10 Dec 2014

Scientists to debate right to speak out

2:21 pm on 10 December 2014

Scientists at a gathering in Wellington today will consider whether organisations should be allowed to be a part of the Royal Society and still be able to criticise it.

The question is expected among other topics at today's annual forum.

The Royal Society administers research funds, publishes journals and advises the Government on science matters. It is also in charge of writing a new code for public engagement, which some scientists fear could be a way of gagging them.

Today, the 50 organisations, institutes and associations that are aligned with the society are meeting in Wellington.

They are called constitutional organisations and they help it identify and address issues relevant to research.

Liz Gordon, who represents all the groups, said there was a lack of ability to speak out on issues, which was important in terms of Crown Research Institutes, and many university researchers doing contract work.

She feared there may not be the open engagement and discussion on science that preceding generations have had.

New Zealand Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science President David Lewis said membership should not prevent free speech, as often constructive and useful critiques were needed.

Association of Scientists President Nicola Gaston said there was a feeling that organisations were not being listened to and that voices were being repressed.

She said it would be good for the Royal Society to acknowledge constituent organisations had every right to criticise it.

The Royal Society chose not to comment ahead of the meeting.

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