Steve Pointing

Professor Steve Pointing is Director of the Institute for Applied Ecology New Zealand, AUT University. He completed his undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Great Britain, with undergraduate focus in biochemistry and postgraduate study in microbiology. His doctoral research addressed marine fungal and bacterial colonization of shipwreck timbers from the Tudor warship Mary Rose. After gaining his doctorate he lived and worked in Hong Kong until 2012, conducting research on the microbial ecology of extreme environments. He now calls Auckland home, and his research focuses on environmental issues with regional and global relevance, including New Zealand’s strategic commitment to Antarctica. Steve is on Twitter @stevepointing

Acknowledging the Value and Integrity of Mātauranga Māori in science - Pointing At Science

Jul 24, 2015

It has been really rewarding to work with John Perrott and Pare Keiha to articulate our vision on the Value and Integrity of Mātauranga Māori in science. John has written a particularly articulate statement that I reproduce (with his permission) below:

Indigenous knowledge is enshrined in New Zealand’s culture and legislation through the Treaty of Waitangi. The importance Māori place on the environment, and native flora and fauna in particular is demonstrated in Māori art, oral narratives and proverbial sayings. Understanding Māori knowledge and cultural norms is essential for science practitioners in New Zealand if they are to build effective working relationships with Māori communities.

The power dynamics that exist within educational and research relationships change when collaborations are formed between researchers and indigenous peoples.  Collaboration is about sharing with and learning from one another. Māori term this style of collaboration-learning as ‘Ako’, meaning two-way learning relationships. Educational and research relationships stumble at times due to failure to understand and value Ako because culture cannot enter the lecture theatre unless it has first entered the consciousness of the lecturer. This has been a major stumbling block in attracting and engaging with Māori students in life science education.  

To communicate science to Māori group’s scientists must first learn to engage their values. Mātauranga Māori highlights the importance of understanding the interrelated connectedness between people, the things we do, and our values. It accentuates the importance of valuing people and human life and connects the lecturer and student by stressing the importance of ensuring emerging ideas and technology are not created at the expense of first nation peoples or the natural world. Ako processes place at the forefront the guiding principles of dignity and mana (prestige) of all those engaging in the collaboration process. The key principle of Ako emphasise the learning environment via maintaining the mana of all participants. This is very important with regards to student recruitment, mentoring and retention. 

Without a doubt, Māori have mixed western ways of doing things with ancient rituals passed down through generations resulting in very effective tikanga (Māori protocols) for ensuring the cultural safety and comfort of all research participants (e.g., students, stakeholders and supervisors). For instance, We have integrated tikanga Māori and cultural safety protocols into animal dissection and euthanasia laboratories. This has been widely celebrated by Māori and other Pacifica groups and provides great opportunities for:

          honouring commitments to the Treaty of Waitangi,

          attracting and retaining Māori and Pacifica students within the life sciences,

          developing effective relationships with Māori communities and,

          unlocking the funding and innovation potential of Māoridom.

Therefore, Mātauranga Māori is not only a great platform for student engagement and retention but also a very marketable commodity for increasing student numbers. Mātauranga Māori offers education providers with the tools to tap into Māori communities by emphasising the learning environment and student support services. Mātauranga Māori is an effective strategy because it can be delivered as part of a wider student pastoral care system, linking student mentoring and research to communities, social media and a wider array of funding opportunities presently available to life science researchers.

A new Earth? - Pointing At Science

Jul 24, 2015

NASA announced exciting news today that the Kepler space telescope has identified the most 'earth like' planet to date ( So what does this actually mean? and is it really that exciting?This is a breakthrough for ...

Search for alien life gets a boost - Pointing At Science

Jul 23, 2015

It’s all about life in the broadest possible sense on bFM’s Dear Science show this week ( In the show I discuss how announcement of the $100m ‘Breakthrough Initiative’ project by the Royal Society in London this week will boost the search for life on other worlds (  This project is funded by Yuri Milner and other philanthropic tech billionaires, and has the backing of eminent physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking. A related story describes how the origin of life may need a re-think, and perhaps points to an origin on land in deserts rather than the currently held view that hydrothermal vents were the source of the first self-replicating biological molecules ( Finally I talk about a new study in PNAS this week that indicates carbon dating techniques may become severely compromised by the rising levels of atmospheric carbon from burning fossil fuels (abstract only with this link unless you have a subscription:

More on Pluto, drones and why Carl Woese deserved a Nobel prize - Pointing At Science

Jul 17, 2015

On bFM’s Dear Science show , the lead story was of course the success of NASAs New Horizons probe and the amazing images of Pluto and its moons that beamed their way to us across approximately 4.5bn km of space. Even the first ‘basic’ findings, confirming Pluto’s size and surface topography, are astonishing. Follow New Horizons Closer to home, a discussion on how novel spectral imaging cameras mounted on airborne drones is transforming conservation research in NZ is also featured Finally, since Carl Woese was born on this day in 1928, I review his pivotal contribution to the understanding of evolutionary biology and microbiology. His discovery of the third domain of life (Archaea) and their place in the phylogeny of all life surely ranks as one of the most important contributions to life science, and how this … Read More

Amazing Animals special on bFM this week - Pointing At Science

Jul 10, 2015

Spiders that can sail and even make anchors, the secret to why seahorses have square tails, and why there should be alien sharks and lions on other planets.  Check out the 'Amazing Animals' special on bFM's Dear Science show this week: http:/...

