National Research Charter for New Zealand is being developed

Several questions are raised by the announcement of the development of a new charter to set out the principles underpinning “sound research practice” in New Zealand.

Whether this is a solution looking for a problem is one question. Another is to ask who decided this is necessary and for what reasons – and why can’t research funders be relied on to set their own standards for the appropriate use of their money?

Then there’s the prospect of another layer of bureaucracy being added to the science domain – potentially one that will gear funding to the satisfying of “political” considerations.

Whatever the reasons, a working group has been formed, with support from research funding agencies, bodies representing different types of research organisations and the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Dr John Hay has been appointed independent chair of the working group.

He says the group’s task is to develop a proposed charter within 12-18 months.

“The aim of the charter is to provide clarity to all researchers and research organisations on expectations for sound research practice.

“It also seeks to foster a culture of collective responsibility for maintaining good research practice, set out what sufficient compliance looks like and also support cohesive research teams working across many research organisations.

“The charter will also provide clarity for international collaborators on the expectations on them when they are working on New Zealand-based research.

“It will support the public to have confidence in the research community by making it clear how important the public interest is and by both setting out what is expected of researchers and ensuring that poor practice is dealt with appropriately. It will meet the wider communities’ expectations for competence, balance and soundness from researchers.”

Other countries have developed a charter, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, Dr Hay said.

But rather than simply adopt one of those, it was important that New Zealand develop its own charter to include elements specific to the context of this country.

Setting out how researchers should meet their responsibilities under the Treaty of Waitangi was the one example Dr Hay provided, although he said the charter will be bench-marked to contemporary international good practice.

Without such a charter in place, the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Code of Professional Standards and Ethics has been used informally but it is meant to only apply to the Society’s members.

“The new charter would, through its adoption, apply to all researchers employed by or contracted to research organisations,” Dr Hay said.

“Others, such as private research funders and researchers operating without public funding and outside participating research organisations, can be encouraged to adopt it also.”

The organisations that have agreed to co-sponsor the charter’s development are Universities New Zealand, Science New Zealand, Independent Research Association New Zealand, Health Research Council of New Zealand, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Royal Society of New Zealand. The society will serve as the secretariat for the working group.

The working group has been asked to consult widely across the research community.

More information on the National Research Charter development is available HERE.

Advertisements

EPA releases science behind hazardous substances

The Environmental Protection Authority has publicly released, for feedback, the approach used to assess hazardous substances which pose risks to people and New Zealand’s environment.

Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter, General Manager of the EPA’s Hazardous Substances Group, says there’s always a lot of interest in the authority’s decisions on what hazardous substances we approve and why.

“The approach and the scientific models outlined in the guide help us decide how to manage risks, by either imposing controls on how the substance is used, like its maximum strength, who it is available to, and how it is labelled, or declining the application,” says Dr Thomson-Carter.

“These are important decisions and we’re encouraging interested parties to read our guide and give us feedback on how useful and user-friendly the material is.”

This is the first time the authority has released its decision-making approach, which assesses the evidence and data for hundreds of imported or manufactured hazardous substances in New Zealand.

New Zealanders come into contact with hazardous substance daily, including a range of substances from fly sprays through to weed killers, Dr Thomson-Carter said.

“We always look at the benefits and risks and costs, and consider the effects a substance poses to human health, the environment, and the economy,” she said.

“The EPA will only grant and approval for a hazardous substance to be imported or manufactured in New Zealand if it is considered that the risks can be adequately managed, and that the benefits outweigh any residual risk.”

As the authority continues to refocus on becoming a more proactive and transparent regulator, it wants to enable interested parties and the public to understand the science behind its decision-making, Dr Thomson-Carter said.

Read the risk assessment guide HERE.

Source: Environmental Protection Authority

AgResearch man becomes vice-president as three Royal Society Council posts are filled

AgResearch’s Dr Tony Conner FRSNZ CRSNZ has been elected vice President (Biological and Life Sciences) of Royal Society Te Apārangi, one of three positions on the society’s governing body announced this week.

Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles MRSNZ was re-elected a general councillor and Associate Professor Melinda Webber MRSNZ was elected a general councillor.

It’s worth knowing who’s who among the bigwigs of The Royal Society Te Apārangi (its legal name remains the Royal Society of New Zealand), because it provides funding and policy advice to the Government in the fields of sciences and the humanities and serves as a distribution agency for government funding, particularly in science research and science education

Constituted under the Royal Society of New Zealand Act 1997 (amended in 2012), the Society exists to:

  1. Foster in the New Zealand community a culture that supports science and technology, including the promotion of public awareness, knowledge, and understanding of science and technology and the advancement of science and technology education,
  2. Encourage, promote, and recognise excellence in science and technology,
  3. Provide an infrastructure and other support for the professional needs and development of scientists and technologists,
  4. Provide expert advice on important public issues to the Government and the community,
  5. Do anything else the council considers conducive to the advancement and promotion of science and technology in New Zealand.

It is a federation of 49 scientific and technological organisations and several affiliate organisations (including the NZIAHS) and has some individual members.

The new members of its governing council are –

Dr Tony Conner FRSNZ CRSNZ, AgResearch, elected unapposed for a three year term as Vice President (Biological and Life Sciences). Dr Conner has held executive roles in several national and international scientific societies, editorial roles in six international journals, and several governance roles that currently include being a director of Grasslands Innovation Ltd, member of the Forage Strategy Governance Group, and member of the Better Border Biosecurity Collaboration Council.

Associate Professor Siouxsie WilesBioluminescent Superbugs Lab, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, at the University of Auckland, has been re-elected as a general Councillor for a three year term. Associate Professor Wiles is a microbiologist and science communicator, her significant contributions to science and the nation were recently recognised by her selection as a finalist for the New Zealander of the Year award in 2018.

Associate Professor Melinda Webber, Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland, has been elected as a general Councillor for a two year term. Associate Professor Webber is a Rutherford Discovery Fellow and a member of the Royal Society Te Apārangi Gender Diversity Steering Group. She presently works with a wide range of international Indigenous communities as an education and tribal researcher.

Source:  Royal Society Te Apārangi

Let’s not forget science is one of the pillars of Labour’s primary industries approach

NZIAHS president Jill Stanley – going out to bat for agricultural and horticultural scientists on Radio Live at the weekend – reminded her interviewers and audience of something Labour’s Andrew Little told Federated Farmers almost a year ago.

Mr Little was Labour’s leader at the time and immediately after the introductory courtesies he told the feds:

The future of New Zealand’s primary industries can be summed up in two words — science and sustainability.

These are the twin pillars of Labour’s approach.

Last month Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announced 15 appointments to the Primary Sector Council, which has been charged with helping the primary sector to capture more value from its work.

The council will provide independent strategic advice to the Government on issues confronting the primary industries.

But where are the scientists?

Dr Stanley raised that question in a press statement (HERE).

She was asked to discuss her concerns with Radio Live’s Rural Exchange team (the interview can be heard HERE) at the weekend.

Continue reading

EPA closes the shutters after its CEO is cleared by select committee majority

Environmental Protection Authority board chair Kerry Prendergast has announced – in effect – that her agency’s chief executive, Dr Allan Freeth, has been cleared of misleading Parliament’s Environment Select Committee during a session on 15 February.

She then said the EPA will be making no further statements or accepting any requests for interviews on issues raised during a briefing of the select committee.

But the report on the briefing (HERE) suggests there’s more to be explained or clarified.

First, Government members of the committee used their majority numbers to vote down an opposition request to have the Ministry for the Environment’s chief executive, Vicky Robertson, answer questions about her involvement in the departure of EPA chief scientist Dr Jacqueline Rowarth from the authority.

Second, a minority of the committee’s membership believe the independence of the EPA “has been compromised with the early departure of a highly competent and respected Chief Scientist”.

The minority contends the timing of this departure can be directly connected to concerns raised by new ministers soon after their appointment.

Kerry Prendergast has brushed over the schism within the select committee and the questions raised by the dissidents.

