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16/3/2000 Royal Society Alert 117

16/3/2000 Royal Society Alert 117

R O Y A L S O C I E T Y O F N E W Z E A L A N D

Royal Society Alert 117 16 March 2000

1. Introductory treaty workshop
2. Reports on DNA testing released
3. A think tank for the knowledge economy
4. New Zealand/German coordinator
5. Landcare field trials
6. Global biodiversity information facility
7. New awards for leaders in innovative technology
8. Coastal ecology position available
9. New Zealand geo/spatial science articles requested
10. Ceramics facility opened
11. People
12. Radio programmes
13. Across the desk
14. Future events
15. Contributions to "Royal Society Alert"
16. Subscribing and archiving


We apologise for the late transmission of this issue of the Royal Society Alert. The Editor and some other senior staff members of the Royal Society were occupied with a two-day Workshop on the Treaty of Waitangi on Wednesday and Thursday this week. A brief report on the workshop follows.

1. INTRODUCTORY TREATY WORKSHOP

Seven Royal Society of New Zealand staff members attended an Introductory Treaty of Waitangi Workshop on 15/16 March. The workshop was run by Robert Consedine of Waitangi Associates and hosted by the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology.

The programme considered ancestry and culture; cultural differences; the history of pre-Treaty times and events; the Treaty and issues surrounding signing of the Treaty; post-Treaty legislation; personal, cultural and institutional racism; bicultural/multicultural partnership issues; social statistics; significance of the fiscal envelope and sovereignty debate; and implications of the Treaty beyond 2000.

The staff that attended found the workshop structure and programme very interesting and thought-provoking and consider that it was an excellent basis for increasing understanding on Maori issues. The question for them now is to consider how this knowledge and understanding can be applied positively in the science and technology areas for which they are responsible.

2. REPORTS ON DNA TESTING RELEASED

Two reports out last week on DNA testing have found that accidental contamination of samples implicated an innocent man in two crimes, while outdated testing methods led to another getting off a crime he probably committed.

A Ministry of Justice report found that a now superseded method of DNA testing produced an inconclusive result which resulted in multiple sex offender Peter Robert Howse being excluded as a suspect in a 1996 rape case. A 1999 re-test using a newer technique found that Howse was three thousand million times more likely to have committed the rape than any other unrelated man selected at random from the New Zealand population.

The report said the 1996 tests yielded unclear results which scientists from Environmental Science and Research ESR) interpreted as excluding Howse.

"The ESR has since acknowledged that, with the benefit of hindsight, the results would have been better reported as inconclusive."

The report opposed introducing mandatory guidelines for scientists reporting DNA tests, saying it was important to preserve scientific discretion. However, it recommended more complete reporting of DNA test results so that any doubts or errors in interpretation of results would be identified early and would be available to police and both prosecution and defence lawyers. It also suggested more training for lawyers about DNA techniques.

Another report, by former Chief Justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum and Royal Society of New Zealand President Professor Sir John Scott FRSNZ, said accidental contamination was the most likely explanation for DNA tests which last year wrongly placed an innocent Christchurch man at the scene of two Wellington murders.

One of the murders was that of Wellington pensioner Bill Fleet in February 1998. The report said 28-year-old Wellingtonian Kuka Tiai was arrested for the murder and confessed, admitting he had acted alone, but subsequent tests by ESR appeared to find DNA matching the Christchurch man's under Mr Fleet's fingernails and on a wardrobe at the murder scene. The same DNA profile was also found at the scene of a January 1998 murder at Mongrel Mob headquarters in Porirua in which a gang member's throat was slit. Subsequent police investigations confirmed the man had not been in the North Island at the time the crimes were committed.

While the event was unfortunate, it should not cast doubt on the efficacy of DNA profiling as an investigative tool, the report said. The man concerned was never in danger of being charged, let alone convicted, of the crimes.

Justice Minister Hon Phil Goff released the two reports, saying ESR had responded to the two reports and had taken steps to make improvements in its procedures. ESR Chief Executive Dr John Hay said the research institute welcomed findings that there was no evidence of general contamination or other problems affecting the overall reliability of DNA samples.

The Eichelbaum/Scott report was to have been made public last November but its release was delayed until after the change of government. Police Minister Hon George Hawkins has suggested widening police powers to take DNA samples of burglars.

3. A THINK TANK FOR THE KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY

A new council of seven people is being set up to provide top- level strategic advice to the Government on science and innovation, Minister of Research, Science and Technology Pete Hodgson announced this week.

