It’s good to see the NZ Association of Scientists declare (in a media statement released today):
NZ Association of Scientists concerned about freedom of speech
About time, too. The declaration of support for this principle was sparked by the sacking of NIWA scientist Jim Salinger, which happened a week ago.
Better late than never.
The media statement is nicley summed up in the final para, where two points are made: scientists must be free to speak out freely in their area of expertise; and the Government should take a hard look at the structure of our scientific institutions if we are to get the best from them and their staffs.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding Salinger’s dismissal, NZAS strongly supports the right of scientists to speak out freely in their area of scientific expertise. Any underlying institutional problem with this issue should be addressed before serious damage occurs, either to our standing in the international science community, or to the public reputation of our scientists.
Government is currently reviewing its science structures and NZAS believes that this review should include a reassessment of whether the current organizational structures are the most appropriate ones for the innovative science that New Zealand will need to address environmental, social, economic and human health issues in the years to come.
It’s the conflict between the spreading of scientific information and business imperatives that’s causing trouble.
The statement kicks off:
The business model underlying Government’s science institutions, the Crown Research Institutes or CRIs, is again under scrutiny following the dismissal of Jim Salinger, one of NIWA’s principal scientists and a leading spokesperson for weather and climate issues.
Then it sets out its position on the spreading of information:
The New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) vigorously supports scientists speaking freely in their areas of scientific expertise without inappropriate corporate constraints or threat of dismissal.
Communicating scientific advances to the public and commenting publicly on relevant science issues is an essential part of the scientific process, particularly in non-commercial areas supported by the taxpayer.
But the way our scientific institutions are structured is a problem:
Scientific research and corporate models operating under commercial imperatives have been unhappy bedfellows since the science reforms in the early 1990s that set up the CRIs. Such business imperatives can undermine freedom of scientific expression.
The New Zealand Association of Scientistsis a nationwide association of practicing research scientists spanning the universities, technical institutes, Crown Research Institutes of Science NZ, government departments, industry, museums, and other science institutions.
Anyone wanting to follow up on the statement are referred to Professor Kathryn McGrath, President of the NZAS, who can be found among the test tubes at the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington.