Te Pūnaha Matatini Whānau

Te Reo Māori in New Zealand Parliament, as recorded in the Hansard Reports

Te Reo Māori in New Zealand Parliament, as recorded in the Hansard Reports

As one of two summer 2017-18 student interns for the Kōrero Māori project with Dragonfly Data Science, Te Hiku Media and Te Pūnaha Matatini, we were assigned to help collect corpus of te reo Māori text that would be used to train the written language model component of a te reo Māori computer natural language processing engine. When ready, the natural language processor will be used as the base for making software like Apple’s artificially intelligent ‘Siri’, that will be capable of understanding te reo Māori.

One text source in particular was identified that is publicly available online and known to contain te reo Māori – that is the New Zealand Parliamentary Debates as recorded in the Hansard reports.

The written record of Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) make up over 700 volumes of text that span from 1854 to the present day, and daily reports continue to be published online within a fews hours of each new thing spoken in Parliament.

Working through the Hansard

A variety of challenges were encountered while programming an algorithm that could successfully sort through the text in all the volumes, accounting for a variety of text structures, and detecting and extracting te reo Māori.

Hansard characteristics:

  • Hansard volumes prior to 1867 are assembled from newspaper publications and the like – the Hansard reporters first began their work in 1867.
  • Prior to volume 410 (1977), speeches were not always directly quoted and were often written in a narrative style. It is a possibility that at times te reo was spoken but only recorded as a narrative in english. From volume 410 onwards, all speeches are directly quoted.
  • Prior to volume 483 (1987), the volumes are published using non-digital means. Digital text has been generated from optical character recognition of scans – OCR from the earlier volumes is not the best. From volume 483 (1987) onwards the debates are published using computer word processing software.
  • In 1994 the Hansard reports begin to use macronised vowels for te reo Māori words.
  • From volume 606 (2003) onwards, the daily Hansard reports are available online as HTML formatted web pages.

In the end, the programme extracts segments of speech that have a high percentage of Māori words. It also counts all the Māori, non-Māori and ambiguous (e.g. ‘he’, ‘to’, ‘a’) words that are spoken within each day of debates.

Across the 700+ volumes, the programme has sorted through over 420 million words to detect about 7400 speech segments that are at least 50% te reo and have a combined total of about 390,000 Māori words.

History of Te Reo in Parliament

Several interesting discoveries were made after examining the result and making a graph (see figure below):

  • Up until the 1980s the proportion of te reo Māori speech in Parliament was barely anything – less than 0.1% for more than 130 years. However over the last 2-3 decades the growth trend in the percentage of te reo spoken in Parliament is very remarkable, even reaching as high as 2% in a year.
  • We found that Māori words make up about 0.2-0.4% of what people say in Parliament on average if they aren’t speaking in te reo Māori – most probably common words like names.
  • A cluster of te reo speeches around the 1940s.
  • Several MP speeches that include other polynesian languages are counted to contain about 50% – 70% “Māori” words – this is due to similarity between languages and alphabets.

Figure courtesy of Te Hiku Media.

Interpretation of the growth trend

Viewing Parliament and the New Zealand House of Representatives in the context of an institution that endeavours to represent the whole of Aotearoa New Zealand, the kinds of social interactions that occur within Parliament can also be interpreted as a general indicator, as an approximation, and as the emergent result of the many kinds of cultural interactions and social dynamics that are happening on the ground across broader New Zealand society as a whole. In this sense, the amount of te reo spoken in Parliament, or any language for that matter, reflects the current position that language has in society. The growth in te reo Māori used in Parliament appears to parallel the time period from when Te Kohanga Reo and Te Reo Māori revitalisation movement began, as well as from the time when the process of settling Tiriti grievances began.

What next?

Over the summer we interns managed to aggregate several thousand te reo sentences combined, including from sources such as the historical Māori newspapers. However, over 100,000 sentences are required to train a good language model, so there is still a lot more corpus gathering to be done.

The program scripted for the Hansard debates can be run again and again as new debates are published to continue growing the corpus of te reo Māori. The script can also be adapted and reworked to sort through other text sources that consist of paragraphs and sentences, particularly bilingual text.

In addition, with a little more work on this particular code we can start to keep account of:

  • The percentage of Māori spoken by each Member of Parliament over time
  • The percentage of Māori spoken by each Party over time
  • Count other Pacific/Polynesian languages when spoken in Parliament

Closing thoughts

The sudden upswing in te reo in Parliament in the last 20 – 30 years is astounding. From practically 0 to 1-2% in a couple of decades, imagine what it could look like in years to come:

  • When the percentage of Te Reo spoken in Parliament begins to match the size of the Māori population (~15%).
  • When the percentage of Te Reo spoken in Parliament approaches 50%, and the nation is almost 100% Māori bilingual.

