our funding is investigator-led vs mission-led. Again, big mission-led initiatives may not serve local needs well, and appear to limit the innovation we need. There’s no reason small investigator-led research can’t aid in larger missions, by working well with communities and local government. That’s an idea that I hope the next speaker can develop further.
Q: As a Maori academic researcher I've found it really difficult to feel heard or understood during Covid by my university who seem to be very much focused on doing BAU as if all that changed over lockdown was the venue. My observation was that with the anxiety and concern in the early stages of lockdown when we were unsure as a country how this was going to pan out, was borne out more obviously in Maori because most of us can name those in our whakapapa we have lost to other pandemics. The push to continue on without concern seemed so disconnected to me. Even now as researchers start returning to the university grounds, I feel confused by the disconnect between what just happened and now. I'm interested in your response. Do you see this too?
A: From my perspective, this is a very good observation, but not a question I can answer. What I do see is strong international evidence that existing inequality divides in education and engagement with knowledge are quickly turning into chasms during lockdowns. It’s less clear what’s happened in New Zealand: there are some worrisome stats, but also anecdotal reports I’ve heard of whānau and hapū doing well. Reports from well-engaged students at Waikato are really positive, but we all worry about the students we don't hear from. I particularly worry about staff feeling overtasked and undervalued, and experiences like yours.
More broadly, I’m pleased that equity and diversity was an important part of multiple pieces of modelling undertaken by Te Pūnaha Matatini to inform NZ’s response, so there wasn’t a vacuum of information nationally. That work did point to inequality in outcomes if we didn’t make progress toward elimination of the disease.
Frankly, everyone’s heads are spinning. No one has really planned for what comes next, and particularly how economics and finance in our institutions will intersect with the disconnect you note.
Q: One very big issue is the storage and shearing of data. We need a database that can hold all of the data sources and types and interface with all of the institutions. How do we resolve this issue?
A: Unfortunately having a single big database for 'everything' never works. Databases and applications that use data need to be purpose built. The databases are best if they’re simple and durable; the apps have to deal with a lot of the complexity, and need to be refreshed. This requires funding, policy, and strategy.
One of our big problems is institutions that limit access to data in the hope of being able to sell or license it. This limits use in the public good, and often prevents development of the biggest, most compelling uses that were hard to imagine at first. Good practice making data useable is one of things that can be funded by ’shovel-ready’ support for research institutions (and some was funded during the week since my talk).
Q: While CRIs and regional councils have a good relationship generally and the research the CRIs do often has to provide buy-in from councils, when it comes to regional policy development, you can really only get fully impartial science direction from regional council scientists because CRIs have a commercial imperative to, for example, generate research programmes that tie the council in to ongoing dependency.
A: I’d argue that applied sciences can never be truly impartial. An important tenet of the environmental and health sciences is that that humans are part of the system being studied. Recognition of this was a revelation for scientists when I was doing my PhD during the 1990s in the newly formed Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at Berkeley. That recognition has been slow to come to New Zealand (at least in environmental science), but it will be important to understand that neither councils nor CRIs can be fully 'impartial'. Councils will be influenced by their policy, planning and operational objectives, and CRI scientists will have more or less independence depending on how they and their institution is funded. A key point of the webinar and chapter was that more stable funding can help.
Roger Pielke, Jr, has provided widely used model for understanding the challenge, where scientists are perhaps most effective and trusted as ‘honest brokers’. Often a solution is to include social scientists, who have long been familiar with this problem in research, in multi-disciplinary teams. But we can’t always afford big teams, so it will be best if we encourage scientists to understand rather than deny their biases, as they interact efficiently with policy, management and other decision processes that use knowledge and research.
Q: I would have liked to ask Troy if he identifies the presence of any cognitive biases on the part of researchers or funders in the NZ science research system? (i.e. confirmation bias, optimism bias, status quo bias, loss aversion etc. )
A: There absolutely are. There are many of us at the interface of science and policy who have found Daniel Kahneman’s Nobel Prize winning work extremely helpful, across many of the biases you mentioned. Combinations of loss aversion and status-quo bias seem to pose a real risk in coming months. I tried to highlight another relevant concern: the potential fallacies in separating basic and applied science. If I’d talked longer, I would have underscored that the conception of ‘pure’ science is dangerous simply because it encourages ignorance of potential and actual biases.
Putting this into practice, we can recognise that many issues (including those I talked about) relate back to the ability to access science and research as process or as a body of knowledge and human capability (Elite Pluralism). This realisation underlies Pielke’s classification I mentioned above. There’s also a risk or invisible bias when science gets silenced. These books and simple recognition of gender bias in science are good starting points. For gender bias, mentioned one recent study, and an impressive new one appeared this week. Yet, let’s not forget the risk Māori and Pacifika representation in the research system faces during this crisis. This matters because the crisis can worsen the impact of our biases if we remain blind to them. With an uncertain road ahead, we need to keep our eyes open, be wary of biases, and keep working together as a team of five million.
Register here for the next PSA session Wednesday 10 June at Noon.
Troy Baisden – NZAS President
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