The Listener letter: 70 fellows express concerns at Royal Society’s handling of complaints

Seventy academics have sent a motion of no-confidence to the Royal Society of New Zealand over its handling of the letter signed by seven University of Auckland professors and published in the Listener last July.

In the letter – headed “In defence of science” – the professors said they regarded indigenous knowledge as valuable, both “for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices” and in “key roles in management and policy”.  But they contended that mātauranga Māori is “not science” and therefore should not be included in the NCEA science syllabus.   

Three of the professors, Robert Nola, Garth Cooper and Michael Corballis (who has since died), were Fellows of the Royal Society of New Zealand.  After complaints were laid about the letter, disciplinary action was instigated against them but last month the Initial Investigation Panel concluded that the complaints should not proceed to a Complaints Determination Committee. 

Professors Nola and Cooper have subsequently resigned both as members and fellows of the society, and the letter published here has been sent to the society’s chief executive…   

To Paul Atkins (CEO RSNZ)

The Fellows, listed below as co-signatories, wish to express their deep concern about what has been happening within the Royal Society of New Zealand over the last year, by moving and seconding the motions below for discussion at the at the 56th hui ā-tau o Ngā Ahurei Annual Fellowship on 28th April. Continue reading

Richard Dawkins is among eminent scientists who have written to NZ’s Royal Society in defence of two professors

British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is among the eminent scientists who have been writing to the Royal Society of New Zealand in defence of two society members whose expression of opinion about what is science and what is not may result in their expulsion.

Professor Dawkins, supporting colleagues who contend that myths do not belong in science classes, has posted on Twitter the letter he emailed to the chief executive of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

The society will have received another letter from Jerry Coyne, Professor Emeritus in  the Department of Ecology and Evolution at The University of Chicago.

Professor Coyne expressed his concerns about goings-on within the New Zealand science establishment in an article headed “Ways of knowing”: New Zealand pushes to have “indigenous knowledge” (mythology) taught on parity with modern science in science class.

The same issue was critically aired in The Spectator in a column by associate editor Toby Young headed “Why punish a scientist for defending science?” Continue reading

Nick Pyke takes over as chair of the AGMARDT board of trustees

Nick Pyke has taken over as Chair of the Agricultural and Marketing Research and Development Trust, better known as AGMARDT.

For more than 32 years, AGMARDT has been investing in initiatives to encourage innovative thinking, research capability and collaboration and to develop emerging leaders in New Zealand’s primary sector.

Mr Pyke, who has been a member of the board of trustees for two years, has succeeded Richard Green, who will step down from the board this year after six years as a trustee, the last two as Chair.

Nick Pyke is a founder and director of Ag Innovate Ltd and Leftfield Innovation Ltd and has extensive governance experience with agricultural businesses, farms and industry good organisations.

His previous roles have included CEO of the Foundation of Arable Research (FAR) for over 20 years, from its inception. Continue reading

Royal Society announces new Chief Executive

The Royal Society Te Apārangi has announced the appointment of Paul Atkins as Chief Executive.

Paul has been Chief Executive of Zealandia for the past six years, leading the organisation through a period of transformational change, building its reputation, reach and impact, from local to global.

Royal Society President Dr Brent Clothier said Paul has extensive experience in senior leadership roles operating across the science, technology, education and research sector and is deeply committed to supporting research to make a meaningful difference to New Zealand.

At Zealandia, he launched the Zealandia Centre for People and Nature, which has dramatically increased the number of researchers working on Zealandia-centred projects and is producing leading-edge results.

Before working at Zealandia, Paul was Chief Executive of the National Energy Research Institute and he has held General Manager roles with the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology and with Creative New Zealand, the Arts Council of New Zealand. Continue reading

Royal Society Te Aparangi elects Dr Brent Clothier as its next president

Dr Brent Clothier, FRSNZ, from Plant & Food Research, has been elected to succeed Professor Wendy Larner, FRSNZ, as President of the Royal Society Te Aparangi. He will serve as President-elect through to July 2021 when his three-year term commences.

Dr Clothier is the first Crown Research Institute (CRI) scientist to lead the 153-year old society, previously known as the Royal Society of New Zealand, since CRIs were formed in 1992. Two presidents had come from government research organisations which preceded the CRIs before 1992.

Science New Zealand chair John Morgan, chief executive of NIWA, says the CRIs are delighted that Dr Clothier has been invited to take on this role. Continue reading

Two members appointed to Callaghan Innovation Board

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods has announced the appointment of Ms Elena Trout and Mr Matanuku Mahuika to the board of New Zealand’s innovation agency, Callaghan Innovation.

Callaghan Innovation’s role is to support businesses to commercialise their investments in science, engineering, technology and design, and in undertaking valuable research and development.

The Minister said Ms Trout and Mr Mahuika were both experienced directors who would provide expert knowledge and advice to Callaghan Innovation.

“In particular, their expertise will be valuable as the R&D Tax Incentive is implemented and the upgrade of the Gracefield Innovation Quarter gets underway”, says Megan Woods. Continue reading

Two members appointed to Callaghan Innovation Board

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Hon Dr Megan Woods has announced the appointment of Ms Angela Bull and the reappointment of Ms Frances Valintine to the board of New Zealand’s innovation agency, Callaghan Innovation.

Callaghan Innovation’s role is to support businesses in commercialising their science, engineering, technology and design, and in undertaking valuable research and development.

Both Ms Valintine and Ms Bull bring a wealth of broad experience and knowledge to the board, and will provide expert advice and governance to Callaghan Innovation to support the growth of more innovative businesses, particularly as we introduce the new R&D Tax Incentive in April, Ms Wood said.
Continue reading

Royal Society members’ opinions are being sought in consultations on revised Code

Members of the Royal Society of New Zealand are being updated on the re-development of the Society’s Code of Professional Standards and Ethics.

Feedback from a variety of people and organisations earlier this year has been considered and chief executive Andrew Cleland says:

“The support and engagement of our members and the wider research community is important to the Royal Society Te Apārangi and we have given each of the submissions careful consideration as part of the revision process.”

Some submitters proposed a shorter Code and guidance material.

The working group looked at this alternative approach but concluded the detail has to be set out somewhere and it is better to be explicit to members of the obligations on them.

Dr Cleland hints that Treaty of Waitangi, partnership and cultural considerations have required greater detail in the Code. His letter says:

“Many of the really important expectations in the eyes of Māori working group members were not visible at the general standard level; the specific standards are important to them. A single document has many advantages in avoiding confusion.”

Dr Cleland notes that, at 11 pages and sufficiently complete to need no guidance material, the Code contrasts with the length of the recently released 140 pages of documentation from NEAC on health and disability research ethics.

The recently released Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research is not much shorter than the Royal Society’s, he says, and the guidance material for it is still to be developed.

Members have been sent a copy of the old Code.

They are advised:

“There is no exact measure of their similarity, but certainly the bulk of the new code is the old code re-packaged.

“Many of the changes on which we consulted were introduced because the Society has chosen to advance its partnership with the Māori research community.

“There is now coverage of Māori research and working with Māori communities.

“After receiving submissions, the working group have made a number of changes to both newly introduced and previous sections.”

Members also have been sent the second consultation draft.

The society is seeking further submissions, hoping to receive them by September 21 and to finalise the Code for the Society Council’s November meeting.

Members are reminded they should be aware, when making submissions, that the Code is principles-based and the the Society remains committed to a broad view of ethics – a social contract between its members and the people they serve.

This includes societal and environmental ethics as well as the narrower research integrity (professional ethics).

The Society says it remains fully committed to the inclusion of the public interest, from which its reputation with the public follows.

The Society also has to cover members operating outside New Zealand and who are not employed by New Zealand research organisations so whilst the Code makes it clear that New Zealand law must be followed the Society has little choice but to set explicit standards to achieve coverage of all members.

Membership of the society is broad – for example, some members are not researchers and the Code needs to cover their professional activities.

Environmental Protection Authority chair and deputy announced

The new Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) board chairperson and deputy were announced by Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage today.

The new chairperson is Julie Hardaker; her deputy is Steven Tīpene Wilson.

The EPA board is responsible for the authority’s governance.

The EPA makes decisions for and regulates hazardous substances and new organisms as well as specified marine activities in New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone. It also provides administrative support for the decision-making on major infrastructure and called in projects under the Resource Management Act and operates the New Zealand Emissions Trading Register under the Emissions Trading Scheme.