Biological clocks, atomic clocks and biogenic iron - Pointing At Science

Jul 02, 2015

On my ‘Dear science’ radio show on 95 bFM this week I discuss the latest cool science breakthroughs including: New work that reveals the molecular basis for recording the Earth’s rotation in biological molecules, why we gained an extra second on June 30ththis year, and why half the iron on Earth may be biogenically modified.  Listen to the podcast on bFM at

For more information on each story here are some links (abstract only for the Science and PNAS articles unless you have a subscription):

Calling all science communicators! - Pointing At Science

Jun 26, 2015

Check out my new project, Sci21, aimed at showcasing Kiwi and southern hemisphere scientist’s views on topics that will transform our world in the twenty first century (  We have already filmed the first three webcasts that tackled topics as diverse as astrobiology, nanotechnology and e-health.  These will go live on the Sci21 website in July.  The next filming dates are in August and November and we have an impressive line-up of presenters who will discuss antibiotic resistance, climate change, emerging infectious diseases, and marine conservation.  A further aim of this project is to provide a platform for emerging science communicators to gain exposure, and so if you have an idea for a Sci21 webcast then please do get in touch and lets discuss how you can participate.

Do solar flares cause arthritis? - Pointing At Science

Jun 18, 2015

A health focus on bFM’s Dear Science show this week:  Have you ever wanted to know why someone would create a global map of fecal viruses? Could there be a link between solar flares and the incidence of autoimmune diseases? What’s the reason that some itches just have to be scratched?  If you want to know the answers, you can listen to the podcast at

A salute to the most important ‘soldier’ of WW2 - Pointing At Science

Jun 10, 2015

It is sixty-one years ago this month since the great mathematician and father of modern computing Alan Turing took his own life.  He would have been celebrating his 103rd birthday this month had he survived – and being a homosexual before the time when single sex parents could have children, he may possibly have lived long enough to blow out the candles on his birthday cake – after all there is a fair amount of evidence that suggests the rigours of family life may shorten lifespan – just thinking of my family supports this; I had a great Aunt who never married and lived well into her hundreds, when all her procreating siblings died decades earlier!

Turing died in what may look outwardly as a ‘fairy tale’ manner: He ate an apple laced with cyanide (echoes of Snow White?).  The reason - ultimately and sadly -was all related to his sexuality.  He stoically endured chemical castration by oestrogen injections after being convicted of indecent acts, and this debilitated him physically and emotionally. Amazingly he continued to work during this and even produced some of his finest work while being ‘tortured’ in this way by the British authorities. However what ultimately led to Turing taking his own life was apparently the revoking of his security clearance and passport by British authorities, which prevented him working and traveling to more gay-friendly nations in Europe.

Turing is one of my science heroes.  There are two reasons really: First he is one of the ultimate applied scientists, in my mind he ranks alongside Fleming (whose team discovered penicillin) in terms of the impact his science had on his generation.  Anyone who has watched the fabulous movie “The Imitation Game” will know that his efforts to decipher the Nazi ENIGMA code are widely believed to have shortened World War II by at least two years and saved millions of lives.  What makes this all the more laudable is that he never received any public praise for this work because it was top secret! (although he did later receive an OBE for his work at the Foreign Office). Secondly, he was a brilliant interdisciplinary scientist, and indeed a quick gander at Google Scholar reveals his most widely cited publication is in the life sciences, describing the chemical basis for morphogenesis.  I think that the APPLIED nature of his work, and his INTERDISCIPLINARY contributions, make him a real role model for today’s scientists, at a time when we need to be more mindful of end user value to our work –especially to the taxpayers who fund it!

I have started a call via twitter for an Alan Turing Medal in Interdisciplinary and Applied Science (#turingmedal).  There is already a Turing Award in computing, but my idea is for this new award to more clearly celebrate the spirit of his achievements in that interdisciplinary and applied area.

You can catch more about Alan Turing’s contributions to science on my ‘Dear Science’ show on 95 bFM this week (podcast at:

All things Antarctic - Pointing At Science

Jun 05, 2015

On my 'Dear Science' radio broadcast on 95.0 bFM this week, I discuss how recent melting of a west Antarctic ice sheet is so great it is affecting local gravity,  why some scientists are proposing to send ice to Antarctica, and why Antarctic dinos...