Science and Technology Alert: Issue 29


The Treasurer, Hon Winston Peters, presented this year’s Budget to Parliament yesterday afternoon. Under current economic circumstances and taking account of the immediate prospects for our economy, the Research, Science and Technology vote has not done too badly in 1998-99; the vote is to be increased by $10 million over the current year.

The Royal Society is very disappointed that basic research expenditure through the Marsden Fund is to be held at 1997-98 levels; it had been hoped that at least some of the earlier projected increase would have been allocated in the coming year. The uncoupling of the linkage between the Public Good Science Fund (PGSF) and the Marsden Fund is particularly regretted – the intention was to maintain a relationship of 10:1 between the two funds.

However, we are confident that the Minister for Research, Science and Technology, Hon Maurice Williamson, has done well to ensure that research funding received an overall increase in the face of many advocates for holdfast or cutback policies. The Society has been assured that being denied forecast increases for the coming year does not mean that we become permanently off target to achieve RS&T:2010 goals.

Details of the Budget highlights in science and technology are:

The largest increase is in the PGSF; it increases by $9.175 million from $308.160 to $317.335 m.

The PGSF now includes Output #18 Health Research (allocated by the HRC); this has had a $1.5m increase from Vote:RS&T, the balance of its funding came from a transfer from Vote:Health.

Non-specific Output Funding for CRIs increases by $970,000.

All other items in the Estimates appear to have the same level of funding in 1998-99 as in the current year. This includes the Marsden Fund, which has not benefited from an increase.

A statement from Hon Maurice Williamson commenting on the Budget has been released and may soon be sighted on:

The comments of members are invited.


We have decided to change the name of the weekly newsletter of The Royal Society of New Zealand to ‘SCIENCE ALERT’; the Society’s daily news service will become ‘SCIENCE NEWS’. The change makes a clear distinction between the two services and better describes their respective roles. The weekly provides a means of alerting our membership to events and issues of current interest; the daily is a vehicle for listing relevant news items as the stories unfold. In choosing the titles we have avoided acronyms and opted for simplicity. The change leaves the title ‘Science Digest’ available for when we have the resources to reinstate an earlier publication which reported on scientific and technological research achievements.


No organisation can operate for long without a healthy membership base and the Royal Society is no exception. Those familiar with the organisation will be aware of the previous structure that had two main classes of membership, individuals who had been elected Fellows of the Society (FRSNZ) and Member Bodies (professional societies and Branches).

A new form of individual membership, called ‘Ordinary Membership’, has been authorised by the recent legislation reconstituting the Society. This membership is available to anyone who is prepared to support the statutory object of the Society – the advancement and promotion of science and technology in New Zealand – and who pays the appropriate subscription.

Ordinary members who are able to demonstrate that they have the necessary professional qualifications and experience to be entitled to use the letters ‘MRSNZ’, in terms of Sec. 11 (3) of the Society’s Act, are invited to seek recognition. Contact the membership registrar in the first instance by email:

Other categories of Royal Society membership are:

  • Fellows (elected by the Academy Council for their distinction in research or the advancement of science and technology);
  • Companions (a new category for those the Society Council considers have achieved a high level of eminence in the promotion or encouragement of science and technology);
  • Constituent Organisations (professional societies);
  • Regional Constituent Societies (previously Branches);
  • Affiliate Organisations (corporate supporters);
  • Honorary Members and Honorary Fellows.

We invite recipients of the weekly Alert and the daily News to consider joining the Society, if they are not already direct members. A membership campaign is to be launched shortly and we confidently expect this to significantly increase the number of those supporters who use the Ordinary Member and MRSNZ provisions of the legislation.


A public meeting organised by the Physics Section of Science Wellington (Inc) will be held on 27 May with the President of the Academy Council of the Royal Society, Professor George Petersen, as guest speaker. The subject of the address is:

‘New Zealand Science Beyond 2000: Will We Lose the Plot?’

The abstract for the occasion is of interest in itself in that it states Professor Petersen’s views on the Foresight Project.

According to the Professor, the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology asks us to look ahead to ensure that New Zealand is well placed to take advantage of what it calls the ‘knowledge revolution’. This is a smart thing for us to do and, if we do it properly, we will all benefit. But if we get it wrong it could prove to be a disaster.

It will not simply be a matter of making policy decisions about what science to encourage in the future. New Zealand is a small country with limited resources and we are going to have to make the best possible use of those resources to ensure that we have an edge over our better-endowed competitors. To get it right, it is essential that we take the broadest possible view of the teaching and practice of science in New Zealand.

We must not forget that science is about more than knowledge; it is also about understanding. Understanding requires research, research requires creative scientists and creative scientists require funding and facilities. We have to ensure that our tertiary educational institutions are able to provide the scientists that the Crown Research Institutes and other employers need and that they, in turn, are able to meet the conditions that will encourage young New Zealanders to develop their careers in this country.

