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.

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.

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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