No doubt, machines that have learnt to kōrero Māori will play an important part in such developments as we continue the journey onward into the technological future. Performing this mahi as a tauira intern for the Kōrero Māori project has been a great learning experience. I have been able to learn from professionals and sharpen my programming and data processing skills all for this deeply meaningful kaupapa with compelling implications for the digital future of languages indigenous to Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, and I am very humbled to have had the opportunity to contribute to its development.


William Asiata is a BSc Mathematics graduate from the University of Canterbury and a current Master of Information Technology student at the University of Auckland. William is passionate about the development and application of social choice algorithms to the construction of social networking systems, and how this will impact the future of civic technologies. William is also interested in the social evolution of peoples across Oceania.

A story of some Māori and Pacific Island women in science – from the 14th century to today

A story of some Māori and Pacific Island women in science – from the 14th century to today

Before I started working as a research assistant on the Hidden Networks project, the only woman from the history of New Zealand science I could name was Joan Wiffen, the “dinosaur lady” who discovered New Zealand’s first dinosaur fossils in Hawke’s Bay. She was a remarkable woman who contributed much to palaeontology here in New Zealand; she was also, incidentally, very white. I too am outwardly (that is, I pass as) very white. But as a mixed-race woman of Samoan descent, when I started this project I was very interested to learn about the contributions of non-Pākehā – chiefly, Māori and Pacific Island – women to science in Aotearoa. For the purposes of my research, I’ve taken “woman in science” to broadly mean a woman who has made a contribution to science in New Zealand, including both professional scientists with academic backgrounds and amateur scientists who have added to the pool of knowledge in their field, like Joan Wiffen.

The more I researched, the whiter the history of women in science in New Zealand came to look. Unsurprising really: according to Elizabeth McKinley, in 1998 just 1.5% of total employees at seven Crown Research Institutes in New Zealand identified as Māori women; there were none in management positions, and only two scientists. In ‘Finding Matilda’, Kate Hannah notes that “the historiography of science in New Zealand … tends to inadvertently reinforce [the] camouflage” of women. They are marginalized, but not absent: if you go looking, as I have, you’ll find a staggering number of women in New Zealand science from the 14th century to present-day. Yet from the beginnings of European presence in New Zealand, the overwhelming majority of these women were white. A feminist revisionist history of science aims not only to make science less male-centric (i.e. demonstrate, through promotion of women’s work both quantitatively and qualitatively, that science never has been just a man’s world) but also to make it less monochromatic (so to speak), which means celebrating the scientific achievements of brown women in New Zealand’s history, and showing that science never has been just a white world either.

In fact, the first women who made scientific contributions in Aotearoa were not Pākehā but Māori. I was delighted to learn of Whakaotirangi, who in the 1300s “was responsible for safeguarding the seed of the kūmara” as the Tainui Waka journeyed to Waikato. She was the wife of Hoturoa, the leader of the Tainui Waka migration from Hawaiki to Aotearoa, but also an important historical figure in her own right. In ‘Whakaotirangi: A Canoe Tradition’, Diane Gordon-Burns and Rāwiri Taonui explore how her importance has been diminished in post-European contact accounts of the Tainui migration. Tainui and Te Arawa traditions both speak of Whakaotirangi: she appears to be a noble and important ancestor in the history of both iwi. While she is most remembered for bringing kūmara to Waikato, she was also responsible for a number of other plants brought from Hawaiki. On arrival in Waikato, Whakaotirangi built gardens in which she experimented with growing and tending to a variety of plants, both for sustenance and medicinal purposes. She discovered how to make the kūmara, which had come from a much warmer climate, grow in the cooler land her people had settled. Her work was crucial for the establishment of the Tainui people: it provided them with a reliable food supply as they adjusted to life in a new land. She was also involved in commissioning, building and launching the Tainui canoe. Her profile on the Royal Society of New Zealand website, as part of their series 150 Women in 150 Words, credits her as “one of New Zealand’s first scientists”.

