At the end of my second year in office, I look back on a year in which the Academy has continued to make a significant contribution to the activities of the Royal Society of New Zealand as a whole and to carve a niche for itself as an important, independent component of the New Zealand science scene. At the Annual General Meeting, held in Auckland in November, we elected 19 new Fellows and 3 Honorary Fellows, the latter including Professor Michael Kelly FRS FREng of the University of Surrey, who has been selected by the Royal Society of London as the Rutherford Lecturer to tour New Zealand in 2000. Brief biographical details of our new Fellows will be found on pp 31-35 in this Yearbook.
One of the highlights of the year has been the publication of our report Leadership Priorities for New Zealand Science and Technology, the proceedings of the two-day conference, jointly organised by the Academy and the Royal Society of New Zealand, that was held in Wellington following the Fellows’ AGM in November 1998. This meeting was intended to be a major contribution by the Academy to the "Foresight" exercise of the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, and I do not think that it is a coincidence that many of the issues that were raised by speakers at the conference have been addressed in various documents that have come out of the Foresight discussions.
The format of a conference organised by the Academy to follow the AGM appears to work well and Council has decided to try to make it an annual event. We noted that, for various reasons, participants in the "Leadership Priorities" meeting were largely from CRIs, government ministries and the universities. This year, the Academy tried to redress that balance. With the support of the Royal Society of New Zealand, we organised a one-day meeting to follow the AGM in Auckland on "Research Science and Technology: Opportunities for Collaboration between Business, CRIs and Tertiary Institutions". Again, this meeting was a great success. There was a good range of speakers from all three sectors and some very telling points were made. We were pleased to be able to include Professor Brian Anderson, President of the Australian Academy of Science, among the speakers. His paper on "The Australian Experience" helped to show us that, while the Australian Government has introduced some interesting initiatives that will be well worth studying, not everything is greener on the other side of the Tasman. I believe that it is important that, as an academy, we strengthen our bonds with our Australian counterparts. Professor Anderson’s willingness to be guest speaker at the Fellows’ dinner on the evening of the AGM, and his participation in our meeting on the following day, was a practical example of the value of this. Again, we hope that the proceedings of that conference will be published in due course.
It is too early to tell how different our lives as scientists will be under the new government, but these two meetings have been enormously valuable in helping us to crystallise our understanding of the problems and the possibilities that face us and will certainly help the Academy to be a better advocate for the scientific community. As President, I have set myself a special mission of trying to promote an appreciation by government of the importance of career opportunities and, especially, career development for scientists in this country. Salaries are, of course, important, but I believe that finding some mechanism for ensuring continuity of funding and employment, especially for young scientists, will be a far greater factor in ensuring that we retain our best and brightest scientists in this country. It seems to me that it is a total waste of effort to promote the advantages of
a "knowledge society" unless that society is one that appreciates the value of scientists and ensures that the opportunities are there for creative individuals to flourish. A widely publicised letter from 22 young scientists working abroad emphasised this view as one of the most important barriers to the retention of scientists in New Zealand, and the discussion of this letter at the Fellows’ AGM led to a resolution in favour of any support that we can give to improve this situation. This is just a part of a wider issue of the need for greater publicly funded support of the infrastructure of science that will be one of my top personal priorities as the Royal Society of New Zealand and the Academy prepare to work with the new government.
It was with great pleasure that we saw the name of Professor Kuan M Goh among those named as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. It is, nevertheless, a concern to the Council that New Zealand is slow to honour its scientists and technologists in this public way and I am anxious that we should all work to ensure that the names of deserving recipients are not forgotten. The Academy was unusually honoured by the announcement in November that one of its Fellows, Hon. Simon Upton MP, had been appointed to the Privy Council.
Academy medals awarded during the year included the Hector Medal in mathematical and information sciences to Professor George Seber; the Hutton Medal in earth sciences to Dr Hugh M Bibby; the Sir Charles Hercus Medal in biomedical and health sciences to Professor David C G Skegg; the Te Rangi Hiroa Medal in the social sciences to Dr Jack Vowles; and the R J Scott Medal in engineering sciences and technologies to Dr Lawrence Creamer. Other awards included the Hamilton Prize for scientific or technical work described in a principal paper arising from PhD research or work done in the five years following graduation, awarded jointly to Dr Claire Vallance and Dr Deborah Young, and the 1999 Hatherton Award, for the best scientific paper by a student registered for a PhD at a New Zealand university in physical sciences, earth sciences and mathematical and information sciences, which was awarded to Mr Ross Edwards.
This year has seen the completion of the first three-year cycle of the Sir Charles Hercus, Te Rangi Hiroa and R J Scott medals, and Council has taken the opportunity to review the frequency of award of the five medals that are the Academy’s "prestige" awards. This led to a resolution, passed at the Fellows’ AGM that, in future, each medal will be offered in one of the three fields that it covers only every second year. This will have the effect of putting each category of award on a six-year cycle and will bring them back into line with the situation prevailing when the Hector and Hutton medals were the only two major awards offered by the Royal Society. In line with this resolution, nominations will be called in 2000 for the Hutton Medal (in plant sciences) and the Sir Charles Hercus Medal (in molecular and cellular sciences and technologies).
It has been frustrating that, as a result of unsatisfactory performance on the part of the manufacturers who were awarded the tender for producing the Sir Charles Hercus, Te Rangi Hiroa and R J Scott medals, we have not yet received the finished medals for presentation to any recipient of the past three years. Thanks to strenuous efforts made by our Executive Officer, Mrs Sue Usher, this matter has now been resolved and we look forward to being able to make those formal presentations in mid-2000. At the same time, we are looking forward to being able formally to thank Mr Phillip O’Shea for his brilliant work in designing the medals for us and for his great help to Mrs Usher in bringing the production of the finished medals to a satisfactory conclusion.
Professor Derek Holton has now completed his term as an elected member on the Council. I am grateful to Professor Holton for the effort that he has put into the Academy’s activities and had pleasure in thanking him at the AGM in November and in announcing the election of Professor Carolyn Burns, who has served as a co-opted member of Council during 1999, in his place. At the AGM, I was also able to recognise the contribution of Professor Sir John Scott, President of the Royal Society of New Zealand, who has served as a co-opted member of the Academy Council for the past two years and who has announced that he will retire from the Presidency during the coming year. I owe Sir John a deep personal debt for his continuous support as I have become familiar with my role as Academy President under the revised structure of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
The November meeting was the last AGM at which Mr Ross Moore will have been in attendance as Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Society of New Zealand. Mr Moore will retire in mid-2000 after 13 years in the position and, again, I had the pleasant duty of thanking him for his untiring efforts on our behalf and giving him the Academy’s best wishes for a long and happy retirement.
I am looking forward to the new year and the opportunities that it will give for consolidating some of the initiatives that we have started. At the same time, new challenges such as the controversy surrounding genetically modified food and genetic engineering are already emerging. The Royal Society of New Zealand and the Academy have a key role to play in bringing these issues to a resolution. We have a new government and a new Minister of Research, Science and Technology. There will undoubtedly be some changes in government thinking about science and technology. There is no doubt that the new government recognises the importance of science and technology to the future of New Zealand. We have a unique role to play in keeping this enthusiasm alive.
— George Petersen
President, Academy Council