The role of the Treaty in science and consultation with Maori: columnist sparks heated debate

The latest shots in a debate triggered by science writer Bob Brockie have been fired today by Dame Anne Salmond, Distinguished Professor of Māori Studies and Social Anthropology at the University of Auckland and Vice-President (Humanities and Social Sciences), Royal Society Te Apārangi,

One of Dr Brockie’s targets was the work of the Royal Society of New Zealand and the establishment of Te Whāinga Aronui o Te Apārangi.

This body is chaired by Dame Anne as Vice-President (Social Sciences and Humanities), who serves on the Royal Society Te Apārangi Council.

The forum provides advice to the society on matters of concern to the humanities and social sciences community and responds, on request, with advice on humanities and social sciences issues.

The Presidents (or their nominees) of the several constituent organisations contribute to the forum. These organisations are listed HERE.

They include the Australian and New Zealand Communications Association; Institute of Registered Music Teachers of New Zealand; Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia; Association of Social Anthropologists of Aotearoa/New Zealand; and Sociological Association of Aotearoa NZ. 

Dr Brockie contends some from “the art world” believe there are no such things as facts; rather, there are

… just different opinions about facts, ambiguity is OK, everybody’s opinions are of equal value, whether of a quantum physicist or a Stone Age nobody, and that other people’s beliefs and opinions must never be questioned (thereby committing the sin of “decontextualisation” aka political incorrectness).

Some humanities grandees badmouth the intellectual gains of the Enlightenment and would knock science off its perch.

Te Whāinga has called for the Royal Society “to place the Treaty of Waitangi centrally, and bring alongside that inequity and diversity issues in a holistic manner“. Dr Brockie argues the Treaty has no place in scientific endeavour.

His second target is the Otago University requirement that Ngāi Tahu must be consulted about “all areas of research” before scholars undertake their work. All proposals must be submitted to the Office of Māori Development.

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Royal Society Te Apārangi supports joint statement on climate change by Commonwealth academies of science

Royal Society Te Apārangi has joined science leaders from around the Commonwealth to call on their heads of government to use the best available evidence to guide action on climate change.

The call is part of a Consensus Statement on Climate Change, launched yesterday by several national academies and societies of science from around the Commonwealth, ahead of next month’s Commonwealth summit in Britain.

The statement, which is drawn from the consensus views of tens of thousands of scientists, marks the first time Commonwealth academies have come together to urge their governments to take further action to achieve net-zero greenhouse gases emissions during the second half of the 21st Century.

The president of Royal Society Te Apārangi, Professor Richard Bedford, said the greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments agreed to by 160 parties in the 2015 Paris Agreement are only the first step in a long journey.

“Even if all the country commitments from the Paris Agreement are met, the latest data shows that by the end of the century the global climate is likely to be 3°C above pre-industrial levels,” Professor Bedford said.

“This is substantially higher than the Paris target to limit warming to less than 2°C, and would have profound impacts affecting billions of people throughout the world.

“Here in the South Pacific, we are acutely aware of the risks of climate change and sea level rise to our Pacific Island neighbours and we urge all nations to take immediate action on climate change.”

Sustainability is one of the key themes to be discussed by Commonwealth leaders at the 2018 Commonwealth summit, with a particular focus on the resilience of developing and vulnerable countries to climate change.

“Recognising different capacities, challenges and priorities, the approaches of each nation will not be the same. But, they must be informed by the best available scientific evidence, monitoring and evaluation,” Professor Bedford said.

“In recent years we have produced three scientific reports on climate change in New Zealand, focussed on implications, opportunities for mitigation and the impacts on health, and Royal Society Te Apārangi stands ready to assist the New Zealand Government, and indeed broader Commonwealth efforts, by providing sound scientific advice on issues relating to climate change.”

Readers can view the Commonwealth Science Academies Consensus Statement on Climate Change [PDF 580.23 kb], including the list of signatories by country, and a video on the Consensus Statement and a video of Royal Society Te Apārangi support for the statement.

Follow and share with the hashtag #ClimateAction on social media.

You can also view recent reports and activities on climate change in New Zealand by Royal Society Te Apārangi.

Source: Royal Society Te Apārangi.



Broad range of research topics covered in Royal Society lecture series

The Royal Society Te Aparangi has announced a nationwide lecture series hosted by its branches to demonstrate the range of research being carried out throughout New Zealand.

The lectures are part of the society’s 150th anniversary activities.

Each talk will include a presentation and video celebrating the society’s past and looking to the future, led by Professor Richard Bedford, the society’s president.

Topics range from human heat stress due to rising temperatures and humidity in response to climate change to future food and developments in pest management for pipfruit crops.

Gene editing to improve the national dairy herd is another of the topics.

Professor Bedfored describes it as “a broad and intriguing collection of research we can be proud of.”