Much of the Foresight process is inevitably based on guesswork, but there are things that we can do to optimise the chances that our guesses will be correct. The future is determined by the present, the present is determined by the past. We have to be prepared to admit that not all changes that we have made in the past were good and that the practices of the past were not all bad. Foresight is not merely a matter of looking forward. It must also involve looking back to see whether our history can remind us of lessons that we have forgotten – lessons that we can relearn and use to our advantage.

The meeting is open to the public, not just Science Wellington members. Please note the details:

  • Date: Wednesday 27 May 1998.
  • Time: 7:30pm (refreshments from 7:00pm).
  • Venue: Royal Society Science House, 11 Turnbull Street, Thorndon, Wellington


The foregoing reference prompts us to include some biographical notes on Professor George Petersen, the President of the Academy Council of The Royal Society of New Zealand.

Professor Petersen began studies in Chemistry and Biochemistry at Otago University in 1951 and went to Oxford in 1956 for doctoral studies in Biochemistry. He joined the DSIR Plant Chemistry Division in Palmerston North in 1959 and was employed in the DSIR for the next eight years, although for nearly three of those years he was on leave in Oxford and the United States. He was appointed to the Chair of Biochemistry at Otago in 1968 and retires from that post at the end of this academic year.

At Otago, Professor Petersen has been successively Head of the Department of Biochemistry, Deputy Dean of the Otago Medical School, and Acting Dean of the Faculty of Medicine. He has been an active researcher in the field of nucleic acid structure and function for the whole of his career and was awarded the DSc by Oxford University in 1993. A Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand since 1985, he was elected President of the Academy Council in 1997.

Professor Petersen has served on many committees during his distinguished career. Presently he is serving on the following International Committees:

  • National Correspondent, IUPAC Commission on Biotechnology;
  • Corresponding Editor, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (London), Series B;
  • Member, Human Genome Organisation (HUGO);
  • New Zealand Representative, Scientific Advisory Panel, Novartis Foundation (formerly Ciba Foundation), London.

He also serves on the following Committees in New Zealand:

  • Chairman, N.Z. Government Advisory Committee on Novel Genetic Techniques (ACNGT);
  • Trustee, New Zealand Institute of Chemistry Chemical Education Trust;
  • Member, Ministry for the Environment Interim Assessment Group on Field Release of Genetically-modified Organisms (IAG);
  • Chairman, New Zealand Selection Committee, Oxford Nuffield Medical Fellowship;
  • Presiding Member, Lottery Health Research Committee (appointed by Minister of Internal Affairs); and
  • Member, Marsden Fund Biochemical and Biomedical Assessing Committee.


Recent comment by the Prime Minister (Hon Jenny Shipley) reopened issues relating to the structure of the public sector. Mrs Shipley told delegates at the recent northern division conference of the National Party that there were about 25 too many government departments and that a total of 15 would suffice. She made it clear that these were her personal views and not those of the Coalition Government. Having served as Minister of State Services in the National Government, Mrs Shipley was of the opinion that the performance of government and the public interest would be better served if some of the structures were downsized and certain portfolios clustered. The conference was informed that the present State Services Minister, Hon Simon Upton, was considering changes in the state sector.

It has been suggested on occasion that the research, science and technology policy advice function could be catered for within another existing department such as the Commerce or Education ministries. Critics of the suggestion claim that this would inevitably result in the loss of independence, influence and identity. Another option suggests combining the minor ministries into one new department. It is held that this could put science into a composite of weak, under-resourced and unrelated divisions with similar loss of influence.

In countries where science is merged with other interests within the public service, there is usually another influential entity in place with a powerful advocacy and advisory role. Australia with its Chief Scientist (currently Dr Stocker, ex- chief of CSIRO) enjoying high status and reporting direct to the Prime Minister, the United States White House Presidential Adviser on S&T, or the United Kingdom with its influential select committee on science operating permanently in the House of Lords, are examples.

There is a danger of confusing two objectives, rationalisation of the size of Cabinet (and the overall number of Ministers of the Crown, within and outside Cabinet) and a review of the departmental structure that serves the Government of the day. The two are clearly inter-related but not inseparably so. We will be watching the position; meantime, members’ comments are invited.


If you haven’t subscribed to our daily news service, we suggest you do so now. Try ‘SCIENCE NEWS’ for a week or two; if it doesn’t appeal, you can cancel your free subscription whenever you wish. The means of joining is simple – send a blank message to


We are grateful to a life member of Science Wellington, Lindsay Rollo, for letting us know about ‘Science-Week’. This comprehensive digest of science is available free of charge each week by e-mail and contains news abstracts gleaned from the scientific press and other sources – e.g., ‘Nature’, ‘Science’. Don’t think of subscribing unless you are prepared to receive a considerable volume of scientific information each week; three parts comprising up to 15 A4 pages in total is usual. The service claims a readership in excess of 50,000 in 30 countries.