Establishing the Science and Innovation Advisory Council (SIAC) was proposed in Labour's pre-election policy and identified by Prime Minister Helen Clark as an item for action in the Government's first 100 days.

The Council will report directly to Miss Clark, creating a stream of advice on research, technology and innovation at the highest level of Government.

"I know scientists and innovators are excited about this," Mr Hodgson said. "For years they were sidelined by a disinterested National Government. They watched unhappily as public and private sector support for research languished and many of New Zealand's finest minds drifted overseas. Their ideas for tackling these problems have gone untapped. This Government is inviting Cinderella to the ball."

Mr Hodgson said the Government was not simply looking for senior scientists to fill the council seats.

"I expect the SIAC members to come from diverse areas including the academic and science communities, business, the Maori community and the general public. The main qualifications are vision, energy and ideas for gearing up science and innovation in New Zealand. Science and innovation are vital in the shift to a high-skill, high-wage economy, so we're looking for wisdom and far-sightedness.

"The Council will consult with the community and advise the Prime Minister on issues such as building understanding of science, encouraging businesses to invest in research and development, and creating wealth from innovation. It will ensure Government policy is related directly to stuff that works in the community," Mr Hodgson said.

The Government is now seeking nominations for members of the Council, which should meet for the first time by June. Initial appointments will be for two years. The Council will have a modest budget covering remuneration, overheads and funds for commissioning specialist advice. The exact sum is being finalised in the Budget process.

The call for nominations will be advertised in major papers from Wednesday and nominations will close on 5 April. Nomination forms are available on the Internet at www.siac.govt.nz or from SIAC, PO Box 2401, Wellington.

4. NEW ZEALAND/GERMAN COORDINATOR

In last week's Royal Society Alert (No. 116, 9 March) we included an item that called for expressions of interest from suitably qualified people to serve as New Zealand/German Coordinator under the science and technology cooperation (STC) agreement operating between the two countries. In commenting on the opportunity we incorrectly stated that the present coordinator's term of appointment had expired. Please note that Dr Andrew Matthew's term runs through to 30 June 2000 and that he continues to be available to assist anyone seeking information on research funding opportunities under the STC agreement. Members will be informed when the appointment of a successor is announced.

Members are reminded that applications for the 2000/2001 New Zealand/FRG Programme close next Thursday, 23 March. Further details are available from the Royal Society's homepage: www.rsnz.govt.nz

5. LANDCARE FIELD TRIALS

A question was put to Hon Pete Hodgson, Minister of Research, Science & Technology, by Opposition MP, Hon Nick Smith, in Parliament on Tuesday.

Q. Will the Government be stopping any field trials by Landcare Research associated with the biotechnology programmes into the control of opossums (sic) and stoats?

A. The government is not responsible for what field trials will or will not proceed. ERMA is. A voluntary moratorium on the release of GMOs will be negotiated and it is entirely possible that such a negotiation will include some field trials. The negotiations are not concluded in this regard. I am aware of Landcare's initiatives and believe they are important.

6. GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY INFORMATION FACILITY

New Zealand is considering joining the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). This facility aims to give individual countries access to the scientific information they need to carry out their obligations under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. The purpose of establishing GBIF is to design, implement, co-ordinate, and promote the compilation, linking, standardisation, digitisation and global dissemination of the world's biodiversity data, within an appropriate framework for property rights and due attribution. GBIF will work in close co-operation with established programmes and organisations that link with this purpose.

The Ministry of Research, Science and Technology (MoRST) is hosting a workshop in early April to inform interested parties about recent developments concerning GBIF and to discuss New Zealand's future involvement in GBIF. Dr David Penman, who attended the GBIF Interim Steering Committee meeting in February, will update participants on the present situation. Invitations have been sent directly to organisations, but if the Ministry have missed your organisation, and you are interested in attending the workshop or seek more information, please contact Terry Neal at MoRST, at terry.neal@morst.govt.nz

7. NEW AWARDS FOR LEADERS IN INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGY

The search is on for the best innovative technology companies in New Zealand.

The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST) is calling for nominations for the inaugural Technology Commendations.

These business awards will recognise and celebrate the New Zealand companies that have grown their business and benefited the economy through the successful, commercial adoption of innovative technology.

FRST intends conferring five Technology Commendations each year to promote and acknowledge the link between innovative technology and commercial success.

The Technology Commendations were launched by the Minister for Research, Science and Technology, the Hon Pete Hodgson in Auckland on Tuesday. They follow the model established by Trade New Zealand's Export Awards. Nominations close on 19 May, with winners being presented with their awards in June.

