Guest Blog

Yes, you should mention the myth when you correct it

Yes, you should mention the myth when you correct it

14 June 2024

A collaboration between doctoral researcher Laura Kranz and Illustrator Jean Donaldson. Edited by Jonathan Burgess.

You’ve probably had to study for a test or exam at some point in your life. When faced with a lot of material, how do you go about learning it? Perhaps you listen to it through your headphones while commuting because you’re an auditory learner.

But are you?

The idea that everybody has a specific learning style (visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic) is remarkably persistent. It seems to make sense that people learn best when they study information in their given learning style. However, there’s no evidence to support learning styles. Hundreds of studies in cognitive science show that people learn best when we receive new information in multiple ways, but that people don’t learn any better in their preferred style.

If you believe that learning styles are a thing, you’re not alone. Learning styles is a pervasive myth – in my research, more than 95% of people believe it to be true. We are taught it in schools, and unless you’ve specifically researched it yourself, or have been told it’s a myth, you have no reason not to believe it to be true.

People believe many false ideas. Most are pretty benign – it makes minimal difference to society if I believe that we swallow eight spiders a year in our sleep or that chewing gum stays in your stomach for seven years if you swallow it. But some false beliefs can have harmful impacts, like reduced vaccination rates or increased greenhouse gases. We all benefit from correcting myths that cause harm.

An animation of a spider dropping from the ceiling while somebody sleeps.

Attempting to replace belief in myths with correct information can be frustrating, but there are strategies that can help. One recommendation from research – including my own – is to mention a myth when debunking it. By mentioning a myth you are encouraging people to mentally link the pre-existing false belief with the correct information.

When people believe a false idea, they have a representation of this in their brain. When they are told new information that counters a pre-existing belief, the new information doesn’t simply erase and replace the old belief. Instead the new information forms its own, independent, representation in the brain.

Even if people believe the new information, the old false information is still around and can continue to influence thinking and behaviour. If somebody has a mental link between a false belief and a correction then when they bring to mind the false belief they are more likely to bring to mind the correction too. This reduces the likelihood that they use the false information to guide thinking and behaviour.

An animation of a brain making new connections.

In my research I look at how to effectively correct scientific misinformation – both controversial myths (such as myths about vaccines) and non-controversial myths (such as myths about learning styles). We used to think that mentioning a myth when debunking it could be harmful. We know that people use familiarity as a proxy for truth – that is, the more familiar an idea feels to a person, the more likely they are to believe it to be true.

By mentioning a myth when debunking it we thought we might inadvertently strengthen belief in the myth by boosting its familiarity. However, it turns out that the relative benefit of mentally linking the myth and correction overrides any potential familiarity effect. This looks to be the case for both controversial and non-controversial myths.

Even when people don’t shift their beliefs to be in line with new information, people don’t tend to show increased belief in a myth when it is mentioned in debunking efforts. This is great news for science communicators: you don’t need to avoid mentioning a myth when debunking it.

 


Laura Kranz is a TPM Whānau member who has been exploring the role of cognition and emotion in science communication for her doctoral research.

Jean Donaldson is a designer and native bird fanatic based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. You can see more of her work at https://jeanmanudesign.com/.

Complex is different from complicated, and why that matters

Complex is different from complicated, and why that matters

5 June 2024

This is the first of a series of posts on complexity. We’ll be exploring some of the ways that studying complex systems gives us a more nuanced way of understanding the world, how this is relevant to all our lives, and the unique contributions we can make to this new way of understanding the world from Aotearoa New Zealand.

An aeroplane is pretty complicated. The large commercial planes that criss-cross our skies are made up of millions of parts, each one carefully designed and engineered. There are hundreds of years of scientific enquiry behind these machines that lift us off the ground and transport us at tremendous speeds around the world.

Each part of an aeroplane has a particular purpose, and contributes to achieving flight. You can reduce an aeroplane to the parts that make it up, and you can reduce flight to four basic principles: lift, weight, drag and thrust.

Aeroplanes are a great example of understanding the world by breaking it down into parts, and then understanding the whole system as the sum of these parts. Over the last few centuries, scientists have gotten pretty good at this approach.

