Science Digest: Issue 18

FUNDING FEEDBACK

We have received a very supportive response to the joint statement on the future funding of science as drafted by the Royal Society President (Sir John Scott) and the Academy Council President (Professor George Petersen). The draft was circulated to members for comment last Friday in Digest/Alert No. 16 of 13 February. If you overlooked the item or just didn’t get around to commenting, please do so. We will value your contribution.

The Society is of the opinion that the favourable resolution of the S&T research funding issue is crucial to the future economic well-being of the country. All our efforts are to be concentrated on ensuring that Government maintains the rate of increase in the funding of public-funded research as forecast in its strategic policy document RS&T:2010.

What is often overlooked is that the forecast funding increases are not nearly as generous as they appear at first sight. Implementation of the RS&T:2010 strategy brings the level of public investment in research, in real terms, roughly back to where it was in 1981 – but not until the year 2010. After a decade when we suffered a substantial decline in government funding of research, it is bad enough that it will take nearly 20 years to get back to an acceptable level. RS&T:2010 was the outcome of wide consultation, negotiation, and considerable compromise. It is a sensible document with achievable objectives and should not be disregarded in favour of short-term adjustments.

‘NATURE’ article

The publishers of ‘Nature’ have informed us that the controversial 29 January 98 article on science and technology in New Zealand is to be included in the section ‘Nature Past’ on their website http://www.nature.com

A letter from the President of the Association of Crown Research Institutes (Mr Paul Hargreaves), taking issue with aspects of the article, is to be included together with any other substantial comment received.

The Royal Society will include all relevant statements received on its website, together with a link to ‘Nature Past’. Regrettably, the publishers of ‘Nature’ declined to permit the inclusion of their 29 January article on our ‘Gateway to New Zealand Science’ website but the link arrangement should make the item easily accessible.

The controversy thus far appears to be largely confined to testing the validity of CRI employment comparisons in the ‘Nature’ article. The contribution that follows will highlight the shortcomings of available statistical information, particularly when comparisons are attempted. Is it fair to blame anyone for getting confused? Read on….

APPLES AND ORANGES

The following comments have been submitted to Digest/Alert on the fraught subject of employment statistics in Crown Research Institutes. The author is Dr Michael Berridge, a research scientist with the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research in Wellington who holds office as Honorary Secretary of the New Zealand Association of Scientists. Mike has been following the debate on CRI employment and says his thoughts may help clear (or cloud) the air. Comments are invited.

In a recent article in ‘Nature’ (29 January 1998) entitled ‘New Zealand puts its Science to Profit’, Dr Peter Pockley comments on the marked changes in research staff over the five-year period to 1995-96. Over this period, ‘the number of researchers fell by almost 300 to just over 1300 full-time equivalent staff while support staff increased by about 350 to more than 900′ (‘Nature’, editorial correction – the words ‘increased by about 350′ replace the word ‘tripled’). A subsequent statement by Mr Paul Hargreaves, President of the Association of Crown Research Institutes, disputes these figures and states that ‘CRIs had provided 349 more jobs for scientists and researchers which now totalled 3204. Support staff numbers had risen by only 83 to 1080′.

The source of Pockley’s information was MoRST who had surveyed R&D employees in CRIs. The source of Hargreaves’ figures was a PSA Survey conducted in 1997 under the Official Information Act. Some comment about the differences between these two surveys is pertinent.

1. The MoRST survey was restricted to R&D personnel only (researchers, technicians and support staff). It did not include all CRI staff as did the PSA survey. MoRST used strict OECD definitions of R&D in that the workforce considered had to be contributing to the acquisition of new knowledge (by this definition many of ESR’s staff would be excluded). One purpose of this was to facilitate international comparisons of R&D. (MoRST no longer collects data on headcounts in CRIs).

2. The MoRST survey considered full-time equivalents (FTEs) as the only relevant and internationally acceptable way of getting accurate information on the actual number of workers in science. The PSA survey was headcounts.