Dr Steve Thompson, Chief Executive of FRST said: "The Commendations will `champion our champions', recognising both those who have led the way and the more recent innovators.

"Our challenge is to ensure that businesses that have yet to embrace innovative technology, which would improve their performance, have access to the knowledge and resources to make the leap. If we are successful, business will benefit and we will achieve better economic and social outcomes."

Companies themselves can make an application, or can be nominated by other businesses or individuals, providing the nominated company's chief executive signs the nomination form.

"The nomination and evaluation procedure is straightforward. We want nominations from innovative companies in all fields, not just from companies where the Foundation has provided financial or other assistance," Dr Thompson said.

For further information, please email: patricia@frst.govt.nz

8. COASTAL ECOLOGY POSITION AVAILABLE

The Cawthron Institute (Nelson) is seeking a suitable applicant for a coastal scientist within its coastal and estuarine group.

A scientist (minimum qualification MSc) with at least 5 years' relevant experience in coastal ecology is needed to manage environmental projects valued at $1,000 - $200,000.

The position requires the following key skills: * Strong writing, communication, computer and public relation skills; * Experienced in designing and undertaking environmental impact assessments, analysing data, statistical analysis, writing reports and proposals, supervising staff, meeting contract requirements, solving problems and ensuring client satisfaction; *Specialist experience in the assessment of broad-scale aquatic ecosystem impacts, in particular those associated with aquaculture developments, land development and waste-water discharges; A specialist field of interest that attracts external funding; Good sense of humour; and A desire and commitment to sustainable management of the marine environment.

In addition, skills in the following areas would be advantageous: * A sound knowledge of New Zealand coastal issues and policies; * Experience in advocacy and with the New Zealand legislative and administrative processes (especially RMA consent process, applications, hearings and expert witness role); * Skills in the identification of NZ marine flora and fauna; * Boat handling/skippering; and * SCUBA experience and qualifications.

Closing date for applications is 8 April 2000.

If you think you meet all or most of these requirements, then please send your CV to Dr Barry Robertson, Cawthron Institute, Private Bag 2, Nelson or ring 03 5482319 or email: barry@cawthron.org.nz

9. NEW ZEALAND GEO/SPATIAL SCIENCE ARTICLES REQUESTED

Science journalist Louise Thomas has recently joined Australia's South Pacific Science Press (SPSP) as a New Zealand-based stringer and is seeking New Zealand geo/spatial science article ideas for their suite of magazines.

SPSP publishes a number of titles including "GIS User", "Measure and Map" (M&M) and "Spatial Business". The magazines concentrate on both the science and technology necessary to create information, and the social consequences of its use. A recent example of a story is the joint surveying off Northland by New Zealand's GNS and France's Geosciences Azur Institute, and the mineral potential of the newly mapped sedimentary basins found there. Topics can be as diverse as monitoring mangroves with hyperspectural remote sensing, the use of GIS in business, through to detecting landmines using thermal sensors.

If you have a suitable story idea, please email Louise on wordwise@wn.pl.net

10. CERAMICS FACILITY OPENED

A new ceramics research facility representing an investment of more than $1.5 million was officially opened at Industrial Research Ltd's (IRL) Lower Hutt site last week.

The facility which includes research laboratories and office accommodation, is home to IRL's team of scientists and technologists specialising in advanced ceramics. The diverse applications for ceramics include hip implants, electronic ceramics for telecommunications industries, tap washers, cutting tools, ball bearings, and wear-resistant machine components.

11. PEOPLE

*Dr Peter Jolly - New editor for NZ Veterinary Journal

Dr Peter Jolly has been appointed as the Editor of the New Zealand Veterinary Journal, after the tragic death of Dr Andrew Keber late last year.

Dr Jolly graduated with a BVSc degree from Massey University in 1983. After graduation, he worked in clinical veterinary practice in the central Waikato, before returning to Massey University in 1986 as a Lecturer in Theriogenology. He subsequently undertook post-graduate studies in bovine reproductive physiology in the tropics of northern Australia, for which he was awarded a PhD in 1992. Peter returned to New Zealand in 1992 to work as a scientist with Dr Ken McNatty FRSNZ at the Wallaceville Animal Research Centre in Upper Hutt on aspects of ovarian follicular growth and atresia in ruminants. In 1996 he took up a position as a Senior Veterinarian with Manawatu Veterinary Services, based in Feilding, in which he was able to combine his interests in research, with clinical veterinary practice and dairy consultancy services. Dr Jolly takes up his new role as Editor of the New Zealand Veterinary Journal this month. He will be based at Massey University, as well as at an office at his home in the Pohangina Valley, 30 km from Palmerston North.