But if you took an aeroplane apart, it would just be a big pile of parts again. Without a team of humans who understand how to rebuild it, this pile of parts would continue being a big pile of parts, rather than an aeroplane.

An aeroplane is very complicated, but it’s not complex. In the 21st century, as human societies are growing, becoming more interconnected, and having an increasing influence on planetary systems, it’s complexity that we need to understand.

An illustration showing aeroplane parts laid out over blueprint.

On planet Earth, we’re surrounded by big piles of water. These big piles of water are made up of water molecules. As these molecules are heated, they rise up into the sky, and form clouds as they cool. They travel around the world, and become mist, fog, rain, snow and hail. They coat mountaintops, and they feed plants. They carve out landscapes, and they flow down rivers and back into the sea.

Where aeroplane parts create aeroplanes, water molecules are one of the components that create weather, and our climate. Weather is different from an aeroplane because it doesn’t need anything external – like a group of aeroplane engineers – to create it. This is why weather is a complex system, and an aeroplane isn’t. And where aeroplanes are reasonably consistent, the weather is never the same. Those piles of water molecules interact with each other and other elements of the weather system to produce infinitely different weather patterns.

Complex systems are all around you. And you as a human have arisen through the behaviour of complex systems. Biological cells organise themselves into animals and plants, and can create wondrous structures like the human brain.

When biological cells have self-organised into humans, those humans create societies, and those societies interact with the systems around them to influence things like the climate system, which in turn influences those societies. Everyone and everything exists within this interwoven system of systems with complex relationships that feed back and influence each other. These interwoven systems challenge our common understanding of cause and effect.

An illustration showing the journey of a water molecule into weather.

When Cyclone Gabrielle ravaged the local environment in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2023, the complexity of the situation became strikingly evident. Many factors determined the extent of the damage and the effectiveness of recovery efforts, from the interactions of atmospheric conditions to the vulnerabilities of built environments and the different ways that communities reacted.

Where wind patterns, topography, infrastructure resilience, and human actions and decision-making interact, they give rise to outcomes that cannot be predicted by analysing each component in isolation. We call this emergence, an important process resulting from the relationships within complex systems.

A better understanding of complex systems can help us to see the whole context of situations like extreme weather events, including their emergent properties. This will help us to better predict, understand and act when disasters strike.

To understand complex systems, breaking them down into their individual bits doesn’t cut it, as it is the relationships between the parts that have the most influence.

The challenges that we face in the twenty-first century are complex. The interrelated problems of economic crises, social inequality, food insecurity, migration, urban and rural living conditions, and globalisation have shown us the limitations of understanding the world as only complicated.

Although we have become very good at understanding and building the complicated, we have more work to do on understanding and acting on the complex. How does anything, like disease, information, and cultural practices, spread through systems?

Over the last century or so, the study of complex systems has given us a detailed way of understanding our world. We have learned a lot about how complex systems behave which can assist prediction and change. We have learned that how they evolve is quite similar across many different areas, and that understanding one system can give surprising insights into another. As we have learned more about complex systems behaviour, we have also learned more about how this behaviour is tied together through theories of complexity that enable structures and processes to be defined, detected and studied.

As humans grow as an influential force on Earth and beyond, we need to better understand our relationships with each other and with the systems that we encounter. The developing field of complex systems is giving us the concepts, language, and tools to do this. In this blog series, we will explore some of the foundations of complex systems and how they can help us to understand our world.

 


A collaboration between Te Pūnaha Matatini Principal Investigators Anna Matheson and Markus Luczak-Roesch, and illustrator Hanna Breurkes. Edited by Jonathan Burgess.

Systems and people: Te Pūnaha Matatini submission to the Science System Advisory Group

29 May 2024

Associate Professor Priscilla Wehi and Professor Markus Luczak-Roesch
Co-Directors, Te Pūnaha Matatini

We appreciate the opportunity to provide input into the work of the Science System Advisory Group (SSAG) on the review of the research, science and innovation system (RSIS) in Aotearoa New Zealand. We provide this input in our capacity as co-directors of Te Pūnaha Matatini – Aotearoa New Zealand’s Centre of Research Excellence for Complex Systems.

