Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 79, 1951
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New Zealand and International Relations
in Science

In the early days of a Society such as the Royal Society of New Zealand, or of any similar body elsewhere, the first concern was the organizing of meetings and exchange of views between the members of a small group having little contact with or concern for the activities of groups working along the same lines in other centres. But the colony was hardly seventeen years old when the local societies sought or agreed to affiliation as the New Zealand Institute; and in successive anniversary addresses its first President repeated the conviction that “Co-operation is the secret of success in all scientific pursuits.” Effective co-operation was not obtained, however, by the new body as at first constituted. It required another twenty years or so of critical insistence by the Institutes, or a few far-sighted people in them, before the central governing body was finally constituted as an elected rather than as an appointed one.

There has been a steady growth in the idea and practice of co-operation and to-day we are so accustomed to such meetings as our own triennial Science Congress and the biennial meetings of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science that it is difficult to realize how much doubt and opposition marked their beginnings. The British Association on which they were modelled faced widespread ridicule when it first met, while to-day it is recognized not only as a forum of science but as an indispensable liaison between scientists and the general public. The development of similar organization, which followed elsewhere was not a painless evolution; and we do well to remember with gratitude the vigour with which Dr. A. K. Newman (Journ. Science, June, 1882) presented the case for a New Zealand Association of Science. We have in effect to-day in our own Society Congresses exactly what he was advocating, but they did not commence until some years later.

What has happened, as a matter of history, has been that new needs in the development of science have called for new organizations. The growth of science in industry led to the formation of the Institute of Chemistry and similar bodies, concerned mainly with professional standards, but not neglecting the advancement of their particular sciences. In the twentieth century the development of technology and related research has given rise to yet another kind of organization, the various Associations of Scientific Workers. Concerned primarily with working conditions—in the widest sense of the term—these Associations in most countries have also been actively interested in the social relations of science. This outlook has led logically and rapidly to international activity crystallized in 1946 by the founding of the World Federation of Scientific Workers. Its constitution includes such aims as—


To work for the fullest utilization of science in promoting peace and the welfare of mankind.

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To encourage the international exchange of scientific knowledge and of scientific workers.


To improve the professional, social, and economic status of scientific workers.


To encourage scientific workers to take an active part in public affairs, and to make them more conscious of, and more responsive to, the progressive forces at work within Society.

Some of these objects are capable of varying interpretation, as delegates to a recent conference of the Federation held in Prague found out; but nothing is more certain than that a bold and sincere attempt to tackle and discuss them is the only alternative to chaotic tensions stemming from power politics of one sort or another, and frustrating science and every other manifestation of constructive human endeavour.

We find ourselves, then, in an age in which scientific co-operation, begun from mixed motives of scientific need and vague goodwill, must now be recognized as a vital element in progress and survival. It is only recently that New Zealand scientists and scientific institutions have begun to participate with effective strength. It is true that valuable contributions have been made to Congress programmes for many years, but actual delegates seldom have numbered more than one or two. With the A.N.Z.A.A.S. it has been physically easier to participate, and apart from the three successful meetings that have been held in this country, the size of New Zealand delegations to the meetings held in Australian cities has shown a gratifying growth.

However, I think that it is no exaggeration to say that the past year has been the most important one to date in bringing home to New Zealand scientists, and, one hopes, the New Zealand public at large, the significance and possibilities of international co-operation in Science; and I hope that you will regard this address as an appropriate time and place to indulge in a few observations in retrospect on the Seventh Pacific Science Congress. The decision to extend to the Pacific Science Association an invitation to hold the Seventh Congress in New Zealand was made, as you know, not without misgivings. I have made elsewhere to-day some acknowledgment of the services of the local officers and organizers; but I should like to record again in this address my belief that without the persuasive eloquence and prophetic conviction of Professor R. S. Allan the decision never would have been made in time; and to record further that without the ability and personal sacrifice of Dr. G. Archey the Congress itself would not have achieved the measure of success in organization of which so many of our recent guests have expressed their appreciation. It would be pleasant to enlarge on such impressions as the wide range covered in the programme; on the originality of many of the contributions and in some cases the novelty of their presentation; on the immense stimulus gained by discussion in and out of session; and on the hundred and one things planned or unpremeditated that go to make the stuff of Congresses. Such pipe-dreams and reminiscences are pleasant, and I am sure they are good for us. But our sterner and more constructive duty is to ask: “After the Congress—

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what?” and, having decided what, to embark on the tasks ahead. To some extent they have been planned and the direction is clear. It was an outstanding feature of the Congress that the Divisional Research Planning Committees all worked hard throughout the period available and presented reports in which the problems were clearly formulated and methods of tackling them clearly defined. In the past, the only continuing activity between Congresses was that of the Standing Committees. They lacked liaison and the stimulus and executive help of a central bureau. This has now been provided for, and the new Standing Committees have the further advantage of wise and vigorous directives from the divisional discussions of the Seventh Congress. The list of projects and resolutions forms indeed a new charter—one that not only defines new problems and new aspects of old ones, but also one that recognizes the existence of other national and international organizations in the field and provides for close co-operation with them.

