2 Jul 2015

Bedford takes over as Royal Society president

6:37 am on 2 July 2015

A migration expert has taken over the presidency at the Royal Society - the first social scientist to hold the role in 75 years.

Professor Richard Bedford

Professor Richard Bedford Photo: Supplied

Professor Richard Bedford, who has worked at all but two of the country's universities, takes over the role from Sir David Skegg.

Professor Bedford currently works as a Professor of Migration at AUT University in Auckland, and is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Waikato.

He initially wanted to be a school teacher, but after finishing his degrees in Geography and History decided to dedicate his career to Pacific migration.

He is currently working on implications for New Zealand and Australia of population developments and migration trends in the Pacific over the next 30-40 years, including the impact of climate change on migration.


He believed he was asked to be the new President as the Society's board realised how long it had been since a social scientist had been at the helm.

He said the job was an honour, and it is a privilege to raise the profile of other humanities researchers.

"It would be useful over next year or two to have wider recognition of the work humanities, social sciences and technologies do, because there's no shortage of recognition for work from sciences because they're the dominant part of the Royal Society.

He said the role does come with a big challenge.

"Changes in technology and the way research and science is being approached, the public's changing understanding of science, the role the media plays and the big debates taking place means we need to be an effective voice for a wide range of scientists.

"We don't want to be regarded as old scientists who have had a great day in the past who now belong to a club called the Royal Society. "


Last year, the Government asked the Royal Society to consider whether a Code for Public Engagement was needed.

Scientists were already bound to a Code of Ethics, which many suggests provides guidance about researchers speaking about their work.

Many thought the new Code could be a gagging measure, with science organisations saying they want scientists to be free to speak more, not be restricted.

Professor Bedford was trying to reassure scientists that that was not the case.

"Im not at all convinced we will be writing a Code of Public Engagement. We already have a Code of Ethics. . . The word code implies something rather formal like if you don't abide by the code you will be in great trouble.

"What I've strongly recommended to the Royal Society is that we don't talk about it in terms of a code, we have a code of ethical conduct.

"We should be looking at guidelines, and if need them, we might not. If we look at those and find we do, we can situate them in the instruments that the Royal Society has got. "

"It's entirely appropriate for scientists and researchers with expert knowledge in areas they are working in and with excellent skills in analysing situations and exploring issues, are able if they wish to speak freely with the public."