Woohoo – The Most Trusted New Zealanders …

By Michael Edmonds 20/06/2011 23


… are scientists, at least according to information released by the Readers Digest and reported on Breakfast TV this morning.

Topping the list of most trusted New Zealanders is Sir Ray Avery, the largely self taught medical scientist and philanthropist.

Sir Ray, is closely followed by Sir Professor Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister.

Completing the top three is Sir Paul Callaghan, physicist and advocate for science innovation as a way of moving New Zealand forward and upward.

If there ever was an antidote for Mondayitis, it’s waking up to hear this news. I think this is a brilliant opportunity for scientists around New Zealand to look at what these three science heros have done to become so trusted.

Sir Ray’s down to earth nature, his innovation and his contagious enthusiasm for science (not to mention his financial success) show science is an exciting career choice. His medical technologies also show how science saves lives.

Sir Peter’s dedication to bringing evidence based policies into New Zealand government is inspirational. His push to reduce the problems our teens currently experience no doubt encourages trust with those who want solutions to these teen issues.

Sir Paul is a wonderful speaker and advocate for science. His writings and talks for more funding and more innovative science in New Zealand are also inspirational.

So what do these three scientists have in common? Apart from the knighthoods they are scientists who have stepped out of the lab and gotten involved in the wider community, including venturing into the political arena.

Lessons for us all, I think.

Breakfast report can be found here: http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/scientists-top-most-trusted-list-4247442/video


23 Responses to “Woohoo – The Most Trusted New Zealanders …”

  • Quite amazing result, especially considering it came from a Readers Digest poll!

    The fact that Bret and Jamaine from FOTC ranked so highly throws a bit of dubious light on the whole thing hehe…

  • I’m not sure that rating Bret and Jamaine so high is necessarily “dubious”, however, it does make me wonder how people decide who they consider trustworthy. It would be interesting to see exactly how the questions in the poll were phrased.

  • Public trust could be a function of being seen to be consistant with your beliefs and messages. Something FOTC are known for and why politicians are never ranked very high

  • Need to apply a bit of critical thinking here.
    I don’t wish to question the excellence of the top three, but how many New Zealanders could identify Sir Ray Avery and explain what he has done? Perhaps the respondents had been primed by an article in the Readers Digest about him, in which case the whole exercise is suspect.
    Reminds me of the survey in AsiaWeek where they ranked the ‘best hotel fitness centres in the asia-pacific region’.
    Most of the surveys and league tables I see don’t stand up to a moment’s scrutiny. This includes the university rankings.

  • kemo sabe

    Granted, the poll may not be the most rigorous (I’m still waiting to find out the details of how it was done) but it does seem quite extraordinary that three scientists have taken the top 3 places when in the past, scientists haven’t featured well in the polls with sportsmen and entertainers often featuring in the top spots.
    Given that it is a list of the 100 most trusted people, I’d be surprised if there were articles that primed the respondents to any extent.

  • Sorry- i should have followed the link to the Herald article before I posted.

    To my credit I have never heard of Denise Estrange-Corbet. I see she is ranked no 7.

  • Fashion designer?

    When it comes down to it how does one define trust anyway?
    Politicians come with the lowest rankings yet we “trust” them to run the country.

    Must track down the details of the poll. Probably need to buy a Readers Digest, I guess

  • kemo sabe,

    based on what? being a fashion designer, agony aunt or contributor to the Herald?

  • I think kemo sabe’s point is that he is smarter than the average (NZ) bear. and he’s a bit of a snob about it.

    He doesn’t seem to think people will know who Ray Avery is (although I’ve seen and heard plenty of mainstream media features and interviews about him and his work) and you can bet if Denise Estrange-Corbet was listed as ‘biologist’ or ‘physicist’ he’d not be here resting his case on how he hasn’t heard of her.

    He’s a science hipster. Estrange-Corbet is too mainstream (god, the Herald, can you imagine), and I bet he liked Ray Avery’s early stuff, before he was so popular.

  • Saying someone is ‘the most trusted New Zealander’ is a bold claim. Whoever came out top of the list, I wouldn’t believe it.

    As for Denise, I struggle to reconcile the notions of ‘fashion design’, ‘agony aunt’ and ‘trust’.