I should like to run through them all to illustrate this point, but there is not time to do so, and a selection must suffice. Last year I spoke on the scientific attitude to conservation problems. They have bulked largely in the recommendations of the biological science divisions, and these have been set out in a way which defines the following clear principles:


That conservation practices should be established on a scientific basis.


The recognition of informed public opinion as essential to sound conservation practice. This is accompanied by recommendation for educational programmes in conservation at all levels.


Support for such regional or world conventions as may be needed, and careful study of the objectives and organization of the International Union for the Protection of Nature.


That the high proportion of marine problems in the Pacific Area be recognized in conservation programmes. There is also a comprehensive list of rare or unique associations of plants and animals, and even of single species, for which urgent or immediate protective measures are urged.

The same realistic approach marks the rest of the recommendations in biology. Oceanography, an active section, also outlines its fundamental problems in both biological and physical fields, draws attention to the meagre and sporadic nature of surveys to date, and sets forth proposals for future guidance. One of these is the setting up of marine laboratories in geographically suitable areas—and the specific recommendations include New Zealand. Lack of local enterprise or development in this important field has never been more apparent than they were in the efforts of experienced overseas oceanographers to find their opposite numbers here, or any institution or department in which their technical problems could be discussed at a constructive level. There is no doubt that administrative action in this field is much handicapped by the lag in research.

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It is probable that meteorologists, vulcanologists, stratigraphers, and perhaps seismologists found more flint for their steel and found New Zealand better prepared to move forward in a programme of co-operative research. In the Social Sciences, too, there were vigorous discussions at a level practical enough to invoke political repercussions. For New Zealand science generally it may be said that we have had a stocktaking of strength and weaknesses and a stimulus which should result in an advance that will justify the expenditure of public money, and of time and energy, involved in holding the Seventh Pacific Science Congress.

The other notable link forged during the year in our chain of attachment to the international solidarity of science is the setting up of a permanent New Zealand National Commission for U.N.E.S.C.O. Officially recognized as a National Co-operating Body for Science, the Royal Society of New Zealand has been kept informed of all developments in the Natural Sciences programme. It has exercised its privilege of submitting nominations for membership of the National Commission; and of its two nominees one was appointed by the Minister of Education directly, and the other following nomination by the National Commission itself. No member of the Commission is a direct representative of any organization. Their special duties insofar as they relate to Science consist of helping in the interpretation of remits received by the Commission from co-operating bodies in Science, and of the documentary output of the Natural Sciences section of U.N.E.S.C.O. So far the Commission has been mainly occupied with clarification of policy and some routine duties connected with delegations to conferences, but it is fully alive to the importance of its function as a channel of communication between U.N.E.S.C.O. and the people of New Zealand.

Of U.N.E.S.C.O. itself it can be said that the situation is encouraging. The vigorous pruning of its programme, of which the need was so apparent at the First and Second General Conferences, was effectively applied at the Third, held a few months ago in Beirut. Many vague and impracticable projects were dropped and others took effective shape in action. The Natural Sciences section and the Sub-committees maintained their reputation for clear definition and a knowledge of what they wanted, and the programme in this field has shown results. The policy has been adopted of direct action by U.N.E.S.C.O. in matters of relief and reconstruction of scientific enterprise in war-devastated countries, and of limited financial and stimulative aid to international projects already being planned or undertaken, and considered to be constructive. Thus we find outlined in the Report of the Director-General for 1948 how four field science co-operation offices have been maintained—in the Middle East, the Far East, Latin America, and South Asia, engaged in exchanging and disseminating scientific information between those regions and other countries. The International Institute of the Hylean Amazon, which was initiated by U.N.E.S.C.O., has been set up under a Protocol by which eight nations assume all financial responsibility after 1948. To this practical interest in problems of life in the torrid zones has been added the organization of a conference, held in Switzerland