*Professor Jacqueline Rowarth - New Director of Research at UNITEC

Professor Jacqueline Rowarth, previously Associate Professor in the Soil, Plant and Ecological Sciences Division at Lincoln University has recently been appointed as Director of Research and Associate Dean of the Graduate School at UNITEC in Auckland. Jacqueline is currently President of the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural Science. She takes up her position in Auckland in a couple of months.

*Dr Neville Gregory to take up a position in Australia

Dr Neville Gregory has accepted a position at the South Australian Research & Development Institute, the Research Branch of the State Dept of Agriculture and will take up the position shortly. Dr Gregory held the position of first AGMARDT Professor in Animal Welfare Science at Massey University for 5 years, before moving to MIRINZ (now part of AgResearch Ruakura) about 2 years ago. Dr Gregory has served on the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee for 4 years.

*Professor Colleen Ward - new psychology professor

Victoria University has appointed Professor Colleen Ward as a Professor of Psychology and Head of the School of Psychology. She will be the School of Psychology's first woman professor. Professor Ward is currently Associate Professor of Psychology at the National University of Singapore where she has been since 1992. She has previously worked as a Senior Lecturer at the University of Canterbury, at the Science University of Malaysia in Penang and as a post-doctoral Fellow at the University of the West Indies in Trinadad. Originally from New Orleans in the United States, Professor Ward has a PhD in psychology from the University of Durham in the United Kingdom.

12. RADIO PROGRAMMES

*Eureka! this week:

-Climate change, part 2 of 2: the future (from the recent IPCC meeting in Auckland)

Eureka! National Radio Sunday 2pm; repeated Monday at 7pm.

Contact Eureka! science@ihug.co.nz

*Discovery programme

Scientific development and research (BBC)

This features on National Radio at 9.06 pm on Friday nights and 12.06 am on Wednesday mornings.

*One Planet: Listen to this on National Radio at 9.06 pm on Wednesday nights.

13. ACROSS THE DESK

The following publications have been received by the Royal Society this week.

Connect - UNESCO International Science, Technology & Environment Newsletter NZ Education Review - 3 & 10 Mar 2000 The Education Weekly - 13 Mar 2000 NZEIROUROU (NZ Education Institute) - 10 Mar 2000 NZ Education Gazette Tukutuku Korero - 6 Mar 2000

14. FUTURE EVENTS

Listed below are some conferences/events listed in the Royal Society conference database as taking place in New Zealand in the next few months. For a full list of conferences in New Zealand and overseas, access http://www.rsnz.govt.nz/forms/conferences.php

The Second International Workshop on the Ecology, Physiology and Cultivation of Edible Mycorrhizal Mushrooms will be held in Christchurch from 3 to 6 July 2001. This is the week before the 3rd International Conference on Mycorrhizas, Adelaide, Australia. Information on the workshop can be found on the web page at: http://www.crop.cri.nz/whats_on/mushroom_conf/Index.htm

SPACETIME 2000, The Year 2000 Conference of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand, Central Institute of Technology, Upper Hutt, 14 - 17 April 2000. Contact email: wilmshurstg@rbnz.govt.nz

Scientists' perceptions of the ethical implications of their genetics research. Royal Society Canterbury Branch Lecture by Dr Barbara Nicholas, HFA, Christchurch. Christchurch. Starts 8 pm, 3 May 2000. Contact email: georgehook@clear.net.nz

New Zealand Archaeological Association annual conference: "New approaches and future directions for New Zealand archaeology", Wellington, 5-8 May 2000. Contact email: archaeology@historic.org.nz

The manipulation of animals by plants. Royal Society Canterbury Branch Lecture by Dr Jay Mann, Christchurch, Starts 8 pm, 7 June 2000. Contact email: georgehook@clear.net.nz

International Science Festival Theme "Global Change", Dunedin, 1-16 July 2000, Contact email:: projects@scifest.org.nz

Natural Hazards Management Conference 2000: Interpreting and applying natural hazard information, Napier,16-17 August 2000. Contact email lisa@hbrc.govt.nz

15. CONTRIBUTIONS TO "ROYAL SOCIETY ALERT"

Appropriate contributions for inclusion in "Royal Society Alert" are welcome. Please email relevant items of interest to: alert.editor@rsnz.govt.nz

16. SUBSCRIBING AND ARCHIVES

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Royal Society Alert is published by the Royal Society of New Zealand, which is a statutory body incorporated under the Royal Society of New Zealand Act, 1997: see http://www.rsnz.govt.nz/about/rsnz-act97.html


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