According to her press statement (HERE), the select committee concluded in its report, released on 4 May 2018:

“We are satisfied Dr Freeth did not mislead us at the EPA’s 2016/17 annual review hearing. The majority of us do not have any concerns to raise after reviewing the written evidence and our hearing with Dr Freeth.”

Ms Prendergast’s statement excluded the next significant chunk of the conclusion:

Continue reading

EPA chief releases statement to Parliament’s Environment Select Committee

Dr Allan Freeth, Chief Executive of the Environmental Protection Authority, today released a statement he made to Parliament’s Environment Select Committee on his dealings with Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage.

The statement deals with his authority’s independence and with the recent resignation of its Chief Scientist, Dr Jacqueline Rowarth.

The statement says:

I wrote to the Committee last week, in relation to an email I received from the Honourable Nick Smith, raising concerns about apparent inconsistencies in the evidence I provided to the Select Committee at the annual review hearing on 15 February 2018.

I note that the concerns were raised in the context of questions about whether there had been any discussions with the Associate Minister for the Environment, Hon Eugenie Sage, about the Environmental Protection Authority’s then Chief Scientist, Dr Jacqueline Rowarth.

Thank you for accepting my offer to appear again, although, contrary to media reports, I am not here to correct any previous statements.

Consistent with my communication to the Committee last week, I wish to confirm to the Committee that I did not provide any inaccurate or incorrect information in my previous evidence.

As I stated, at no time, in the period covered by, and up to the Select Committee hearing, did I have any discussions with Minister Sage about Dr Rowarth or the role and independence of the EPA.

I note that, since I communicated my offer last week to return to the Committee, Minister Sage has made a personal statement to the House correcting her answers to oral questions, which touched on whether I had been present at a meeting, which I understand took place on 29 November 2017, when she told officials that her office had received correspondence about media comments by Dr Rowarth.

The Minister said in her correcting statement that (and I quote): “The EPA’s Chief Executive was not at the meeting on 29 November. The meeting was a briefing from the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) about the EPA, and I advised MfE’s Chief Executive that my office had received correspondence.”

I also wish to confirm that at no time in the period covered by, and up to the Committee hearing, had Minister Sage raised any issue with me about the scientific independence of the EPA.

The Minister’s office did send me an article that had been emailed to her by a member of the public. I acknowledged that I had seen it and offered to have a follow-up meeting with the Minister if requested. My offer of a follow-up meeting with the Minister was not acknowledged and no meeting occurred.

I regard it as entirely legitimate for the Minister’s office to send media reports to me, in the context of the responsible Minister’s oversight of the Authority. My experience up to now, has been consistent with this practice.

The Chief Executive of the Ministry for the Environment also emailed me about the article. These communications are now a matter of public record. However, I note that the questions raised with me about the EPA’s scientific independence were expressly in the context of Ministerial interference.

In conclusion, Dr Freeth said he trusts this clarifies the situation.

He assured the committee the EPA takes the issue of its independence extremely seriously. He saw no basis for concerns in regard to this status; nor did he expect concerns to be raised in the future.

Source: Environmental Protection Authority

More transparency advocated by “critic and conscience” of land and water science challenge

Baisden

Professor Troy Baisden … open up, please.

Questions have been raised about the  achievements of the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge, launched in January 2016 by Steven Joyce, then Minister of Science and Innovation, with the worthy aim of enhancing New Zealand’s primary sector economic contributions while improving the environment.

Transparency is one of the concerns raised by Waikato University’s Troy Baisden.

This concern was heightened at a symposium last week when the governance board’s chair, Dr Paul Reynolds said:

“Sadly … we are not going to tell you much about the excellent science we have done.”

The curious explanation – apparently – is that the symposium needed to focus on the Challenge’s future.

When the challenge was launched, Dr Reynolds said (HERE) the primary sectors underpin the country’s economy and it had never been more urgent to provide research solutions that enhanced productivity while maintaining and improving the environmental values on which farming, as well as society, depended.

He said researchers had worked extensively with farmers, growers and foresters, environmental managers and Māori to co-develop a programme to meet the challenge’s objective.

Continue reading