Around the middle of the 1400s, another important ancestor of the Waikato people appeared. Kahu (also known as Kahupeka, Kahupekapeka, Kahukeke, or Kahurere) was a Tainui woman who experimented with plants – such as harakeke, koromiko, kawakawa and rangiora – as medicinal remedies. She did so during her great journey: walking inland through the King Country while grieving the death of her husband (who in some accounts is Rakataura; in others Uenga). She gave names to different sites along her journey (such as Te Manga-Wāero-o-Te Aroaro-ō-Kahu – ‘the stream in which Kahu’s dogskin cloak was washed’) – these names tell the story of her journey and preserve the history of the land. At some point during her journey she was ill, which may have been why she sought out plants for their medicinal properties. Unfortunately there are many different versions of Kahupeka’s story, and in them there are few mentions of her medicinal experimentations with indigenous flora. In some versions Rakataura doesn’t die, and he and Kahu traverse the countryside naming places together, as explorers.

In Māori culture, practitioners or experts in any skill or art are known as tohunga. The Tohunga Suppression Act 1907 made tohunga status a punishable offence. The Act was repealed only in 1962, and so much of the knowledge surrounding this customary way of knowing has been suppressed – my search for tohunga wahine (female practitioners) who might count as women of science has not produced significant results. However, it is worth noting that the sources I accessed relied upon the written record. Other sources, such as Māori oral histories, may be much more fruitful.

The next Māori woman in science that I was able to find wasn’t born until the 19th century. Makereti Papakura (Margaret Pattison Thom; she also went by Maggie and was of Te Arawa and Tuhourangi iwi) was born to a Māori mother and an English father in the Bay of Plenty in 1873. She was raised by her mother’s aunt and uncle in Parekarangi, a rural area. She didn’t learn English until she was ten years old, speaking only Māori until her father took over her education. After her schooling, Papakura moved to Whakarewarewa, where she became an accomplished tourist guide. She gave herself the surname Papakura after a nearby geyser when a tourist she was guiding asked if she had a Māori surname. Clearly, the name stuck. In 1891 she married surveyor Francis Joseph Dennan; they had one child together before divorcing in 1900. In 1905 she wrote Guide to the hot lakes district. Papakura travelled to England in 1912, and married Richard Charles Staples-Browne. She had first met Staples-Brown when he was on a tour of New Zealand, and had reconnected with him while she was part of a Māori tour party in England. They divorced in 1924, but Papakura remained in England and in 1926 she enrolled at Oxford University, studying a BSc in anthropology. She died on April 16, 1930, only two weeks before her thesis, The old-time Māori – in which Papakura combined customary knowledge with scholarly conventions – was due to be examined. It was published posthumously, eight years later. Her thesis covers Māori social and familial structures, housing, weaponry and relationship with fire. She was meticulous in her writing, and wrote letters to her people in New Zealand during her drafting process, to ensure her account was as accurate as possible.

Bessie Te Wenerau Grace (1889-1944; Ngāti Tūwharetoa) was the first Māori woman university graduate, graduating from Canterbury University with a BA in 1926. She was the granddaughter of Ngāti Tūwharetoa chief Horonuku Te Heuheu. She then went on to receive an MA with first-class honours in modern languages from London University. In London she also became a nun, Sister Eudora. She worked as headmistress of St Michael’s School in Melbourne. In 1945, Dame Mira Szászy (1921-2001; Ngāti Kurī, Te Rarawa, and Te Aupōuri), a prominent Māori leader, became the first Māori woman to graduate with a degree from the University of Auckland. She went on to complete a postgraduate diploma in social sciences from the University of Hawaii and worked hard to improve the welfare of Māori women throughout her life. In 1949, Rina Winifred Moore (1923-1975; Ngati Kahungunu, Rangitane and Te Whanau-a-Apanui) graduated from the University of Otago with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery – and in so doing, became the first Māori woman doctor in New Zealand. In her career she worked to improve public perceptions of the mentally ill and was one of the first doctors in New Zealand to prescribe the contraceptive pill.

It has been harder for Māori and Pacific Islanders to enter scientific professions, as they are forced to combat social prejudices that expect them to fail – that tell them this is not where they belong. It has been harder for women to enter scientific professions because, again, they have to fight against the social biases that tell them ‘this is not your world’. Until the late 20th century, many women were expected to give up their careers when they married – motherhood and the domestic sphere became their full-time responsibilities. Some women chose to remain unmarried and childless in pursuit of scientific careers, while others stopped working when they married. Māori and Pacific women have to fight both gender and racial biases for their place in the world of science. This has been the case throughout the post-contact history of Aotearoa, and continues to be so.

Dr Ocean Mercier. Image courtesy of Dr Mercier and Image Services, Victoria University of Wellington.

