An ABC of science from Megan Woods (but you might need a translation) portends reform of the sector to lift diversity

Latest from the Beehive

A speech from Phil Twyford, speaking as Minister of State for Trade and Export Growth, can be found on the Beehive website today – for those of who relish that sort of thing.

He reminded his Asia Forum audience he has specific responsibility for our trading relationships with Southeast Asia and the Pacific and he addressed them on “the work being done to support economic resilience in the Indo-Pacific” for New Zealand and our partners in the region. 

 But Point of Order was drawn to two science-related announcements, one by Megan Woods, our Minister of Research, Science and Innovation, the other by her associate minister, Ayesha Verrall.

Neither was intended (apparently) to be easily digested by the general public.   

Woods’ announcement was that the latest research, science and innovation system report card is now available, and outlines how the system is performing.

Alas, she couldn’t resist using anagrams acronyms with which she presumably is familiar – but (we suspect) her audience might stumble.

The highlights Woods emphasised at the start of her statement are:

  • New Zealand’s FCR cited research ratio is twice the world average
  • Investment in R&D is increasing
  • Case studies underscore how a science based COVID-19 response helped save lives
  • In 2019, Māori and Pacific people represented 5 per cent of PhD graduates.

R&D is commonly known to be research and development.

But FCR? 


We turned to Google and learned that FCR is an abbreviation for feed conversion ratio or feed conversion rate.  This is a ratio or rate measuring of the efficiency with which the bodies of livestock convert animal feed into the desired output. For dairy cows, for example, the output is milk.

 But Google alerts us to several other possibilities:

fcr salary

fcr call center

fcr roseburg

fcr treatment

fcr recruitment

fcr clients

fcr in banking

Paradoxically, as Woods explained, the report she was discussing seeks to increase transparency, act as a reliable data source

“… and stimulate discussion between the RSI sector, government and all those who benefit from the RSI system”.

Here’s another stumbling point for the uninitiated.  She is referring, of course, to “research, science and innovation”.

More ominously, the report seems to have furnished the Minister with information that has triggered an urge (yet again) to overhaul the sector.

Will segregation in the health sector – where we will have one structure for Maori and another for the rest of the country- serve as a model?

That would enable metaphysical concepts such as “mauri” to be comfortably absorbed within at least one part of the science system.  

Woods said:  

“We have a world leading science and research system, and this report highlights some great examples of the significant impact science has on our economy, environment and society, like our highly successful scientific response to COVID-19. But as with every system, there are some areas which we need to focus more attention on.

“I’m not going to sugar coat the areas we can improve on, including supporting and retaining a more diverse workforce and ensuring the system is able to more quickly adapt to changing priorities. That’s why we are about to start an open and wide ranging conversation on what a future research system might look like.

“Encouraging equity, diversity and inclusion in the system ensures we capture the very best ideas and talent to support the highest quality research, which ultimately leads to better outcomes for New Zealanders. It is encouraging to see an increasing number of Māori and Pacific Peoples graduating with Doctoral level degrees. I’d like to see this trend continue,” Megan Woods said. 

The Research, Science and Innovation System Performance Report is available on the MBIE website as an interactive online tool 

Woods’ colleague, Ayesha Verrall, was no more inclined to make things easy for public comprehension.  

She announced the Government

“… is investing in ‘Te Tītoki Mataora’ the MedTech Research Translator, to deliver new medical tools – and meet both the demands of a global pandemic and of a growing and aging population.”

We are somewhat bemused. 

We suspect Te Titoki Mataroa does not mean MedTech Research Translator. 

A titoki is a New Zealand evergreen tree, Alectryon excelsus, with a spreading crown and glossy green leaves.  

Mataroa has more than one meaning, but the first two on the online Maori Dictionary explained:

1. (noun) wedge. 

2. (noun) tattooing instrument – named after Mataora, who received his moko from Uetonga in the underworld, and brought the art back to earth.

Perhaps this is a pointer to where Woods intends taking New Zealand’s science institutions, but for now, let the record show (according to Verrall): 

“Te Tītoki Mataora harnesses New Zealand’s bioengineering and healthcare expertise. It is a new programme for translating the findings from publicly-funded research into solutions for unmet clinical needs.

“This will enable improvements in personalised care, diagnostics and therapy, and result in more equitable healthcare outcomes for New Zealanders.

“The programme will fund expertise and activities at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, which aims to get medical technology research off the bench and into business. It will facilitate the development of collaborative projects across New Zealand universities.”

Oh – and yes, there’s a price tag.

The Government is investing $8.1 million over three years. Each project will have a researcher, clinician and commercialisation expert on the team.

Woods’ concerns about diversity have not been overlooked.     

“Diversity creates the best competition of ideas and provides wider perspectives that reflect the needs of our diverse society. We want to ensure that Te Tītoki Mataora lives up to its name with strong Māori and Pasifika partnerships underpinning new research – focusing on co-created technologies that rebalance health inequities,” Ayesha Verrall said.

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Supporting economic resilience in the Indo-Pacific – Speech to the Asia Forum

I want to acknowledge the on-going work of the Asia Forum. Over many years – decades, in fact – you have been able to bring together diverse perspectives from a range of professional disciplines and fields of research. In a changing world your advice to governments and business on how to adapt to new challenges helps shape New Zealand’s future trajectory and ultimately the well-being of all New Zealanders.

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New Zealand’s FCR cited research ratio is twice the world average.

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The Government is investing in ‘Te Tītoki Mataora’ the MedTech Research Translator, to deliver new medical tools – and meet both the demands of a global pandemic and of a growing and aging population.


3 thoughts on “An ABC of science from Megan Woods (but you might need a translation) portends reform of the sector to lift diversity

  1. Field Citation Ratio
    The Field Citation Ratio (FCR) is a citation-based measure of scientific influence of one or more articles. It is calculated by dividing the number of citations a paper has received by the average number received by documents published in the same year and in the same Fields of Research (FoR) category. Not sure how this can be applied to a country’s research though – maybe by comparing the average FCR across all research papers produced out of NZ research for the year and comparing with like measurement for other countries?


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