Will code silence scientists?

Posted By TEU on Oct 9, 2014 | 6 comments

Tertiary Update Vol 17 No 34

The Association of Scientists wants to hear from scientists and other academics about a government plan to develop a new code of practice for scientists, telling them if, and when, they can speak publicly.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment has told the Royal Society of New Zealand to review its code of ethics, with a view to developing a new code of practice for scientists who speak publicly.

The prime minister’s chief scientist Sir Peter Gluckman is helping drive the change, saying some scientists tend to exaggerate what they know and forget to state what they do not know.

“Sometimes their advocacy goes beyond what the science does and they need to be honest about their involvement,” he told Radio New Zealand.

Gluckman said a new code would encourage scientists to speak out, and give them guidelines for doing so.

However, other scientists are worried that this new code will muzzle scientists from speaking out publicly.

Nicola Gaston, president of the New Zealand Association of Scientists, says the current Code of Professional Standards and Ethics of the Royal Society of NZ is enough to cover scientists’ ethical obligations.

She noted that some scientists employed in Crown Research Institutes already find it hard to speak out publicly in their area of expertise, and do not have the empowering legislation that academic scientists have to act as critic and conscience of society.

University of Auckland scientist Shaun Hendy agreed, pointing to last year’s Fonterra botulism scare as a situation where officials ignored scientific advice. He told Radio New Zealand that scientists in that case were either working for Fonterra, or for government agencies, and so did not feel comfortable speaking out publicly about the contamination.

Gaston says even academic scientists, with the legal protection of academic freedom, face challenges when they speak out publicly.

“This week has provided several reminders of all these events. In fact, all in one day, I came across evidence that the work of Dr Joy is still attracting attention, this blog post by Dr Jarrod Gilbert, a sociologist at the University of Canterbury, and the online attacks on University of Otago health researcher Dr Lisa Te Morenga, by Jordan Williams and Carrick Graham of Dirty Politics fame,” said Gaston.

You can take part in the New Zealand Association of Scientists’ survey on the proposed code here.

Also in Tertiary Update this week

  1. Upston new associate tertiary education minister
  2. Taonga welcomed home for World Teachers’ Day
  3. Gender pay gap widens
  4. Vice-chancellors blame govt for falling rankings

Other news

Bernie Steyn is in the second year of his fine arts degree – a course which is scheduled to be wound up – and says he is unlikely to complete his study if lecturer Marty Vreede is not teaching next year – Wanganui Chronicle

Elections for TEU industrial and professional vice-president start next week. You can ask the two candidates questions about themselves and their reasons for standing at: Richard Draper (http://teurichard.tumblr.com/ask) and Phil Edwards (http://teuphilip.tumblr.com/ask).

Due to high public interest in educational performance indicator (EPI) information, the TEC intends to publish 2013 EPI information for SAC funded TEOs in Excel format in mid-October –Tertiary Education Commission

The University of Auckland is launching its first official Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) – University of Auckland

The CEO of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), Tim Fowler has encouraged any of the 886 students enrolled in the Bachelor of Māori Arts Degree at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi to come forward if they have any concerns – Māori TV


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