Today, there are increasing numbers of Māori and Pacific Island women in science, with some of them working at the intersection of traditional knowledge and western science. Dr Ocean Mercier (Ngāti Porou) is a Senior Lecturer in Māori Science (the intersection of western science and mātauranga Māori) at Victoria University of Wellington. She has a PhD in Physics and was awarded the New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) inaugural Lucy Cranwell Medal (previously the Science Communicators’ Medal) in 2017. Science researcher Hokimate Harwood (Ngāpuhi) combines western scientific and Māori customary knowledge in her research of the feathers in kahu huruhuru (feather cloaks). Her use of microscopy to identify the origins of feathers used in precious cloaks has been pioneering. She is a Bicultural Science Researcher at Te Papa. Her sister, Dr Matire Harwood (Ngāpuhi; PhD MBChB), is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland Medical School and has done crucial research into indigenous healthcare throughout her career. Her efforts have been widely recognised, and in 2017 she was awarded a fellowship to the L’Oréal UNESCO For Women in Science programme.

Dr Hiria McRae. Image courtesy of Dr McRae and Image Services, Victoria University of Wellington.

Victoria University science educator Dr Hiria McRae (Te Arawa, Tūhoe, Ngāti Kahungunu) has created and developed a new educational model aimed at raising Māori students’ engagement in high schools. Through her research projects she has made important contributions to the field of Māori education.

Dr Pauline Harris. Image courtesy of Dr Harris and Image Services, Victoria University of Wellington.

Victoria University astrophysicist, science lecturer and research fellow Dr Pauline Harris (Rongomaiwahine and Ngāti Kahungunu), who has a PhD in astroparticle physics, is a key figure in the revitalisation and teaching of Māori astronomy. She is also involved in the search for extra-solar planets. Connected to Harris’s Māori astronomy programme is Pounamu Tipiwai Chambers, an undergraduate student at Victoria University who has employed Māori astronomical and navigational knowledge in undertaking waka voyages across the Pacific.

Another remarkable young woman, Alexia Hilbertidou (of Greek and Samoan descent), has founded GirlBoss New Zealand, an organisation aimed at the empowerment of young women in STEM studies after she felt alienated as the only girl in her year thirteen physics for engineering class. She was also part of NASA’s SOFIA project, making her the youngest person ever to be part of a NASA mission.

My blog post aims to contribute towards the unmasking of Māori and Pacific women’s contributions to science in both historical and contemporary landscapes. We are already seeing some important changes: many Māori women in science today combine customary and scientific knowledge to great success, a road paved by Makereti Papakura and her BSc thesis. However, Māori and Pacific women are still dramatically under-represented in fields of science, particularly at senior and management levels. It is therefore important that we keep up the momentum of positive change not only by looking forward but also by looking back: the successes of past figures provide an encouraging bevy of ‘shoulders to stand on’ for women in science today.

This post was written as part of my summer scholarship research on the Hidden Networks project, supervised by Rebecca Priestley and Kate Hannah.

Further reading

If you’re interested in learning more about the women I’ve mentioned, you might enjoy some of these sources:


Beth Rust is a BA(Hons) history graduate from Victoria University of Wellington. For her Honours thesis she researched the writings of Christine de Pizan, a 15th-century humanist and early defender of womankind. This past three months she has been working as a research assistant on the project ‘Hidden Networks: hybrid approaches for the history of science’. Beth is just about to start a job in the public service, and she is very excited to take the skills she has learned from her summer research into her new role. She loved being a summer scholar.

How machine learning can perpetuate racism

How machine learning can perpetuate racism

I wrote this algorithm to classify people by gender, but one of the biggest things I learned was how machine learning can reinforce racism and perform poorly on ethnic minorities.

Machine learning – or programs that are able to learn from and improve on past experience and data – is often accused of reinforcing human biases such as racism and sexism. However, it can be a bit unclear how exactly this happens.

How does an automatic soap dispenser fail to recognize black people’s hands? How does image recognition software come to classify people in kitchens as women, regardless of their actual gender? How does artificial intelligence that seeks to predict criminal recidivism produce results that are consistently biased against black people?

This walk-through hopes to give you a bit of an insight into one example of racism in machine learning, and how this comes to be.

The algorithm will be used as part of research into gender equity in STEM fields in New Zealand. A lot of information about who works in certain research centres or who graduated from university is publicly available online (for example, here are university records from NZ between 1870 and 1961), but it doesn’t explicitly include their gender. While a person reading the information can usually guess their gender quite easily and with a high degree of accuracy, it’s obviously very impractical to read and classify thousands or hundreds of thousands of observations. This is where this algorithm hopes to simplify and speed up the process of identifying women in STEM fields.