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last year, on High Altitude Research Stations. Under the heading of Pure Science are listed the grants-in-aid to the International Council of Scientific Unions and federated unions. Members will be aware that our own efforts to get representative attendance from less wealthy countries at the Pacific Science Congress were assisted by a grant of 20,000 dollars, sufficient to pay transportation expenses of nine delegates. Lastly, as a world centre for scientific liaison, U.N.E.S.C.O. received requests or suggestions on many matters more or less urgent. Two on which it has acted, and in which we have a direct interest, are the convening of conferences to be held on Scientific Abstracting and Indexing Services (June) and Technical Conference on the Protection of Nature (September). It is expected that New Zealand will be represented at both of these conferences. Adequate representation from a country of fewer than two million inhabitants at conferences held some twelve thousand miles away is going to be a recurrent and difficult matter to arrange, but the Royal Society has a duty to bring to the notice of the Government the importance of such conferences as those mentioned above, and the need for representation.

Yet another opportunity of participating in regional co-operative work is provided by the South Pacific Commission. Its work was explained at the recent Congress by Professor Baas-Beking, head of the Scientific Research Section; and it is to be hoped that New Zealand's contribution to its work will include activity in the natural sciences.

An important two-way channel of communication between New Zealand and the United States also has been established by the setting up of the Fulbright Foundation. Although the funds available under this are broadly defined as for educational purposes, the list just published of grants allotted in the first six months shows a gratifying proportion of students and workers in science. Only this week an expedition which has been operating since January in the Caswell Sound area of Fiordland is concluding its field work. New Zealand scientists and field staff have been engaging in biological survey of a little-known region under the scientific leadership of Dr. Olaus J. Murie, an American ecologist, who, as the first holder of a New Zealand Fulbright Fellowship, is undertaking a special study of the habits and status of the North American elk or wapiti in this part of Fiordland.

Although the list of promising developments is gratifying, I think it is fair to say that we are by no means yet adequately prepared to make the fullest possible contribution to international co-operative enterprise in science. A sound development at the national level is a prerequisite to any international team-work, and there are some weak spots in New Zealand science that need strengthening. This is a matter on which one can properly quote examples only from one's own field, and it is neither necessary nor appropriate to do it here, but in passing I suggest that each in his own field should be prepared to face the question of whether our own standards are yet good enough.

The Royal Society has, however, a duty to advise and urge its Government in respect to contributions which it feelds can and should be made to international questions by a scientific approach. One of these in which we should have an interest is the future of Antarctica.

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It is the only remaining large unoccupied area of the earth, and no one has shown any desire to live there. There has been active competition in the exploitation of its known natural resources, mainly marine; and arising partly from this and partly from motives of national prestige, much conflict of territorial claims, some of which have been, to say the least, undignified.

The only constructive suggestion to date has come from the United States, of whose State Department it must be said that its Antarctic policy has been consistent and indicative of careful study. The proposal was that seven of the Governments claiming Antarctic Territory should create a limited form of international regime, designed to settle the conflicting claims. To this Britain replied, accepting the proposal in principle, but the replies from New Zealand, France, Norway, Australia, Argentina, and Chile were classified as unfavourable. The Acting Prime Minister has since explained that New Zealand expressed willingness to enter into some such arrangement if such were acceptable to the other interested Powers, so that presumably the classification of the reply should have been “noncommittal” rather than “unfavourable.” There will be many who think that these claims can be settled ultimately only by some such method; but if agreement is going to be a matter of time there is no reason why an international agreement on scientific research plans in Antarctica should not be reached much earlier. Even joint expeditions are practicable, and in November this year a Norwegian-British-Swedish expedition will leave for two years in Queen Maud Land. There will be fourteen scientists and technicians, of whom the British members will be responsible for geological research, and the Norwegians and Swedes for the glaciological and meteorological investigations.

During the last three years there have been tentative suggestions for a New Zealand expedition and some hints of possible co-operation with other countries. That nothing has come of these is due in part to the absence of a research plan—some vagueness as to what we want to do. I should like to suggest that the Royal Society might give some attention to this need—perhaps a Polar Research Committee or a general research plan committee could prepare something that would be ready when the time came for decision on expeditions, as it is bound to do in the near future. If the Royal Society expects to be consulted in such matters, it is not enough to expect a request for opinion on the grounds of prestige alone. Our only claim to notice would be that we had given some careful thought to the matter and had at least the broad outlines of a practicable plan.

I am aware, as you will be, that a few aspects only of our international responsibilities have been touched upon in this address; but I hope that enough has been said to point the need for realization of our responsibilities and opportunities, and a strengthening of our New Zealand standards in all sciences, so that we may make a full contribution to that kind of scientific progress which unites instead of sundering the peoples of the earth.

R. A. Falla.