Because there has already been significant consultation in recent years about the RSIS (especially in the context of Te Ara Paerangi, to which we provided a comprehensive and evidence-backed submission), we want to keep this submission to the SSAG concise and focused on two recommendations:

  1. Take a systems approach to the evaluation and re-design of the RSIS.
  2. Put the people within the RSIS at the centre of attention.

Take a systems approach to the evaluation and re-design of the RSIS

Adopting a systems approach to reforming the RSIS should involve a comprehensive and integrated method that considers all components and their interactions within the research ecosystem and of the research ecosystem with the wider society. This approach should ensure that the reform is holistically forward-thinking and give consideration to the need to restore the credibility of research and science in an increasingly polarised society.

A critical step in a systems approach should be the identification of levers of change within the current RSIS that are expected to be effective for a transition into a desired future state. However, our appeal is for any transition to happen with great care by first evaluating implications and impact of change to avoid creating, perpetuating or amplifying inequities in the RSIS. This should be backed by robust, high-quality evidence.

Put the people within the RSIS at the centre of attention

As a Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE) we have a particular perspective on the lived reality of people within the RSIS that other organisations may not experience as directly as we do. We are attached to a host institution (the University of Auckland), but we are not a legal entity. We don’t employ researchers, but we build researcher networks and support some of the research activities of the people within our networks through research funding.

We have experienced – specifically over the last five years – a diversification of our principal investigators’ professional circumstances. It is much more common now that some of Aotearoa New Zealand’s best researchers are not permanently employed by ‘traditional’ organisations with a mandate to undertake research (e.g., universities or Crown Research Institutes (CRIs)). Instead, we much more frequently see mixed employment (part-time with a traditional organisation and part-time with a private organisation) as well as scholars who have no link to traditional research organisations (i.e., they work as independent scholars or are employed by a private research organisation). However, involving people from outside of traditional organisations in CoRE-funded research is not straightforward due to structural, procedural and financial misalignments (e.g., independent scholars and scholars in private organisations aren’t usually covered by a base salary to attend CoRE events and, therefore, need to be compensated on a per day basis or invest their time in events for free).

Furthermore, because these scholars have (partially) left the traditional academic research system, they are no longer incentivised to publish their research in academic outlets. This is in direct conflict with the expectations from many research funders (including the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) that funds CoREs) that evaluate research success and impact (proposed and achieved) through the proxy of publications in peer-reviewed academic outlets.

We want to emphasise that we think the diversity of researchers’ employment circumstances should be considered a feature (and not a flaw) of a modern RSIS that is committed to what is often referred to as the “third mission” (specifically in central Europe). The “third mission” refers to the interweaving of universities and research organisations with society, municipalities, and the economy. We hope the SSAG will make recommendations that allow for larger flexibility in how research funding can be used to foster this mission and enable wider participation by people in research activities independent from their individual organisational affiliation. Associated with this, we would also like to see effort put into communicating the value of research to societal groups and organisations.

We therefore reiterate that we would like to see careful assessment of the current research system based on robust work from a structural perspective, including current researcher ‘homes’ and employment destinations for both domestic and international students, and an assessment of the necessary requirements to create and maintain a stable, flourishing workforce.

Systems and people: Systems and people: Te Pūnaha Matatini submission to the Science System Advisory Group [PDF 658KB]

The surprising benefits of planting trees on farms

The surprising benefits of planting trees on farms

24 May 2024

A collaboration between bioeconomy expert Sandra Velarde and illustrator Jean Donaldson. Edited by Jonathan Burgess.

Kyle Wills is not afraid of planting trees on his beef and deer farm.

Kyle is a farm advisor from Central Otago. In the winter of 2022 and 2023 he planted over 7,000 trees in two different areas of his own farm. One area was unimproved native pasture and the other was a very exposed developed paddock that was not performing.

He has planted a variety of trees such as oaks, eucalyptus, alders, poplar, tagasaste, mulberry, pears, apples, apricots and plum trees.

These trees will be increasingly important on Kyle’s farm. The number of hotter days in summer in the next 20-70 years is expected to double in Te Wai Pounamu, the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. Cows without shade or shelter on site may suffer heat stress, and this affects the amount of milk that they produce. Winter days may become wetter as well, and it can get pretty windy out there on the plains.