Training and testing data: Selecting appropriate data

Getting good data for the training and test sets is a really important part of machine learning. Your model is only as good as the data you train and test it on, so getting this right is key.

The starting point of my dataset is the 100 most common names for boys and girls born in New Zealand in each year, going back to 1954. One major drawback of this dataset is that it only includes people born in New Zealand, not those that emigrated here. This means the dataset is almost exclusively made up of Anglo-Saxon names, and does not reflect New Zealand’s large Asian and Pacific populations.

It also doesn’t include any Māori names, presumably because the Māori population isn’t large enough for these names to make the top 100 list. I’ve tried to remedy this by adding the top 20 Māori names for boys and girls from several years to the dataset. However, 91% of the training dataset is still made up of Anglo-Saxon names, while only 9% is made up of Māori names.

These biases in the training dataset mean that the model is likely to recognize the patterns that indicate gender in Anglo-Saxon names, while not picking up on patterns that indicate gender in the names of other cultures. The same biases in the testing dataset mean that the accuracy of the model probably only applies to Anglo-Saxon names, and that it may do much worse on names of other nationalities.  

Selecting useful features for the algorithm

It’s important to consider what features would be most useful in predicting the desired classes. I started off by using the last letter of each name to predict gender. Most Anglo-Saxon names for men end with a consonant, while most Anglo-Saxon names for women end with a vowel.

There are also some pairs of letters that are more common for one gender than the other. For example, the last letter ‘n’ is indicative of a male name (e.g. Brian, Aidan, John), but the suffix ‘yn’ is indicative of a female name (eg. Robyn, Jasmyn). Because of this, using both the last letter of each name and the suffix as features results in higher accuracy than just using the final letter. This gave me an accuracy of about 73% on a testing dataset that includes both Anglo-Saxon and Māori names.

This overall accuracy is lower than it would have been on a testing dataset made up of only Anglo-Saxon names because these features don’t perform as well with names of other origins. In a New Zealand context, this causes the most problems with Māori names. Most Māori names end in vowels, regardless of gender (examples of male Māori names include Tane and Nikau, while female Māori names include Aroha and Kaia). This means this particular feature doesn’t do a very good job with names of Māori origin.

The same problem would likely apply to other ethnicities, too. For example, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian and Hispanic names all often end in vowels, regardless of gender.

Imbalanced classes and the problems they cause

Imbalanced classes, or classes that are very different in their size, can also create problems for machine learning algorithms. In this case, ethnicity is an imbalanced class that is likely to influence people’s names. In the 2013 census, 74% of New Zealanders identified as European, 15% as Māori, 12% as Asian and 7% as Pacific. (Note that Statistics New Zealand allows you to identify with more than one ethnicity, therefore these numbers don’t add up to 100%).

Imbalanced classes often result in high accuracy within the majority class (in this case, European) and low accuracy within the minority classes (Māori, Asian and Pacific). This particular algorithm has an overall accuracy of about 73%. The accuracy within Māori names is about 69%, while the accuracy within European names is 75%.

The class imbalances in the data explain why the overall accuracy may not be a very good way of assessing whether the algorithm is working well. As well as checking the accuracy within each subgroup, it can be a good idea to look at precision and recall for more information on where the algorithm is doing well and where it’s doing poorly.

Precision tells us how much of a classified group actually belongs to that group. In this case, for example, precision of female names is the percentage of names classified as female that are actually female. It is calculated by dividing the number of true positive (number of women classified as female) by all positives (number of women and men classified as female).

Recall is the percentage of a particular group that has been classified as belonging to that group. For example, recall of male names is the percentage of male names that have been classified as male. Recall is calculated by dividing the number of true positives (number of men classified as male) by the number of true positives and false negatives (number of men classified as female).

The tables below show the precision, recall and a couple of other metrics on how well the algorithm is doing. The differences between the overall table and the tables by ethnicity show that it’s likely that this algorithm is systematically worse with non Anglo-Saxon names, specifically Māori names in this instance.


precision recall F1 score support
F 0.77 0.76 0.77 274
M 0.71 0.72 0.72 226
avg/total 0.74 0.74 0.4 500

For Māori names only:

precision recall F1 score support
F 0.75 0.88 0.81 17
M 0.33 0.17 0.22 6
avg/total 0.64 0.70 0.66 23

Here we can see that both precision and recall is very low for male Māori names. This means that only a small percentage of the names classified as being male actually are male (low precision) and an even smaller percentage of male Māori names have been classified as being male (low recall).

