Science and Technology Alert: Issue 61

SEASONS GREETINGS

On behalf of the officers and staff of the Royal Society of New Zealand, we wish all our members a happy holiday season and a rewarding, if challenging, new year. The Society’s office will be closed from today until 6 January 1999.

We are planning a number of new membership services for 1999 and would welcome any suggestions – these may be emailed to ceo@rsnz.govt.nz

The next issue of Science Alert will be on Friday 29 January 1999.

1.MARSDEN FUND

Committee Appointments

Four new members have just been appointed to the Marsden Fund Committee by the Hon Maurice Williamson, Minister of Research, Science &amp Technology. The Committee now has a membership of ten, previously nine. The new appointees are:

Chairperson – Professor Diana Hill, University of Otago Deputy Chairperson – Dr Jeffrey Tallon, IRL (currently James Cook Research Fellow) Member – Professor Paula Jameson, Massey University Member – Dr Ian Ferguson, HortResearch

Dr Terry Sturm’s term has been extended for one year.

Retiring members of the Marsden Fund Committee are the Chairperson (Sir Ian Axford FRS), Deputy Chairperson (Professor Carolyn Burns FRSNZ) and Professor Bob Park FRSNZ.

These members have been on the committee since its inception and they have made a significant contribution to the research community. During this time the Fund has grown to four times its initial size and supports a very broad range of fundamental research fields, now including the humanities. The Royal Society greatly appreciates the time and effort that has been so freely given for the benefit of New Zealand research and looks forward to continuing to work with the committee under its new leadership.

In informing the Royal Society of these appointments, Mr Williamson stated:

‘I am very pleased to have been able to secure the services of this group of people. They have a diverse range of skills which will effectively complement those of the existing committee members.

‘I would also like to take this opportunity to reinforce with the Royal Society of New Zealand, as my agent in the purchase of Marsden Fund outputs, of my expectations of the Royal Society in managing that Fund:

  • work closely with the Marsden Fund Chair and Deputy Chair to develop policies and procedures for the administration and management of the Marsden Fund.
  • provide advice to me on important management and administration issues facing the Royal Society when distributing the Marsden Fund.
  • have a clear understanding of the role of the Marsden Fund within the Science Envelope as just one component of Government’s support for basic and non-prioritised research.
  • have an understanding of international best practice and an ability to promote the benefits.

‘I have every confidence that the Royal Society will continue to manage the Marsden Fund in accordance with my expectations.’

Marsden Fund Committee as at 1 January 1999:

  • Diana Hill – Chairperson – 31 December 2001
  • Jeffery Tallon – Deputy Chairperson – 31 December 2000
  • Brent Clothier – 31 December 1999
  • Terry Sturm 31 December 1999
  • Bruce Baguley – 31 December 2000
  • Rob Goldblatt – 31 December 2000
  • Robert Franich – 31 December 2000
  • David Thorns – 31 December 2000
  • Paula Jameson – 31 December 2001
  • Ian Ferguson – 31 December 2001

Marsden Fund – Additional allocations

A review of the forward commitments of the Marsden Fund has given the Marsden Committee the opportunity to make further funding recommendations for some of the full proposals in the 1998 funding round. The full effects of past increases in government funding have been implemented. The Marsden Committee and the Royal Society welcome the opportunity to enhance New Zealand’s participation in world class research.

2.CAWTHRON INSTITUTE

The Annual Report of the Nelson-based Cawthron Institute for its 78th year of operations has been released. It discloses an operating surplus of $123,996 for the period arising from a gross income of $4,708,177 and expenditure of $4,584,181. Results are in line with the previous year. Total net assets and trust investments at balance date were $4,141,303. Cawthron employed 78 operational and 10 administrative support staff; it also hosted two Japanese research Fellows. For more information Email: info@environment.cawthron.org.nz or access the Institute’s website: www.cawthron.org.nz

3.SOCIAL SCIENCE REPORTS

The Society has prepared two research strategies under contract to MoRST; one on Family Dynamics and the other on Intergenerational Impacts of Ageing. The reports are intended to contribute to the development of public policy on these issues. They address two of the eight cross- portfolio, long-term, applied social science priority research areas that were identified as priority areas following consideration of the report of the 1995 committee on social sciences chaired by Professor Gary Hawke (‘Drawing on the Evidence’). An officials’ working group on applied social science (OWGASS) is responsible for the co- ordination and development of officials’ thinking in these important areas of concern. The project was led by Dr John Martin who is the elected representative of the social sciences on the Council of the Royal Society.

4.ICAIR

The Royal Society’s International Centre for Antarctic Information and Research, better known as ICAIR, is to operate under the aegis of the University of Canterbury with effect from 1 January 1999. ICAIR has been located at the International Antarctic Centre, Christchurch International Airport since its establishment in 1992. Emeritus Professor George Knox FRSNZ, late of the Department of Geography at the University of Canterbury is the acknowledged founder of ICAIR. It is noteworthy that the facility is now to be located with the University of Canterbury as part of the University’s new Antarctic Research Centre initiative. The Royal Society will continue to interest itself in the work of ICAIR and the UNEP GRID-Christchurch which also transfers to the University. Further details in our next issue.

5.HOLIDAY HOMEWORK – FORESIGHT TARGET OUTCOMES

A revised draft set of target outcomes was released by MoRST on Monday for comment by 19 February 1999. The draft takes account of the 120 sector strategy submissions received by the Ministry prior to the 25th November Outcomes’ Conference and the recommendations arising from that event and the earlier Midsight Conference. This is the last chance for members to have input into the shaping of these important descriptive statements which will be highly influential in guiding Government’s investment in R,S&amp T from the year 2000.

Further information on the target outcomes is included in a special section of the Foresight Project website called ‘Making a Difference’ – http://foresight.morst.govt.nz/outcomes/difference.htm Information in printed form is available from the Ministry – Email: emily.sik@morst.govt.nz or phone (04 4726-400) and ask for a ‘Making a Difference’ pack to be sent to you.

Whether or not you have been involved in the Foresight Project up to now, please don’t overlook this crucial phase of the process. In the words of the Minister, Hon Maurice Williamson:

‘We need you to scrutinise this draft set of target outcomes to test that it characterises a significant difference in our future prosperity and well-being, and to ensure that each target outcome within the set represents a significant contribution to that difference. We also need to test the progress that we can make towards achieving these outcomes through research, science and technology.

‘The Government wishes to agree on a set of target outcomes in Marxch 1999. I invite you to work in partnership with the Government, to ensure that the final set of target outcomes will not only make a difference, but will also shape the path we take to create New Zealand’s future. The Ministry has set up a variety of ways for you to communicate directly with your feedback. I look forward to your response.’

The 17 draft Target Outcomes in the set are titled:

  • A Culture of Innovation
  • Anticipation &amp Creation of New Markets
  • Distinctive &amp Positive Cultural Identity
  • Empowered Individuals &amp Communities
  • Globally Connected New Zealand
  • Healthy, Diverse, Resilient Ecosystems
  • High Health Status
  • Infrastructure for a Knowledge Society
  • Knowledge &amp Learning Networks
  • Māori Development
  • New Health Care Possibilities
  • People &amp Their Physical Environments
  • Security in Hazardous Environments
  • Self-Determination &amp Ethical Principles
  • Sustainable Ecosystem Use
  • Wealth from Biological &amp Physical Resources
  • Wealth from New Knowledge-based Business

The Royal Society intends to comment on the Target Outcomes and would value members’ views. Constituent organisations are asked to take particular note of this request.

6.UPSET DECISION ON LABELLING GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD

The Australian and New Zealand Governments were outvoted in a surprise move by a group of Australian states favouring the special labelling of ‘substantially equivalent’ genetically modified food. The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council’s controversial decision was taken at a meeting held in Canberra last Thursday attended by the New Zealand’s Associate Minister of Health, Hon Tuariki Delamere, and his Australian Federal and State counterparts. Not only did the 6-4 decision go against the wishes of the two national governments but it was in conflict with the earlier recommendation of the Australian New Zealand Food Association (Anzfa).

Good manufacturers are warning that a decision favouring the mandatory labelling of some genetically-modified food will be unworkable. Labelling activists are rejoicing at the outcome of the decision. Governments have the task of deciding whether to accept the Standards Council decision and, if so, how to implement it. The Royal Society insists that any labelling requirements imposed must have reasonable validity in scientific terms and not be capable of misinterpretation by the consumer. Watch this space.

7.1998/99 INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE &amp TECHNOLOGY (ISAT) LINKAGES FUND (Second Round)

The second round of funding from the 1998/99 ISAT Linkages Fund has been completed. Applications were of a very high standard with interest shown from researchers in 21 different institutions ( 8 CRI’s, 6 Universities, 1 Research Association, 3 Polytechnics and 3 Private). 32% of the applications were for funding from the Bilateral Research Activities Programme (BRAP); 49% from the NZ/USA Cooperative Science Programme (CSP); and 19% NZ/FRG Scientific and Technological Cooperation Agreement Programme (FRG).

33% of the successful applications were in the BRAP programme; 49% in the CSP programme; and 18% in the FRG programme. The countries involved in the successful BRAP applications include Australia, Japan, Sweden, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

Of the total applications 40% were in the Life Sciences (LS) science area; 23% in Physical Science / Engineering (PSE); 12% in Biochemical and Biomedical (B&amp B); 3% in Mathematical and Information Science (MIS); 15% in Earth Sciences and Astronomy (ESA); and 7% in Social Sciences (SOC).