Farmers care for their animals, and as the weather becomes more extreme, they will need more protection. Trees give them this protection. This is just one of the numerous benefits of planting trees on farmland, which is called agroforestry.

An inspiration for other farmers, and an easy way to get started

One day, a nearby farmer saw what Kyle was doing with the trees in his farm. She asked Kyle to design a similar system for her. She is concerned with future potential reductions of water to irrigate her sheep and beef farm and a lack of shelter for her livestock. Combined with low rainfall, poor soil water holding capacity, and exposure to winds and hot summers, this farmer liked the idea of planting some trees to improve the farm microclimate, and add other benefits such as creating feed for grazing animals and income from carbon sequestration.

As temperatures rise, summers become hotter, winters wetter, and water permits may become uncertain, trees may be a way to build resilience on farms.

If you’ve ever driven through or flown over the South Island, you might have noticed vivid green circles amongst the fields. These are irrigation circles, created by centre pivot irrigators – hulking metal spans that spray water across the fields as they trundle around in a circle.

The dry corners created by this approach to farming are an easy place to start with planting trees. If you put them all together, there are about 35,000 hectares of these corners in Canterbury, ripe for tree planting.

An animation of trees growing in dryland corners and sending shade across irrigated fields.

Word gets around

In his work as a farm advisor, Kyle spent a lot of time talking to farmers from Claxby Farms and Ngāi Tahu in Canterbury about planting trees on their farms. He has spent hours visiting and listening to farmers’ key concerns, values and farming objectives. Then he started looking for the trees that could grow on each farm to fulfil their different objectives.

Both farms cared about short term profitability but their long-term biodiversity goals are different. On their Hamua farm, Ngāi Tahu were willing to accept higher costs for establishment, utilising more fencing to create a space where native species could germinate if conditions allowed. Additionally, there were native species in the planting mix and the plan is to replace exotic trees with natives as they mature over time. This way, they would achieve their long term biodiversity aspiration, increasing the mana of te taiao.

Indigenous trees are natural magnets for native biodiversity. They behave as islands for indigenous flora and fauna. As pollinators and seed eating birds visit the trees for food, shelter or nesting places, indigenous trees encourage native afforestation. Two native species were selected for the agroforestry system on this farm: kōwhai and ribbonwood.

A happy cow in the shade of a tree.

Kyle and the farmers tested some ideas face to face and on screen maps, with different layouts, tree species and shading rates. The farmers were full of questions:

  • How will pasture production be affected if I put in trees in dryland corners?
  • Which trees will create food for the animals or not cause any problems?
  • Will I be able to get income from the trees without harvesting them?
  • How much carbon will the trees sequester?

Together, they designed an agroforestry system that is both good for the environment and potentially profitable. Trees on the dry corners of irrigated dairy farms can reduce nutrient leaching, sequester carbon and keep the cows happy by providing food, shade and shelter.

A new era of agroforestry

In Aotearoa, past agroforestry experiences have not been positive. Previous approaches to planting trees on farms have been mainly based around pine trees for timber. This system was not designed with the farmer in mind, and was a little bit unimaginative.

These days we focus on farmers, and respond to their values and needs. We get out on to farms, talk to people, and listen intentionally to their needs. For someone like me, who has worked in agroforestry for decades, this is how the magic happens.

Putting trees back on farms is an exciting opportunity to create a resilient rural landscape for the future.

 

Thank you to my colleague and farm advisor Kyle Wills for showing me how to get out of the books and make the magic happen, and to Cheryl Palm, one of my early agroforestry mentors whose legacy will live on with all the young scientists she trained. – Sandra


Sandra Velarde works on bioeconomy innovation and alternative forestry at WSP and is a Principal Investigator with Te Pūnaha Matatini.
Jean Donaldson is a designer and native bird fanatic based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. You can see more of her work at https://jeanmanudesign.com/.

Call for chapters for an edited book on doing complex systems research

12 April 2024

Professor Markus Luczak-Roesch and Associate Professor Anna Matheson invite submissions for the edited book ‘Doing complex systems research: Deliberately designing research to engage across disciplines and create impact’.

How can complex systems research make a difference? What does a complex systems methodology look like? How can complex systems research be undertaken with intent and openness for diverse disciplinary perspectives?