This is probably because most Māori names end in vowels, regardless of their gender. The algorithm does alright on female Māori names, because it has seen many instances of female names ending in vowels before. But it hasn’t seen many male names ending in vowels, so it fails to classify most of these names correctly.

For European names only:

precision recall F1 score support
F 0.82 0.72 0.77 140
M 0.7 0.81 0.75 115
avg/total 0.77 0.77 0.77 255

Because machine learning algorithms with imbalanced classes usually do worse in the smaller classes, they can further marginalise minority groups by routinely misclassifying them or failing to take into account patterns that are unique to the smaller group. In this example, this is likely to be the case with ethnic minorities.

It seems that this algorithm is likely to really only do a good job on Anglo-Saxon names. This limits the situations in which it would be appropriate to use it, and risks reinforcing Eurocentricity and a focus on whiteness.

This example shows how difficulties in getting hold of representative datasets, selecting features and unbalanced classes can cause algorithms to perform poorly on minority groups. These are only a couple of the many ways machine learning can contribute to the marginalisation of minorities, and it’s important to consider how this might happen in the particular algorithm you’re working on.

The consequences of bias in machine learning can range from the irritation of not being able to get soap out of an automatic dispenser, to the devastation of being given a longer prison sentence. As these algorithms become more and more ubiquitous, it is essential that we consider these consequences in the design and application of machine learning.

See this paper for a more detailed look at how imbalanced classes affect machine learning algorithms.


Emma Vitz is a recent Statistics & Psychology graduate of Victoria University who is starting a new role at an actuarial consulting company in Auckland. Emma enjoys applying data science techniques to all kinds of problems, especially those involving people and the way they think.

A more social network

A more social network

In the immortal words of Vanilla Ice – Stop, collaborate and listen. Collaboration is a cornerstone of modern science and with flight tickets cheaper than ever before and the internet effectively eliminating the expense of correspondence, academics and researchers are looking further afield and reaching more contemporaries across the globe. However, different institutions have different facilities and research focuses, not everyone speaks the same language, and so perhaps these researchers may be picky when it comes to who they work with. It raises the question of whether they do have a preference in collaborator based on affiliation and, if so, can this preference be measured and distilled into cold, hard data?

Of course they do, and of course it can be. More to the point, why?

Arguably the most tangible and conveniently quantifiable means in which academic collaboration manifests is in scientific papers and articles, typically with several authors from varying affiliations. A notable drawback in previous studies on research collaboration is that the measures used (such as the fractional count detailed in Nature Index) consider results for each institution, rather than individual academic, and disregard the size of each institution; as a result, smaller and younger institutions may stack up unfavourably compared to those that are more established and larger. For example, take a look at how the eight New Zealand universities compare against each other:

  • The nodes representing each university are weighted by their respective output (total number of co-authored papers by academics affiliated with these universities).
  • The links connecting universities to each other are weighted by the number of papers co-authored by researchers from both institutions.
  • The higher the link weight, the more that the connected universities are attracted to each other.

The skewing effect that university size has on this network is pretty apparent from how Lincoln University has much fewer co-authorships with Victoria University and University of Waikato than with the rest of the network, given its relatively small output. Also of note is that the University of Auckland and AUT have a much lower link weight than one would expect for two universities across the street from each other, yet the University of Auckland and the University of Canterbury have a much stronger link despite being at opposite ends of the country.

First, to address the effect of institution output. We do this using something we call the revealed comparative preference (RCP) of an institution i for collaborating with institution j:

Formula: revealed comparative preference (RCP) of an institution

where Xij is the number of co-authorships between i and j, Xi is the total number of papers co-authored by i with other institutions in the data set, and X is the total number of co-authorships between all the institutions in the data set.

Plainly speaking, it’s a measure of whether two institutions are doing more than collaborating than we might expect with each other relative to their tendency to collaborate with the other universities in the data set. If  Pij > 1  , then universities i and j share more co-authorships than we expect relative to the other institutions in the data set, so we say they have a comparative preference for collaborating with each other. Conversely, Pij < 1  indicates that the two universities are doing less than we might expect.

Anyway. Here’s the NZ university network revised with the links now weighted by their corresponding RCP values:

Better. Here it’s apparent that AUT has a stronger link with Auckland Uni in addition to Lincoln and Waikato, and it should be pointed out that University of Auckland, AUT and Massey University are also closer to each other in the network, bearing in mind that all three have campuses within Auckland.

Now with a working measure, we move on to a larger sample. Bring on the Australians.