8.BRANZ ALPHA AWARDS

The BRANZ ALPHA Award, proudly supported by the Building Research Association of New Zealand, recognises school- community links in science and technology. The award is for $2 000 to those schools which demonstrate vibrant and effective links between the school and the science/technology community of practice. Congratulations go to the following schools recognised this year:

Nga Tawa School, Marton

This fairly small school with 229 pupils has established very close links with a local electronics company, PEC, and a local engineering company Ron Burton Engineering, involving them in the teaching in the school, and providing to the companies ideas which have been significantly commercialised, especially in the ‘Airtrack’ system. This technology was devised in the school, and has been enhanced subsequently by further technology projects, and has now been sold to some 60 schools and polytechnics. As befits a school which was in at the start of the CREST Award system, Nga Tawa has a distinguished record in attaining over a third of all the Gold Awards attained in this scheme, from projects which have involved work with a local poultry breeder and a local veterinary practice, as well as with PEC and Ron Burton Engineering. Other links were described with Dairy Research Institute and Massey University.

Whangarei Girls High School

This school also demonstrated a range of links, particularly involving long-term monitoring of regeneration of a mangrove estuary at Matapouri, in conjunction with Department of Conservation, and monitoring of water quality in two streams close to the school with information going to the Regional Council. Other links were described with a local dairy company, Northern Bakeries, Northland Pathology Laboratory and the oil refinery at Marsden Point. Though later to join the CREST scheme than Nga Tawa, Whangarei Girls High School has already had a pupil gain a Gold Award through this scheme, where they use the local council and a local engineering company as consultants and assessors.

A final key element that influenced the judges regarding this entry was that the school is accepting a role as coordinator of professional advancement for teachers and science technicians in other schools in the area, in running an in-service course for technicians, and courses on electronics and genetic engineering.

9.’GLOBE’ TEACHER FELLOW CHOSEN

1999 NZ Science and Technology Teacher Fellow Ann Marie Weir travels to Williamsburg, Virginia next month to undertake training for Project GLOBE. This project is an international programme which involves school students in monitoring the natural environment, and Ann Marie will be investigating the establishment of the project in New Zealand while on her Fellowship. Hosted by the University of Waikato Geography Dept and Landcare Research, she will pilot the programme with local Waikato schools.

For further information on the NZ Science and Technology Teacher Fellowship scheme, see http://www.rsnz.govt.nz/awards/index.html or teachers.fellowships@rsnz.govt.nz

10. STATEMENT FROM MARK PECK MP

Mark Peck, Labour’s recently appointed spokesperson for research, science and technology, is not a scientist. He trained to be a secondary school teacher of history and English and worked for 17 years as a union official with the Service Workers’ Union.

So why would someone with little or no science background want to take on such a difficult portfolio?

‘Simple,’ says Mark Peck, ‘ – because kids no longer get chemistry sets for Christmas’.

‘The biotechnology explosion represents the next great wave of scientific progress and New Zealand is uniquely placed to take advantage of the opportunities that will present themselves.’

But Mark believes this will only happen if, as a country, we move more quickly to value scientists and encourage school-leavers to study for degrees in science, engineering and mathematics.

‘New Zealand has more accountants than does Japan. What we need to do now is rapidly develop young minds for the productive, innovative disciplines which science and technology represent.

‘From science and technology will come the added value high wage jobs we so desperately need if we are ever to break out of the low commodity price spiral we have been in for decades.

‘Less than 50 years ago 22% of our work force was employed in producing food. That figure is now about 10%. Unprocessed commodities for export will do nothing to get our economy out of the doldrums.’

While Mark agrees that the Government could do more, he is less than impressed with the commitment made by the private sector towards research and development.

‘We are, by a factor of four, lagging behind the OECD average for investment in research and development. Our private sector contributes a paltry 0.3% of GDP to research and development. The OECD average is 1.2% while Japan, for instance, receives 2.2%.

‘It is simple really. Without research we will not patent new ideas. Without new ideas, we will not develop new technologies. This will leave us exposed to those multi-national, former chemical companies who are now making life sciences their own. If we let this happen, we will miss the opportunities that are on our doorstep right now.

‘The Government cannot and should not do it all, but the Government can lead. It is time we engaged the community in the debate. It is time we said loudly that we value scientists. It is time the Government aggressively challenged the private sector to look past its short term balance sheets. It is time we encouraged local authorities to take part in research and development in the sort of way that the Southland District Council has with its ‘topoclimate’ project, through standing with them as partners.

‘One of the things I have noticed as we have moved our country economically, is that the pursuit of money has become the goal of the young. For many young people, degrees in law and accounting are seen as the pinnacles of academic achievement.

‘We needs to change our culture so that knowledge and the application of knowledge become valuable goals too. It’s time kids again got chemistry sets for Christmas, ‘ says Mark Peck.

11. CONTRIBUTIONS TO SCIENCE ALERT

Appropriate contributions for inclusion in ‘Science Alert’ are welcome. Please email items of interest to moderator@rsnz.govt.nz The last issue for 1998 will be emailed next Wednesday.

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