By Michael Edmonds 15/01/2017

Each year when the list of New Year’s Honours recipients is announced I eagerly look to see if any scientists and engineers are among the recipients. And usually I am disappointed to see a sparse representation.

More often awards seem to go to sportspeople, politicians and business people, or at least that is the impression I get, particularly from the media. But is this a fair comment or just my cognitive bias kicking in?

To answer this I decided to do an analysis on the recent 2017 New Years Honours list, the data for which is represented in the Table and Graphs below.

In order to analyse the information, I had to make a few judgement calls regarding categorising the different awards which it is reasonable to explain up front. First, I simplified the award categories – for example, those awarded for activities supporting community groups (youth, women, cultural groups, children with cancer etc) plus ambulance and fire service officers have all be included in the “service to society and community category”. Second, where awardees have received recognition in more than one category I have attempted to recognise them in each category.



new years honours



GRAPH 1: Dames & Knights, Companions, Officers & Members




GRAPH 2: Queen Service Order & Queen’s Service Medal




In looking at the Honours data several patterns emerge, some more obvious than others.

Awards recognising community service feature high in most categories, which is good to see, even if these typically get less media coverage. Sportspeople also get significant recognition though this is largely as Members; more business people are recognised as Officers. The Arts seem to get reasonable recognition, as do those who have served in local government – quite a few long serving councillors and mayors receive recognition when they retire.

Honours for science

And unfortunately, as I had thought, scientists, engineers and those working in related fields, feature very rarely. Is this because such work is underappreciated? Or just not understood by the wider community? Or is it simply that not enough scientists, engineers and technologists are being put forward for the New Year’s Honours awards?

I suspect the latter point is at least a contributing factor. About time we started looking at those working around us and putting some names forward, don’t you think?

P.S. – This is just a light analysis of the information I have collated. If you notice other patterns please feel free to post your thoughts. Also, I need to acknowledge this is an analysis of a single New Year’s Honours list – it would be interesting to see if previous New Year’s Honour and Queen’s Birthday lists are similar. (I will put that on my list of things to do, unless someone else wants to give it a go?)

Featured image: Breast star of a Knight or Dame Grand Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.