Clearly the Tasman Sea has a solid effect on the way New Zealand based researchers connect with those based in Australia; the links within the NZ cluster of universities have greater RCP weightings than those within the Australian cluster, implying a preference for domestic rather than trans-Tasman co-operation. Another feature to consider is that the Australian universities in the same states are grouped together, which is consistent with the idea that geographical proximity plays a significant part in a researcher’s choice of collaborator.

It would only be natural to wonder how academics interact on a global scale – do we ever grow out of talking almost exclusively to our friends and shun outsiders in some weird, grown up, Mean Girls-esque collection of cliques?

From observing how the Dutch and German institutions are grouped together, we might conclude that the language barrier is a large hurdle to overcome when jointly writing scientific literature – this also seems apparent from the Chinese-Hong Kong cluster, as well as Korean and Japanese institutions as well. But languages also tend to cluster geographically, so it is hard to disentangle the effect of language from distance.

It’s no question that with the constant progress of technology, connecting with people is becoming less costly. However, there are factors remaining that impede the prospect of a totally connected scientific community, some of which have been speculated on here. Of course pictures and hand waving don’t constitute a solid argument, but a thorough analysis of these factors and their effect on university collaboration will be in store for you, dear reader.

In the meantime, perhaps one should learn German, or Mandarin, or Dutch, or even Japanese. It’s not that hard.

About the data visualisations
In order to make the larger graphs efficient enough to be used in browser, the amount of connections a node could have to other nodes was limited to its top four RCP values. This change had no significant effect on the clustering observed when the full connection matrix was used. The change was only implemented for the QS, ANZAC and benchmark data sets.


Bonnie Yu is a research assistant at Te Pūnaha Matatini and a member of Te Pūnaha Matatini’s Whānau group for emerging scientists. Her research projects focus on university collaboration networks.

The data visualisations of this post were prepared by fellow research assistant, Nickolas Morton.

The (my) future and other predictions with greater than 5% error

The (my) future and other predictions with greater than 5% error

What are you going to do after you finish your PhD? Where do you want to go? Are you going to become a lecturer? These are all questions that I field on a regular basis. Rather than going with my instinctive response of “What the hell? I don’t even know what my PhD is about yet!”, I usually say something like “I don’t know, but hopefully something in conservation or consulting”. Apparently this puts me in the minority of PhD students in that I do not desire to go into academia.

This was a topic discussed at the New Zealand Association of Scientists conference I attended on the 26th April; you can also read about it in my previous blog post. One of the speakers referenced the Royal Society report where it stated that while about half of PhD students continue on with research, becoming early career researchers, most end up leaving academia for work in industry. This is despite most PhD candidates desiring a job in academia at the outset of the project. The question asked at the conference is how can we, as the scientific community, support PhDs and Post Docs so that if an academic career does not pan out they can successfully and relatively painlessly transition into industry? As one of the members of the emerging researchers panel said, when she was faced with the current situation, it is not unusual to feel like the best option is just to “give up”.

I am lucky in that I have a great team of supervisors (I have 4 ± 1 supervisors) who want my PhD to be more about preparing me for future work rather than me just churning out papers. They have suggested that I take opportunities to learn skills that will be useful in industry and that I take time to build connections inside and outside of academia. However, not everyone is as lucky in having such excellent supervisors. I have heard horror stories about supervisors who refuse to meet with their students and those who take no role in preparing the student for the future. What can we do for these students without supervisor support?

This is a place where student-led organisations can step in. The Te Pūnaha Matatini Whānau committee is well aware of these trends and are currently working on a number of projects to address this. The Whānau has connected with industry partners such as data analytic companies. The intention is for TPM Whānau members to be eligible to undertake internships at the companies. This will teach the members new skills and give experience that will be valuable in industry. We are also organising a data debate on the issues of data privacy between industry members and Te Pūnaha Matatini.

Ultimately however, no matter how supportive the supervisor is, it is up to the student to make sure that they obtain the experience and skills they need. As one of my supervisors said, “if you are smart enough to get to PhD level you are smart enough to look after yourself”.

With that I will sign off and go look after myself.



Jonathan Goodman is a Te Pūnaha Matatini Whānau committee member.

Jonathan is a PhD student in Statistics at the University of Canterbury. His current research is looking at pest control in the Greater Wellington Region taking into account procedural, geographic and socio-economic measures. Jonathan is excited about applying statistics to real world problems and facilitating positive social impacts.
My First Conference(s)

My First Conference(s)

By Jonathan Goodman

Never do things by halves, jump in the deep end, give it a go, eat your vegetables, trust your supervisors. This is all good advice and I now realise I must have taken it, having presented at the first conference I have ever attended, then attending another conference three days later run by an organisation I had never heard of before. I have also joined the Te Pūnaha Matatini Whānau committee based solely on my supervisor’s advice. Before I go on, I must admit that all of these actions have proved to be worthwhile and rewarding.