    Pedantry rules, Ok!

  • I suspect part of one’s position on the ‘popularity’ stakes (I hesitate to call it ‘trust’) is a reflection of celebrity status. For some reason people seem willing to ascribe trustworthiness etc to people who have acquired said status, irrespective of whether they’ve actually done terribly much to earn it. So, for example, we see Richard Long advertising a (failed) finance company & Colin Meads promoting another (failed) finance company. Neither man had any expertise in the field, but presumably people tended to trust them because of their perceived status due to activities in other fields entirely. (If folks didn’t do that, then advertising agencies wouldn’t give people like Long & Meads the time of day.) So Estrange-Corbett & the boys from the Conchords may well have gained their exalted positions due to that.
    But I don’t perceive the same sort of ‘celebrity’ tag being attached to the scientists at the top of the list, so something else is happening there as well, perhaps?

  • I hope we aren’t going down this track:
    Point 1: the survey is probably flawed
    Point 2: the result was nice for science so let’s ignore point 1.

  • Probably quite a few things are happening. First, only those people that actually knew who the person was contributed that persons score – if you know enough about science to know who Paul Callaghan is then you’re likely to trust him too. The scientists probably also get a bonus for having “Sir” in front of their name (although a lot of others do too) and, in two cases “New Zealander of the Year” after it (that’s unique). And finally, we don’t what the actual scores were – it might turn out the difference between 1st and 20th isn’t very meaningful.

  • kemo sabe – yes, but what does it say about ‘our’ psyche, that folks are so willing to place their trust in celebrities who are famous for reading the news (for FSM’s sake) or for sporting prowess? Does some sort of critical thinking faculty switch off when the golden one opens their mouth & speaks.
    I should add ‘and yes, or scientists’ to that list. Being a scientist doesn’t actually mean that you can be trusted to comment on something outside your own field, just because you’re a scientist. Look at Luc Montagnier, who’s got well into the woo recently. But it does mean that we can expect (assume?) that scientists will have applied that same critical thinking faculty to whatever is the question du jour, before going in to bat for it (or opposing it), and that evidence of that thought will be apparent in their commentary. (Which is what we hope for here on Sciblogs I guess.)
    Sorry if that seems a bit discombobulated, I am procrastinating like crazy!)

  • kemo sabe

    I think I’m going down the track of

    1) the poll probably has flaws in it (but lets find out more about it first)

    2) For the first time scientists have rated quite well. I wonder why that is?

    3) Just because a poll might have flaws doesn’t mean you might not be able to pull some interesting data out of it.
    For example, if the poll had been preceded by small snippets of information on all 100 people then it would suggest that whatever had been written about the scientists obviously hit the mark.
    For a blog very interested in science communication, given the publicity about this, I think it would be remiss to simply dismiss this poll

  • It does seem ironic that scibloggers have got excited over an unscientific survey that showed science in good light.

  • I think it is incumbent on us to respond to these things in an appropriate way.
    In science, you have to be very careful to frame your questions properly.
    A question like ‘Who is the most trusted New Zealander?’ has no merit, for reasons hinted at by several posters.
    Example objection: I would trust my best friend to look after my kids but I wouldn’t trust him to give me financial advice.
    As Alison points out, you might trust the three eminent scientists on some issues but not on others.

    Likewise, I object to “which is the best university?’, ‘which is the best airline?’, ‘which is the best movie made siince 1945?’ etc etc.

    It’s very interesting how appealing these polls and surveys are. The media understand this very well, which is why they keep banging them out.
    In my view, as scientists we should dismiss this stuff as junk information and move on to more important matters.

  • Paul,

    “It does seem ironic that scibloggers have got excited over an unscientific survey that showed science in good light.”

    I don’t speak for all scientists or even all those blogging here.

    Although the poll can not be classed as scientific, I think it is interesting to look more closely at such polls to see if there is anything we can learn from them. Assuming the poll is carried out in a similar way each year, there has now suddenly been a change in where scientists sit.

    Kemo sabe,
    “In my view, as scientists we should dismiss this stuff as junk information and move on to more important matters.”

    So serious! The poll has provided publicity for three of New Zealand’s scientists. From that point of view it seems positive.
    No one is suggesting we base any major decisions on it.