26 Mar 2015

NZ praised for environmental research

12:56 pm on 26 March 2015

New Zealand has been praised for being a leader in earth and environmental research by one of the world's leading scientific journals.

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Photo: 123rf

The Nature Index, produced by Nature Magazine, singled New Zealand out as a leader in environmental science in the Asia Pacific.

It said 30 percent of contributions on those topics in that region came from New Zealand, more than any other country in the region, assessed through how many articles are published in top journals.

The index also looked at specific organisations: the University of Otago was ranked 91st among Asia Pacific institutions; the University of Auckland was ranked 110th; and Victoria University Wellington ranked 177th.

Professor Shaun Hendy, Professor of Physics at the University of Auckland, praised the Nature Index, saying they "provide a window into what New Zealand's scientists are working on, how much new knowledge they are creating, and who they are working with."

However, he stressed the importance New Zealand had placed on life sciences and the environment rather than looking to high technology, like many of its Asia-Pacific neighbours.

This also affected its potential for research collaboration.

"We tend to collaborate much more with Europe than might be expected, because we are not doing science that our neighbours are interested in.

"Despite facing the same cultural and language barriers as New Zealand scientists, Australian researchers collaborate much more extensively with their counterparts in China."

Dr Nicola Gaston, President of the New Zealand Association of Scientists and Principal Investigator, believed this research was the outcome of New Zealand's unique geographic position.

"If we do not develop the expertise to study our own landforms and ecosystems, who will?

"And with a small population relative to the size and uniqueness of our country, it is only natural that we stand out in this area."

She also believed that New Zealand's institutions had underperformed in their rankings, and suggested that this was due to a push towards research having a commercial impact.

"The requirement for research proposals to have direct co-investment by the private sector to be eligible for the majority of government grants disincentivises the types of world-leading research that enables publication in these world-leading journals."

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