The Minister said former Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker brings a depth and breadth of experience to the role including knowledge of central and local government processes and public and employment law.

Steven Tīpene Wilson is deputy and former chair of Ngā Kaihautū Tikanga Taiao, the EPA’s Māori Statutory Advisory Committee.

He has won a NZ Planning Institute Best Practice award in strategic planning and guidance, and has knowledge of central government and regional council processes.

Outgoing chair Kerry Prendergast has served the EPA Board since its inception in 2011 and was joined by deputy chair Kevin Thompson in 2012.

Other appointments are Dr Gerda Kuschel and Professor Jeroen Douwes, who replace Kura Denness and Geoff Thompson.

Dayle Hunuia, Tim Lusk, Gillian Wratt and Nicki Crauford will continue as EPA board members.

EPA disappointed by New Zealand Initiative report

The Environmental Protection Authority’s Chief Executive, Dr Allan Freeth, has drawn attention to “criticism” of his agency in a report that seems to have been scarcely noticed by news media when it was published on April 13.

Dr Freeth issued a press statement (HERE) four weeks later to express his disappointment

” …  at the criticism of the organisation’s performance in a report published by the New Zealand Initiative, an independent public policy think-tank.”

His authority welcomed feedback on its performance and accepted criticism when it was justified, he said.

“But when the EPA is described as a poor performer, without any sound evidence to back up the assertion, that is a different matter.

“The New Zealand Initiative stated that the EPA, along with two other agencies, were very poor performers on the basis of just one survey response in each case.

“Such criticism is completely unfounded. I am disappointed that the statements were made based on one opinion.”

One useful consequence of Dr Freeth’s statement and letter of complaint was to nudge our editor to find out what’s been going on.

Dr Freeth’s concern is with mentions of his authority in a report entitled “Who Guards the Guards? Regulatory Governance in New Zealand.”

This report says many of New Zealand’s most important regulatory agencies are performing poorly:  the Commerce Commission and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand showed poor results in the Initiative’s study but the Financial Markets Authority ranked high for its regulatory behaviour.

The study was conducted by the Initiative’s chair, Roger Partridge, and research assistant, Amy Thomasson.

It derives its findings

” … from an in-depth survey of New Zealand’s top 200 companies”.

Companies had been asked to both rate and rank the regulators they interact with, allowing a nuanced insight into the regulatory cultures across different agencies. In total, the survey tracked 23 key performance indicators for 24 regulatory agencies.

“Our study does not leave any doubt that regulators need internal checks and balances to perform well,” Mr Partridge said when the report was published.

“A clear separation between the executive and the board, which is the gold standard for corporate governance, should also become the norm for regulators.”

You can download the survey results HERE. 

The institute’s press release to announce the study’s publication can be found HERE. 

At the time of its publication, the study was the subject of an article written by Richard Baker, research director of the New Zealand Initiative, which was posted on line by (HERE). 

A two-page summary of the report is available HERE.

Your editor found no mention of the Environmental Protection Authority in the press release, the two-page summary or Mr Baker’s on-line article.

Mr Partridge advised AgScience the EPA was not a focus of the research.

He said he had explained to Dr Freeth:

  • He is right to point out that our survey obtained only very small sample sizes for some regulators. This is something made explicit in the report, by referring to this fact, and by listing in appendix 1 the number of ratings for each organisation. In the EPA’s case, this was only one rating.
  • For this reason the case studies focussed on just three of the regulators for whom a significant number of ratings had been obtained – the FMA, the Commerce Commission and the RBNZ, “for all of whom we are satisfied we had statistically significant datasets.”
  • We felt nevertheless that we had to do justice to the many businesses who committed time to complete our survey. For this reason the report contained details of the ratings for all the regulatory agencies for whom data were gained.
  • The small sample size issue is clearly identified both in the text of the report and the appendices.

But Dr Freeth says the New Zealand Initiative’s response failed to recognise it was inappropriate to criticise any organisation as having poor performance in this way.

The Environmental Protection Authority undertakes an annual survey of public trust and confidence in its work, conducted by Research New Zealand with sample sizes all above 300 respondents, he said.

And the authority consistently receives feedback which shows well over half of its customers and the New Zealand public have trust and confidence in its work.