To subscribe to this service, send an e-mail message to: with SUBSCRIBE SW as both subject and text of the message.

The Contents of this week’s issue of Science-Week will give you an idea of what to expect:

Part 1:

  1. A New US Feud Concerning Clinical Trials of an AIDS Vaccine
  2. A Gravitational Diffusion Model Without Dark Matter
  3. On the Formation of Star Clusters
  4. On the Impact Hazards of Asteroids
  5. A Method to Produce Protein Passage Through Cell Membranes
  6. On the Movements of a Virus in a Plant

Part 2:

  1. Role of Mouse Telomerase in Highly Proliferative Organs
  2. A Marine Natural Product that Inhibits Kinesin Motors
  3. On Chemokines and Leukocyte Traffic
  4. Antagonistic Symbiosis: Abduction of One Species by Another

Part 3:

  1. On the Curious Reproductive Tract of the Female Armadillo
  2. On Viral Strategies of Immune Evasion
  3. On Homeostasis and Self-Tolerance in the Immune System
  4. On Natural and Engineered Disorders of Lymphocyte Development
  5. Identification of a Gene for Juvenile Parkinsonism
  6. Book Notes
  7. Notices


The Green paper released by the Ministry of Education last week proposes the introduction of national assessment procedures in numeracy and literacy for primary schools to provide teachers with the information necessary to establish expectations and identify where improvements are needed. The results from the national assessment procedures will allow teachers to diagnose learning needs and monitor student progress; schools to monitor the effectiveness of teaching and learning programmes; and Government to monitor overall national achievement trends.

While the range of current assessment practices is identified, the use of such practices and the information gained is not consistent nationally and is not able to provide Government with the information it seeks.

This Paper proposes a package of assessment tools which include: new diagnostic tools; examples of student work; externally referenced tests; and a modified National Education Monitoring Project.

The national externally referenced component of the package proposes to focus on literacy and numeracy, and there is an assurance that the Government will not publish ‘league tables’ of schools with their national assessment results.

Readers may like to consider the necessity for national assessment procedures, the methods proposed, and the areas intended for coverage, and provide comment to the Ministry of Education. The Royal Society’s Standing Committee on Science and Technology Education will be providing a response to this Green Paper and contributions from members are welcome. Email

Copies of the Green Paper may be obtained from the Ministry of Education, ph. 0800 271 119, fax (04) 471 4409. The closing date for responses is 7 August 1998.


A report by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research commissioned by the Ministry of Education has shown overwhelmingly positive support for the Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom (LEOTC) fund and the services provided through it. LEOTC provides funding for organisations to supply curriculum-based programmes and places emphasis on ‘hands-on’ and interactive activities. Organisations funded in such a way include science centres, museums, art galleries, zoos, and observatories.

The report identified science as being the most frequently covered curriculum area followed by art and the social sciences. A feature of many programmes though was their cross- curricular nature. The fund currently totals $3.4million of which $1.2million is contributed from Vote:RS&T.


AgResearch Wallaceville has secured a continuation of their LEOTC contract with the Ministry of Education for their science education initiative ‘AgR Search’. The commitment by staff and management at AgResearch Wallaceville serves as a good example of just what can be achieved in this vital area. The programme being provided has proved extremely popular with schools and is giving AgResearch a very positive profile. At the same time it is a valuable tool in the quest to attract our top students into science and technology careers; it also enables teachers to update their own knowledge in areas such as genetics and biotechnology. For further information email


Planning progresses well for Scicon98, the biennial conference for science teachers which is being held in Nelson from 5 to 9 July this year. The convening committee have organised a widely varied programme catering well for teachers at both primary and secondary levels, as well as an active social programme. Further information from


After many months of planning, the 1998 International Science Festival has finalised its Festival Highlights. Over one hundred events have been confirmed for the 1998 Festival. A brochure promoting the wide variety of events, guest speakers, hands-on activities, symposia, workshops, and field trips, is being distributed throughout the country. Royal Society members can expect to receive their copy in the mail soon.

For breaking news and more detailed information, visit the Festival’s revamped homepage at


A joint meeting of the Inorganic Division of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute and the Inorganic Specialists Group of the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry, to be held at the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington from 31 January to 4 February 1999. Further information on the conference, including international plenary lecturers, is available on the conference website

‘Organometallic Chemistry in the South Pacific – a celebration’ is to be held at the University of Auckland, 24 – 28 January 1999. The meeting, which is honouring Professor Warren Roper’s contributions to chemistry, has a strong international flavour with 40 invited speakers from countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, France, Germany, Austria, and Australia. Further information is available on the conference website



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