The events are free but a donation to support branch activities would be appreciated.

More details can be found HERE.

Professor Hendy raises questions for scientists about the disservice done by their silence

Professor’s Shaun Hendy’s just-published “Silencing Science” (Bridget Williams Books, $15) has been widely discussed in the science community in the past week. According to the Spinoff Review of Books, which describes it as “a slim book of essays on the social and moral responsibilities of scientists, it was the sixth-best seller at Wellington’s Unity Books.

Professor Hendy essentially says many scientists in New Zealand are being constrained from sharing their expertise and speaking about many topics of public importance.

Peter Griffin, at Sciblogs, says the book highlights some recent examples of where scientists have been missing in action when the public needed their knowledge and insights the most.

“I can personally relate to this. During the Fonterra botulism scare, the 2014 Yersinia outbreak and for periods in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes, we struggled at the Science Media Centre to find experts who were willing to offer commentary to the media about what was going on.”

People with the expertise and the media training to handle media queries were either instructed not to speak to the media or opted out so as not to upset their management or funders.

Emeritus Professor Richard Bedford, President of the Royal Society of New Zealand, is among those to have commented on the book.

Ensuring the public is informed by reliable evidence-based information, especially in times of crisis, is a serious issue and one that deserves our attention, he agrees.

And many of Professor Hendy’s observations about science communication are very relevant for members of the Royal Society of New Zealand, especially as it finalises some guidelines for researchers when engaging with the public.  Professor Hendy contributed to the consultation process associated with these guidelines.

But Professor Bedford challenges some of Professor’s observations about the Society’s independence:

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Royal Society report says NZ is vulnerable to climate change in six ways

A report released today by the Royal Society of New Zealand highlights how New Zealand will be impacted by climate change.

It finds that climate change, already under way, will almost certainly accelerate this century unless drastic action is taken to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases.

It identifies six areas where global climate change could have significant implications for New Zealand’s prosperity and well-being. These are risks to:

  • our coastal margins
  • flooding from rivers
  • availability of and competition for freshwater
  • changes to our surrounding oceans
  • threats to unique ecosystems
  • flow-on effects from climate change impacts and responses elsewhere, which will affect New Zealand through our strong international connectivity.

Increased pressure on water resources is almost certain in future. Decreasing annual average rainfall in eastern and northern regions of both main islands, plus higher temperatures, are projected to increase the frequency and intensity of droughts and the risk of wild fire. At the same time, urban expansion and increased demand for water from agriculture will result in increased competition for freshwater resources.

Changes expected to impact New Zealand include at least 30cm and possibly more than one metre of sea-level rise this century – the report finds it likely that the sea level rise around New Zealand will exceed the global average, which will cause coastal erosion and flooding, especially when combined with storm surges.

“Many New Zealanders live on the coast and two-thirds of us live in flood-prone areas so we are vulnerable to these projected changes,” says Professor James Renwick, Chair of the Expert Panel who wrote the report.

Even small changes in average conditions can be associated with large changes in the frequency of extreme events, he says.

“With a 30cm rise in sea level, the current ‘1 in 100 year’ extreme sea event would be expected to occur once every year or so in many coastal regions. Along the Otago coast for example, the difference between a 2-year and 100-year storm surge is about 32cm of sea level.”

Changes in rainfall patterns where the ‘wet gets wetter and the dry gets drier’, together with more frequent extreme events, will put pressure on our housing, infrastructure and industry, especially if changes are rapid, the report finds.

Freshwater resources will also likely be put under pressure, with decreasing annual average rainfall in eastern and northern regions of both islands, plus higher temperatures and increased demand from urban expansion and agriculture.

Fire danger is also predicted to increase in many parts of New Zealand.

Changes in the oceans, including water temperature, acidification and currents will have impacts on New Zealand’s marine life, including aquaculture. On land, existing environmental stresses to New Zealand’s unique species will likely be exacerbated, with increased ranges for animal pests and weeds predicted.

The report also considers New Zealand’s international connections and how trade relationships and migration patterns could change.

Royal Society of New Zealand President, Emeritus Professor Richard Bedford, says the report was sought to provide a clear summary of the scientific evidence and projections of climate change and to identify the key risks these changes pose to New Zealand.

“It is critical to communicate clearly New Zealand’s sensitivities to climate change and the need for responsive systems to address them. All New Zealanders will be affected and must be involved in the discussion. We hope this report can act as a basis for a wider national conversation.”

This report will be followed up soon by another expert panel report on how New Zealand can mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Copies of the report and supporting resources can be found at

Professor Jean Palutikof, director of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility at Griffith University, Queensland, was a special guest at the launch at the Royal Society premises in Thorndon, Wellington, this morning.

Professor Palutikof previously managed the production of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report for Working Group II (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability).

He will give a public talk in Wellington tonight.