3. The PSA Survey obtained information on science staff (researchers and technicians) and support staff whereas the MoRST survey categorised each group and the figures quoted by Pockley were of researchers, not science staff as defined by PSA.

4. Pockley’s analysis of the 5-year period to 1995/96 used pre- restructuring figures (i.e. 1990/91) as a baseline whereas Hargreaves’ analysis was post-restructuring. A large fall in researchers occurred during restructuring, and according to MoRST there has been little increase in FTE researchers since.

Thus, the source of CRI employment information used in Hargreaves’ response to the ‘Nature’ analysis of New Zealand’s science reforms was different from that used by Pockley and for the reasons shown here, not directly comparable.

The MoRST Survey also shows that researchers increased by 1.6% to 1995/96 post-restructuring, technicians by 8% and support staff by 20%, a trend that will be disturbing to scientists.

As indicated, we invite comments on these observations. Use the e- mail address already established: fundingfeedback@rsnz.govt.nz

MORE STATISTICS

A report of the joint survey of business and government sector research and development carried out by MoRST and Statistics New Zealand, and the Ministry’s own survey of R&D in the higher education sector, has just been released. The report is entitled ‘Research and Experimental Development Statistics’ (all sectors 1995/96) MoRST Publication No 16. Copies are available from the Ministry.

FORESIGHT

The latest Foresight Project newsletter ‘Vision’ (Vol.1 No.2 Feb 98) is available from MoRST or the Society, free upon request. Keep in touch with this project as it develops by accessing the website: http://www.morst.govt.nz/foresight/front.html

We will give members a more comprehensive update in a later issue of Digest/Alert. Meantime, e-mail any specific enquiries to the project co-ordinator, Dr Paul Gandar at: pgandar@morst.govt.nz or give general comments and feedback to: foresight@morst.govt.nz

KING FAISAL PRIZES

The Royal Society is recognised as a nominating body for these prestigious international prizes in science and medicine. As nominations for 1999 prizes close in Riyadh on 31 May 1998, it will be necessary for our office to have all relevant information from nominators no later than 30 April 1998. The 1999 Science Prize discipline is Chemistry and the Medicine Prize is on Allergic Diseases. Each winner receives a US$200,000 cash prize, a gold medallion and a certificate. Nominated work must be published, original and represent a contribution of the highest distinction. The work must benefit mankind and advance scientific knowledge. Contact the Society for further information.

The 1998 Science Prize has just been presented and was in Mathematics. The winner, Dr Andrew Wiles, a British mathematics professor working at Princeton University, was awarded the prize for proving the seventeenth century mathematical problem known as (Pierre de) Fermat’s Last Theorem. Wiles was 10 years old when he resolved to solve a problem that had frustrated many eminent mathematicians since its disclosure after Fermat’s death in 1665. After 30 years of dedicated effort, eight years full-time, Wiles was rewarded with the proof on 19 September 1994.

ANZCCART

The Australia and New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching celebrated its tenth anniversary last year. In the December 1997 issue of ‘ANZCCART News’ (Vol. 10, No. 4) there is historical material tracing the development of the organisation in Australia and New Zealand. A useful index covering all 10 volumes of ‘ANZCCART News’ since the first issue in 1988 is included together with the usual articles of interest.

In New Zealand, the ANZCCART Board operates as a standing committee of the Royal Society. Dame Ann Ballin has just retired after 5 years chairing the local Board; she served as a lay person appointed by the Society. Mr John Martin of the Victoria University of Wellington has been appointed to succeed Dame Ann. In Australia, the umbrella Board has been reconstituted to comprise nominees of the five sponsoring organisations, CSIRO, the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council, and the Royal Society of New Zealand. Professor David Mellor, Professor of Applied Physiology and Animal Ethics at Massey University, represents us on the Australian Board.

