28 Aug 2015

Association of Scientists says NIWA claims ironic

4:04 pm on 28 August 2015

The Association of Scientists says NIWA's claims that it actively lobbies against science and the integrity of scientists is ironic.

NIWA will no longer pay membership fees for its staff to belong to the Association of Scientists, as a result of allegations made in a survey last year.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research notified its staff of the policy change this month.

The Association of Scientists conducted a survey last year which found some scientists, including government agency staff, have felt gagged.

In an internal email sent to staff this month, NIWA's executive said that survey had no scientific credibility and needed to be challenged, because it could cast doubt on the integrity of the science profession in New Zealand.

It said it was not only a threat to NIWA's good name, but also to the personal reputation of its scientists.

But Association of Scientists president Nicola Gaston said NIWA was sending the wrong message to its employees and its actions were more proof that many scientists felt gagged by their employers.

She said the association's purpose was to promote science and NIWA's reaction was odd.

"There's certainly some irony in it and I would very much like to talk to them, I emailed them a week ago to ask if I could have a conversation with them about these plans because I think at the very least there's some serious mis-understanding there of the points that we've made."

The association has written to NIWA's chief executive and asked to meet.

NIWA yesterday refused to be interviewed on the topic but said it would meet with the association.

The email

From NIWA Executive Update 6/8/2015

Protecting the integrity of science and scientists

You may be aware of allegations made by the New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS), a small group comprised of just 257 members, claiming firstly that scientists in many organisations are being prevented from talking about the science they undertake, and secondly that science being done on a commercial basis is somehow not credible, or is biased. CRIs, including NIWA, have been targeted directly by some of this criticism.

Assertions that scientists are being gagged, and that science paid for commercially cannot be trusted, are serious allegations. The survey these claims are partly based on is itself lacking any scientific credibility. We believe they need to be challenged because, if not, the allegations could gain a foothold and cast doubt on the integrity of the entire science profession in New Zealand.

There will be times when we won't talk about aspects of our work because it has been carried out under a confidential contract. However, on most occasions we talk extensively about our science - which is evidenced by our strong media presence, being second to none in the science sector.

Whether in public, or in confidential briefings to our private sector customers, Ministers, officials, councillors or not-for-profit organisations, we always describe what the science tells us without bias or advocacy. Our independent, impartial position is fundamental to our authority and our future. We will continue to ensure that our comments are based on science facts rather than our personal views and values. This stance has helped NIWA become a highly respected science organisation, both nationally and internationally.

The statements by the NZAS are not only a threat to NIWA's good name, but also to the personal reputation of our scientists. NIWA has a track record of commitment to ethical behaviour and social responsibility, and standing firm behind the integrity of our scientists. The High Court challenges around our climate change work, in which our integrity was upheld, is just one example of that.

CRIs collectively have some 3,000 science staff. Despite its title, the NZAS, with its 257 members, does not represent the scientific community. We are mystified as to why they would raise doubt about the trustworthiness of the very people they purport to represent - the scientists and their science. In our view, and certainly in our experience at NIWA, scientists are trustworthy professionals whose integrity is not for sale.

The NZAS stance leads us to take the step of no longer being prepared to pay for membership of an organisation that actively lobbies against science and the integrity of scientists. We will, as ever, be happy to support membership of professional organisations like the Marine Sciences Society, the Freshwater Society and the Meteorological Society.

If you would like to discuss this matter further, please talk with your Regional Manager, Chief Scientists or any member of the Executive Team.