Science and Technology Alert: Issue 36


A discussion paper on the principles that could govern the Government’s 1999 statement of science and technology investment priorities is due for imminent release. The full text should be available on the MoRST Foresight website next week. The document will be considered at the Midsight Conference to be held in Wellington from 27 to 29 July. Members who have not already done so are strongly recommended to register their interest in Foresight on the Ministry’s dedicated website Contact is also available through email: or post (P O Box 5336, Wellington), fax (04) 471 1284, or phone (04) 472 6400.


The Royal Society is facilitating the preparation of a social sciences’ submission to the Government’s Foresight project. The Society considered it was worthwhile preparing material that would present the professional social scientist practitioner viewpoint as represented by members of constituent organisations, Fellows and Members.

A parallel process involving the development of a Foresight strategy for the social sector is being co-ordinated by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

The newly appointed Social Sciences’ Advisory Group held its first meeting on 18 June. Much of the discussion concerned the Foresight project but wider issues were also canvassed.

The importance of liaison between the various elements of the Royal Society concerned with the Social Sciences was stressed – Fellows in the Society’s Academy, Members, and professional societies. It was agreed that Foresight work should involve all groups.

There was also broad discussion on ways of improving the status of the social sciences and social scientists. The need for an evidence-based approach to the development of public policy was to be promoted with Government.

For further details see the web site


The Academy Council of the Royal Society is pleased to announce that the following medals and awards will be allocated in 1998:

  • Hutton Medal – animal sciences
  • Hector Medal – physical sciences
  • Sir Charles Hercus Medal – biomedical and health sciences
  • Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter Buck) Medal – social sciences
  • R J Scott Medal – engineering sciences and technologies
  • Hamilton Memorial Prize for beginners in scientific or technological research in New Zealand
  • Hatherton Award for the best scientific paper by a PhD student at any New Zealand university in physical sciences, earth sciences and mathematical and information sciences
  • Cooper Medal for the best account of research work carried out in New Zealand in physics or engineering
  • Thomson Medal in recognition of outstanding contributions in the fields of the organisation, administration or application of science and technology

All have a closing date of 14 August 1998 and further information, including application/nomination forms, is available on the Society’s web site at Electronic copies of information and the application forms are also available from


Several proposals for the scientific and technological community to participate in the celebration of the Millennium have been considered by the Society Council. As yet, no firm commitment to any particular opportunity has been made. It is known that some members do not favour any acknowledgement of the event and others, for a number of reasons, question the validity of the timing. The Society Council believes it must have regard to the likely level of public interest in ensuring that science and technology get their share of attention during the course of the national celebrations.

Suggestions received range from Fulbright Scholar, Professor Jack Sommer’s proposal for an internationally supported Expedition into the Future (which would include a visit to Pitt Island in the Chathams), to an enhanced science and technology week (or month) during the year 2000. Members are invited to contribute their suggestions for consideration by 31 July and they will be considered at the next Council meeting.


A change in the name of ICSU has occurred with immediate effect. The International Council of Scientific Unions has become the International Council for Science. The ICSU acronym and logo will remain as they are. The objectives have been amended to include the encouragement of a strengthening of human and physical scientific resources and the promotion of the public understanding of science. Other changes have been made to the governance of the organisation. The Royal Society is the adhering organisation for most ICSU affiliations in New Zealand with the Government assisting with membership costs.


Alpha 95, ‘Wind Power’, outlines the history and the science of the use of wind energy. Written for Levels 4-5 (11 to 14-year- old students) of the NZ Curriculum, this Alpha relates particularly to the physical world and the nature of science and to technology strands of Science in the NZ Curriculum. Worksheets to accompany this Alpha are in preparation and the set will be available in the near future.

Alpha 96, ‘Laura is a Research Biologist’, tells the story of a young research biologist in the field of genetics. It was written for Levels 4-5 (11 to 14-year-old students) of the NZ Curriculum. At the same time as outlining the career pathway of a young woman, the publication provides basic information on cell structure, cell division and genetics. This 22-page publication is a new venture for the Society in combining career pathways in the body of the story with a more pictorial presentation. Copies are available from the Royal Society at $5.00 each, email


Several subscribers to our daily news service have pointed out some weaknesses in the news items featured: for example, we re- published an item that was retracted some time later; and we have received criticism for some items in which the statistics don’t add up or are plain silly.

Please note, that the purpose of our daily news service is not to validate the items. By contrast, it is intended to alert Members to science items that have been published in the news media in NZ (mostly as forwarded to us via the NZ Press Association): to inform, and/or amuse, and/or bemoan the status quo. Any commentary would be more suitable in our Science Alert, and we welcome subscribers’ corrections.

We need critical readers, if only to help us point out to the uninitiated where science reporting tends to go wrong!


The results of our recent mass mail-out to about 25,000 New Zealand addresses from our contacts database are flooding in. Already about 2,500 people have responded by either updating their records via our world-wide web site ( at ), or using email or the postal reply card to request that their records be sent in hardcopy.

We are processing these electronic records and manual requests as quickly as we can. Please try again if you have experienced difficulties getting into the database via the world-wide web at some stage: even our vastly improved Internet link had at times difficulty keeping up with the large number of connections!


In the letter requesting you to update your personal details on our database via the world-wide web, a password is given to access your data. It should be borne in mind that at this point, all contacts on our database can access their own details only, using SURNAME and password.

However, access to the full text of items listed in our daily Science News is for Members only, and for this purpose members should use a specially assigned USERNAME (generally the initials plus surname, separated by a space) and their password. We apologise for any confusion this system may have caused.

Note that during the current trial phase the news is also accessible by leaving the username blank and using one’s email address as password. Be aware that such email addresses will be verified against our membership list in future.


According to Society Council member, George Jones, there is one science-oriented film in the forthcoming Wellington film festival that is well worth seeing. It is ‘The Life and Times of Life and Times’, produced in France 1997 – English and French with English subtitles.

What is aging? Why do we age? Is there a cure? Recent discoveries in genetics have moved these questions from the margins of science to the center of an expanding area of biological enquiry. Attempting to respond to the growing curiosity about aging research, this film contains some serious science. Research biologists are our guides to concepts in molecular biology; their enthusiastic accounts of discoveries and progress in the lab are wittily intercut with animation, nature shots and archival movie footage.


Scicon98 will be opened on Sunday in Nelson by the Hon Nick Smith. 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. Keynote speakers include Dr Daphne Lee, Otago University Geology Dept; Prof David Phillips of Imperial College, London; Geoff Haines-Styles of the ‘US Live from …’ series; and noted local entomologist Ruud Kleinpaste. Further information from



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