‘ANZCCART News’ is distributed without charge to individuals and institutions sharing the objectives of the organisation which are — to promote excellence in the care of animals in research and teaching; to promote the responsible scientific use of animals; to promote informed discussion and debate within the community regarding these matters. If you would like to be added to the mailing list for ‘ANZCCART News’, email us at anzccart@rsnz.govt.nz with your full address. ‘ANZCCART News’ and other information about ANZCCART may be sighted on the web at: http://anzccart.rsnz.govt.nz

CALENDAR OF EVENTS

The Society maintains a calendar of forthcoming events, both local and overseas, of interest to our membership. This service has its limitations; it can only be as good as the information supplied. There is difficulty in ensuring adequate scope and content without the support of the wider community of scientists and technologists. Please ensure you keep us informed of events’ data that should be included. Check now and help us fill the gaps, at http://www.rsnz.govt.nz/forms/conferences.html

FORESTRY

Rotorua is currently hosting one of the largest conferences ever held in the city. The New Zealand Forest Industries International Conference and Exhibition (known as FI’98) was opened by Forestry Minister, Hon Lockwood Smith, on Wednesday 18 February. The exhibition is likely to attract an estimated 30,000 visitors and the organisers claim that the collapse of the Asian economy has had little impact on the event. A leading participant in this major event is the New Zealand Forest Research Institute Ltd, better known as FRI. Established in 1947 as the research arm of the New Zealand Forest Service, FRI became a crown research institute in 1992 as a consequence of the restructuring of government science.

Last Wednesday evening, conference delegates and invited guests were introduced to the new FRI, to be known in future as FOREST RESEARCH. Board Chairman, Professor Ray Meyer ONZM, and Chief Executive Officer, Bryce Heard, outlined the new organisational structure which replaced the previous divisions with a more flexible and responsive system of portfolio management.

The five portfolios and their managers are: Future Forests (Dr Mike Carson), Sustainability and Risk (Dr Paul McFarlane), Value Chain Optimisation (Dr Bruce Manley), Manufacturing Technologies (Dr Russell Burton) and Market Knowledge (Frances Maplesden). Others in the executive team are: Dr Keith Mackie (Chief Science Adviser), Dr John Butcher (Technology Commercialisation Manager), Michael Franks (Finance and Information Systems), Andrew Newman (Strategic Development Manager), Tony Everitt (Sales and Marketing Manager), Nigel Hillind (Human Resources Manager), Dr Dave Cown (Solid Wood Products Manufacturing Technologies Manager) and Brad Ridoutt (Fibre-based Products Manufacturing Technologies).

MERGER OF MINISTRIES

From 1 March 1998, the Ministry of Agriculture (MAF) and Ministry of Forestry will merge to become a single ministry – the new Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Te Manatu Ahuwhenua, Ngaherehere.

The reason for the merger is to provide a better and more cost- effective co-ordination of government services to the agriculture, forestry, and horticulture sectors. A strategic plan of the Ministries of Agriculture and Forestry confirmed that there was a high degree of compatibilities in outputs and outcomes between them, and that a merger of the two would make the best use of resources and expertise. Dr Bruce Ross will be Director-General of the merged ministry, with Dr Peter O’Hara as his Deputy.

TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION NEW ZEALAND (TENZ)

TENZ is a developing organisation concerned with the promotion of and support for technology education. TENZ exceeded all expectations by attracting about 450 participants to its inaugural conference last October, and has now succeeded in enrolling a membership of over 1000. It is encouraging to see such support for this new organisation. The Royal Society is giving a practical demonstration of its support for technology education by hosting TENZ within its S+T Education Division and acting as its secretariat. This allows Glynn McGregor, the TENZ National Co-ordinator, to concentrate on the structural development of the organisation.

Further information on TENZ from TENZ@rsnz.govt.nz

MARSDEN FUND

The 1998 Marsden Fund Preliminary Round has 767 applications, some of which are going to more than one assessment panel. Application numbers for individual panels are:

Biochemical & Biomedical Sciences 190

Earth Sciences & Astronomy 88

Humanities 32

Life Sciences 325

Mathematical & Information Sciences 81

Physical and Engineering Sciences 126

Social Sciences 79

The assessment panel meetings will take place in late March-early April and invitations to submit full proposals will be issued by mid April.

For lists of members on the Marsden Fund Committee and the Marsden Assessment Panels see http://www.rsnz.govt.nz/marsden/mfpanels98.html

MONITORING TOURIST VISITS TO ANTARCTICA

Michael Prebble, Manager of the Marsden Fund, was appointed New Zealand National Representative for the 1997-98 Antarctic season by the Hon Simon Upton, the Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The role of the New Zealand National Representative is to report to the Minister on compliance of any expedition with the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty and to oversee any approvals/permits issued for visits to stations, historic sites, protected areas, and wildlife colonies.

Michael sailed in late January on the icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov contracted to Quark Expeditions for a visit to the Ross Sea Region. The ship carried 113 passengers, 65 crew, and 15 expedition staff. After visiting Macquarie Island, the vessel visited a number of sites in the Ross Sea including Scott Base (NZ), McMurdo Station (US), Terra Nova Station (Italy), all the historic huts, the dry valleys, and some penguin colonies. Landings were made by either zodiac or helicopter transport from the ship. The passengers were particularly impressed with the science programmes being carried out by the various nations and by the set-up at Scott Base.

A visit to the New Zealand sub-Antarctic islands had to be curtailed owing to the tragic mortality of NZ seal lion pups. DoC are investigating the cause of this problem which may be bacterial, viral, or as a result of a biotoxin. Tests at present being carried out in the Netherlands will help to determine the cause. Michael returned to New Zealand on 14 February.

SCIENCE TEACHERS HONOURED

Two science teachers were among 20 New Zealand teachers who recently received a National Excellence in Teaching regional award. They were Kath Fletcher, head of science at Central Hawkes Bay College in Waipukurau, and John Drummond, head of science at St Peter’s School in Cambridge.

The award winners were selected from more than 300 teachers nominated by parents and secondary school students from throughout New Zealand.

The National Excellence in Teaching Awards are made through the Australian Scholarships Group, a non-profit organisation made up of over 45,000 New Zealand and Australian parents saving for their children’s tertiary education. The awards aim to identify teachers whose professional contribution merits national recognition, to encourage teaching excellence, and improve public perception of the teaching profession.

Kath Fletcher last year initiated and convened a biennial national conference on chemical education ‘Chem Ed’97’ for secondary and tertiary educators, overseas speakers and industry and research organisations.

AGRICULTURE LABORATORY

The Agriculture Ministry’s new animal health reference laboratory and exotic disease response centre will be housed on AgResearch campus at Wallaceville, near Upper Hutt.

The laboratories will be developed at a time when New Zealand is predicted to face more threats to its biosecurity from previously unknown pests and diseases.

The new service will begin on 1 July 1998.

UPCOMING EVENTS

The following events are among those notified to us as taking place in New Zealand in the next month.

The 6th Annual New Zealand Water Summit Auckland, 26-27 February 1998. Contact AIC Conferences, Freepost 3219, P O Box 5321, Wellesley Street, Auckland, Telephone: 09 358 5566, Toll-free fax: 0800 401 456.

Environmental Justice & Market Mechanisms: Key Challenges for Environmental Law Auckland 5-7 March 1998. Contact: b.richardson@auckland.ac.nz OR b.williams@auckland.ac.nz Website http://www.cce.auckland.ac.nz/law/

Sea Week: ‘Mountains to Sea’ Throughout NZ, 7-15 March 1998. Contact Department of Conservation.

Environmental Auditor Training Auckland, 16-20 March 1998. Contact NZ Quality College, Private Bag 28 908, Remuera, Auckland. Ph (09) 525 6633 Fax (09) 525 2266.

1998 New Zealand Petroleum Conference Queenstown, 29 March to 1 April 1998. Contact: mareb@moc.govt.nz

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This file created on 20 February 1998, last amended 20 February 1998