The first conference was the Te Pūnaha Matatini cross-theme hui. This was the first Te Pūnaha Matatini gathering I have attended since joining the Centre of Research Excellence as a PhD student at the start of the year. The hui consisted of a series of short talks, including my first at a conference, interspersed with four rounds of the “Research Knockout” – a game designed by Alex James. The game started with the creation of teams of 3-5 researchers from Te Pūnaha Matatini’s three research themes. Each team then generated a potential research project. Each round of the knockout consisted of pairing up the groups and amalgamating their ideas into an enhanced version. This continued until there were just two groups remaining. In the grand finale, there was a final presentation followed by a vote. The winning research topic was ‘Measuring the impact of the communication of science’.

The question of science outreach also came up at the conference run by the New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS). The conference was held at Te Papa in Wellington and celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Association. The conference had a selection of engaging speakers looking at the role of scientists in the past, the present, and into the future. A number of speakers talked about science communication.

One of the presenters, Simon Nathan, spoke about James Hector and how he effectively pushed the cause of New Zealand science, through his role of Chief Government Scientist, by constantly reminding politicians about the value of science. Rebecca Priestley talked about how science outreach was different back in the days of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR). Instead of scientists engaging in outreach programs, interested journalists and citizens would phone and be able to speak directly with the scientist who was in the best position to answer their queries. Te Pūnaha Matatini’s own Shaun Hendy presented on how social media is currently the only way scientists are able to directly communicate with the population without the risk of their message being obscured. His three guidelines for public engagement were very apt.

Researchers should:

1) Not be d!@#s

2) Get on social media

3) See rule number 1.

The other major theme of the conference was the structure of the pathways inside and outside academia for emerging researchers. I will touch on this in another blog post on the Te Pūnaha Matatini Whānau page.

Having had a rewarding weekend forming connections with talented scientists, and with the science community as a whole, I will sign off hoping that I have followed Shaun’s rules.

Jonathan Goodman

The First Post

By Ben Curran

It’s an interesting thing, writing the first post. It’s an interesting thing writing the first line.

Whether it’s the first line of a paper, a chapter, a grant application or a blog post, I always find the first line … daunting. It’s only now, having finished the thesis and other things need to be written, that I recall how awful that first line is. Even if there is a specific goal behind the writing, an idea that you set out to communicate, what words do you choose for the first sentence? Who are you talking to? What sort of tone are you after? These are things that paralyse the first line.

And then there’s the times when you’re forcing yourself to write when there is no specific goal other than to practice writing. I liken this situation to the one I encountered all too often in one of my previous incarnations as a bartender – there’s always a customer who comes in at some point and says “surprise me”. Most often they got a glass of water.

Like it or not, writing is a large part of what we do. Sure, the thinking, the testing, the figuring out what’s going on are important, but in the end they mean nothing if we can’t communicate the results. And for larger audiences, writing is the primary means of communication.

Writing has to start somewhere though. Writing the first line, whether it’s a good sentence or not, is always awful. It is almost certainly going to be at least edited, if not entirely removed. Which makes it, in the greater scheme of things, not particularly important. This, to a certain extent, can be extended to the entire first draft of pretty much any work. One of my PhD supervisors, in an effort to get me writing, used to stress that whatever I wrote for the first draft was going to come back with red ink all over it. I was told to just write something, anything, a foundation upon which the story you are trying to tell could be built.

If you’re not used to working with wood, there is often a feeling of trepidation in making the first cut. Making the first bend in a piece of metal, applying the soldering iron for the first time to a circuit board. All of these things impart a sense of beginning and often the thought that runs through your head is “what if I screw it up”. It’s the same thing with writing. Measure twice, cut once, Dad said. The first draft is only the first measurement. The first sentence is only the first line on the plans, drawn with pencil.

So if you have a specific idea to communicate, start writing. After a while that feeling of trepidation is replaced by familiarity. Knowing the first draft is only the rough plan of your work means that, eventually, writing the first sentence becomes … an odd thing. Just odd. And yet familiar, interesting even.

And as a scientist, when I see something interesting, I usually want to stop and take a serious look. Turn it over, see how it works. This is where it can be good if you don’t have a specific idea to communicate, put that first, odd sentence down and see where it takes you. Possibly somewhere very much like here.