Posts Tagged ‘Dr Jacqueline Rowarth’

Scientists are cautioned against including personal attacks in debates

Scientists have been advised to conduct their debates according to the science , not the personalities, in a letter sent by the Association of Scientists.

The letter to members reminded them of the Royal Society’s Code of Professional Standards and Ethics that say members must try to obtain and present facts and interpretations in an objective and open manner.

Your editor could  find no mention of the letter on the association’s website this morning (although the search was a quick one).

According to a Radio New Zealand report (HERE) the reminder of the rules followed Jacqueline Rowarth from the Environmental Protection Agency and soil scientist Doug Edmeades taking part in a radio discussion about whether prominent freshwater ecologist Mike Joy should be labelled an extremist.

RNZ said Dr Rowarth and Dr Edmeades appeared on Jamie Mackay’s radio show The Country last month as part of a panel discussion entitled: ‘Is Dr Mike Joy an extremist or does he have a point?

It also mentioned Dr Edmeades’ opinion piece titled ‘Is Mike Joy a biased scientist?

According to RNZ, the president of the Association of Scientists, Craig Stevens said there had been a lot of concern from members about scientists being attacked and not the science.

“In this particular area we’re talking about freshwater and land use.

“It’s an issue that’s incredibly important for New Zealand from a number of perspectives.

“We were concerned that some of this was proceeding in the media in a way that was not helpful for getting the facts across.”

The RNZ report includes comments on the association’s letter from Dr Joy and Dr Edmeades.

Jacqueline Rowarth declined to comment.

 

Greens raise questions in Parliament about Waikato River quality remarks

The quality of the Waikato River’s fresh water and remarks about the river by Jacqueline Rowarth this week became the subject of questions in Parliament. 

Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty kicked things off with a question to Environment Minister Nick Smtih: did he agree with the comment from Dr Rowarth, the Environmental Protection Authority’s Chief Scientist, that the Waikato River was one of the five cleanest rivers in the world?

In reply, Dr Smith said Dr Rowarth’s comments were made before she took up her position with the EPA, when she was a professor at Waikato University.

More important to the environmental debate that has been triggered by her comments, she had advised him that her comments were taken out of context.

He explained:

Water quality in the Waikato is superb and amongst the very best in the world in the upper reaches, like around Huka Falls, but deteriorates in the lower reaches due to nutrients, pathogens, and sedimentation, particularly below the confluence of the Waipā River.

The data shows that in the lower reaches these problems have been increasing in recent decades, and steps are required to reverse those trends. That is why this Government has invested over $300 million in its clean-up.

I do note the EPA does not have a role in the regulation of water quality, and its principal function is the regulation of hazardous substances and new organisms.

Delahunty followed up, asking if Dr Smith considered the comments of the EPA’s new chief scientist showed a robust understanding of science and of a waterway that has more than $8 million of Government funding dedicated to cleaning it up because it is so seriously polluted?

In reply, Smith said the Government is spending a lot more than $8 million; it is spending over $300 million (“such is the importance of Lake Taupō and the Waikato River to this Government”).

“In respect of this particular individual, I think the member should be cautious of taking her comments out of context, because, actually, in the upper reaches, the water quality is very good at Huka Falls, and it would be wrong for the Green Party to run that down.”

Delahunty then drew attention to the New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society, comprising 400 freshwater scientists and professionals. In light of the way it disputed Dr Rowarth’s full claims, “should we have faith that the EPA is able to make good decisions about hazardous chemicals and water and protect our environment?”

Dr Smith said Dr Rowarth, a new appointment to the EPA, is a well-qualified scientist. The decision as to her appointment had been made independently by the EPA, “and I think this House should be cautious of being openly critical of neutral public servants, which is the new role she has, after completing her term as a professor at Waikato University”.

Remarks about Waikato River spark petition – and revitalise concerns about silent scientists

The need for more scientists to be heard in public, not fewer, has been spotlighted by the row over Jacqueline Rowarth’s remarks about the Waikato River being one of the world’s five cleanest reveals, says Shaun Hendy.

Dr Rowarth has just taken up her post as chief scientist at the Environmental Protection Authority.

At a Primary Land Users Group meeting on October 3, she said the Waikato River was one of the five cleanest in the world, based on the OECD data she was using.

The New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society said the claims were false and were based on outdated data and factual errors. Her analysis was based on OECD river nitrate data from 2002-2004, the society said, whereas the most up-to-date (for 2011) showed the Waikato had dropping from its 5 per cent ranking in 2002-2004 to a 24 per cent ranking.

A Dunedin environmental contractor and Green Party supporter, Matt Thomson, has followed up by launching a petition demanding Dr Rowarth be removed from her position. His reason, reportedly, was mainly to “rark things up” and he was not sure what he would do if the petition gained traction.

But Dr Rowarth had been appointed to a  new job at the EPA although “she was already sympathetic to the farming industry”.

Shaun Hendy, director of the Te Pūnaha Matatini, a Centre of Research Excellence, and a Professor of Physics at the University of Auckland, has set out his thoughts in an article for Spinoff.

When more than 5,000 people became sick thanks to the contamination of Havelock North’s water supply in August, science experts “made themselves rather scarce”, he writes..

When Hawke’s Bay Regional Council chair, Fenton Wilson, was asked by Radio New Zealand about his Council’s reports concerning the woefully unhealthy state of the nearby Tukituki river, he said “I don’t have any of that information to hand.” When it was put to him that recent flooding may have driven contaminated water into one of the town’s aquifers, Wilson speculated that “speculation is not helpful at this time”.

Did we really not have any scientists who could speak knowledgably on whether contaminated surface water could have gotten into Havelock North’s groundwater?

Remarkably, science confirms that remnant populations of such scientists do still reside in New Zealand. They work for the government, and as I wrote in Silencing Science earlier this year, they are the sorts of experts we almost never hear from.

Dr Rowarth, previously a professor of agribusiness at the University of Waikato, has been employed by the  EPA to use her “expertise to explain our science, so people can have trust and confidence in the decisions we make”, according to EPA chief executive Dr Allan Freeth.

Professor Hendy comments:

This may have sounded like a good plan at the time, but Rowarth’s stance on water quality has had other experts increasingly alarmed.

New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society president Marc Schallenberg said that Rowarth’s “comments concerning the condition of the Waikato River are not only false, but distract from the important work being done to improve water quality in New Zealand”.

Bryce Cooper, a water quality expert at NIWA, said, “Water quality in its [the Waikato River’s] lower reaches ranks in the bottom half of 500 sites nationally for key indicators such as nitrogen, phosphorus, E.coli (a measure of faecal contamination) and water clarity.”

If you are predisposed to think that the science of tides was fabricated 400 years ago in preparation for Project Fear, then you may also be tempted to dismiss these water quality experts as having a vested interest in spreading alarm in order to keep themselves employed.

But if you actually want to be better informed about our rivers, you do need to hear from scientists like Cooper and Schallenberg – and, yes, Rowarth too. Because this is how science works. Scientists make claims, present their evidence, and wait for the judgement of their peers.

Better that we know how Rowarth views the evidence than not. Now those views are in the open, they can be scrutinised and critiqued.

Professor Hendy noted that when Dr Rowarth was asked to comment on her views by Radio New Zealand, the EPA replied, saying, “it would be inappropriate for her to comment on statements she made while employed in a previous role.”

In Silencing Science he complained that  the last thing a government scientist is allowed to do is speak about matters actually affecting the public.

But (as he muses) who needs an expert when helpful prime ministers can always find you another with a different point of view?