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
Applications are invited for the 2020 Science Medals from the New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS). Full details of the application process can be found here.
Applications are due in by 31 July 2020.
An article published today in PLOS One uses NZ university data to show that female academics earn $400,000 less over their careers than their male counterparts, after adjusting for covariates. The results and their implications have featured prominently in NZ's major news outlets, including RNZ, Stuff, and the Herald. Audio from RNZ's Morning Report (short) and Nine to Noon (in depth) is also available.
The analysis separates out fields of academia, showing one of the largest gender gaps occurs in science. That gap will not close by 2070 under current conditions.
Expert commentary has been compiled by the Science Media Centre. Included in it are these comments by President Troy Baisden representing NZAS.
“Anyone who counts the number of men and women along the hallways of New Zealand’s research institutions or speaking at conferences, and compares their job titles, will tend to suspect we have lingering problems with gender equity. Yet, many remain blind to the issue, and assume we have a meritocracy.
“Institutions, including the New Zealand Association of Scientists, have already observed enough evidence in the science workforce to raise concerns about our problems with gender and other diversity issues. The study by Brower and James massively sharpens our view of the problem, and shows its lifetime impact. An extension of their powerful analysis shows that, with current settings compared, there will be little improvement in most areas of academia by 2070.
“Simply put, New Zealand’s academic and research hierarchy does not appear to be the meritocracy it claims to be. Those who start out ahead appear to stay ahead.
“The evidence for inequity in salaries and promotion provided in this work may also extend to the resources required to be successful in research. Further, gender is only the most easily quantified diversity and equity challenge. These results suggest that underrepresentation of Māori and Pasifika in academia also need action to correct inequity.
“Ultimately, these diversity issues matter because audiences and the public may dismiss evidence from research when they can’t see their own faces or stories represented among the experts speaking on an issue.”
Former NZAS President and "Science is Sexist" author Nicola Gaston also featured in commentary, and Stuff's coverage profiled former NZAS Councillor Natalie Plank.
Having these clear results added to the growing evidence and analysis on gender and equity issues should help us move toward solutions that fix this problem.
PS. For those interested in an academic perspective on the methods and data, the University of Auckland's Prof Thomas Lumley has weighed in with a StatsChat blog post.
The following has gone out as an NZAS Press Release.
The New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) new President is Professor Troy Baisden, based at the University of Waikato.
Baisden says, “I’m the first recent NZAS President based outside Wellington or Auckland. By taking on this role, I can help represent the large number of scientists working out of regional centres, including those focused on primary production and environmental issues.”
“A large proportion of public research funds relate to primary production and environment, and the nexus between these issues is a matter of deep public interest. These areas will get some extra focus within NZAS’s main objectives, which are to support scientists, promote and communicate science, including sound science policy.”
“For years, NZAS has raised concerns that a lack of stable positions for scientists immediately after their PhDs undermines the science sector. The problem is most acute in research disciplines including agriculture and the environment where New Zealand careers require unique knowledge that takes years to build.”
“Our focus on supporting early career scientists intersects with our focus on diversity issues in science. There are widespread concerns that Māori and Pasifika are underrepresented, undermining the role of science in addressing equity and Treaty of Waitangi issues.”
NZAS will also continue to consider MBIE’s recent draft Research, Science and Innovation Strategy. Baisden worries that, “it doesn’t signal clear directions, particularly across environmental science and the primary sector. These areas differ from industrial and technological innovation, which dominate science policy internationally.”
“In addition, the draft Strategy’s focus on connections raises concerns that National Science Challenges are not achieving their intended level of connectedness and deserve more transparent review.”
The latest issue of NZSR is finished, and it's a double issue, volume 75 issues 2-3.
Members with print NZSR subscriptions can expect the hardcopy version to be on its way to you now, and all members can find the pdf version right now by logging in to your account.
Direct link to pdf.
Applications are invited for the 2019 Science Medals from the New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS). Full details of the application process can be found here.
Applications are due in by 31 July 2019.
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