We are delighted to invite proposals for chapters for an edited book that will provide a comprehensive and practical introduction to complex systems research. The book will explore how researchers from different disciplines can collaborate effectively and creatively to uncover and address complex problems in various domains.

Complex systems research is a rapidly growing field that aims to understand and manage emergent phenomena that arise from the interactions of multiple components within and across scales within implications for disciplines, such as ecology, sociology, computer science, engineering, and mathematics. Complex systems research poses significant challenges and opportunities to researchers, as it requires them to integrate and synthesise knowledge from different disciplines, methodologies, and paradigms.

This book will illustrate how researchers are addressing these challenges and taking up opportunities in working across disciplinary boundaries. to address complex problems.This book will build a conceptual framework that helps explain why complex systems research is a naturally interdisciplinary endeavour, and what is emerging as key principles and practices that can guide how research is carried out.

We are inviting researchers to author the core chapters of this edited book through documenting their own case studies of complex systems research. Each case study should illustrate the complex issue being explored and how researchers have collaborated to design and implement their inquiry, what challenges they faced, and what outcomes they achieved. We are specifically interested in authors to cover:

  • What the research is/was about
  • How the work engages complex systems
  • Disciplines involved
  • Methods used
  • What impact the research will have or has had
  • How the research engages with interested or impacted social sectors, populations and communities
  • What are the main challenges faced in carrying out the research
  • What would be needed for the research to have greater impact
  • Reflections on lessons for complex systems research.

Tentative development timeline for the book

  • Notifications of acceptance: Thursday 30 May 2024
  • Author workshop on Zoom: Friday 14 June 2024
  • First draft of chapters: Monday 30 September 2024
  • Possible in-person writing workshop: Friday 25 October 2024
  • Chapter manuscript for final review by the editors: Sunday 15 December 2024
  • Completed book manuscript to be submitted to the publisher: June 2025

Abstract submission details

Submission deadline: Wednesday 15 May 2024

Submission format: 300-word abstract as a PDF document submitted to markus.luczak-roesch@vuw.ac.nz and anna.matheson@vuw.ac.nz.

If you have any questions, please contact markus.luczak-roesch@vuw.ac.nz or anna.matheson@vuw.ac.nz.

Every flush a donation to science

Every flush a donation to science

8 April 2024

A collaboration between analytical chemist Lisa Pilkington and illustrator Jean Donaldson. Edited by Anna Brown and Jonathan Burgess.

You probably don’t give a second thought to what you flush down the toilet. But wastewater and all that it contains provides valuable knowledge to researchers working in wastewater-based epidemiology.

Wastewater is everything you put down the drain – including number ones and number twos. Every time you rinse something down the sink, wash your clothes, have a shower or go to the bathroom, the wastewater flows into sewage pipes and travels to a wastewater treatment plant to be cleaned up before it’s allowed to enter waterways.

Researchers working in wastewater-based epidemiology analyse wastewater to find particular chemical compounds or ‘biomarkers’ that can give them information about a population’s exposure to or consumption of certain substances or microorganisms.

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, you most likely would have heard about the analysis of wastewater to identify infections in individual communities. Wastewater-based epidemiology became an essential tool that helped scientists and the people making decisions about our health understand and monitor the progression of Covid-19 in the community. This type of investigation has most commonly been used to understand consumption of illicit drugs in populations – something that it is difficult to obtain sales data on!

We have recently applied this method to understanding alcohol consumption in our communities. In 2021 my team led one of the most comprehensive studies on alcohol usage ever conducted globally. Our six-month long study looked at alcohol usage in approximately 40% of Aotearoa’s population. It certainly gave some fascinating insights into our drinking habits.

But before we get to those – how do we analyse alcohol consumption using wastewater-based epidemiology? Let’s go through the journey of a biomarker. When you have that pre-dinner gin and tonic, frosty pint at the neighbourhood brewery or pinot noir on the couch after work, ethanol is the key ingredient. Our liver changes ethanol into a range of other compounds, including one called ethyl sulphate – the biomarker that we looked for in our work.

These compounds are then excreted in urine and flushed into the wastewater system, ending up at your local wastewater treatment plant. It is at the inlet of this treatment plant that we collect wastewater samples and take them to the lab for analysis. We measure the amount of ethyl sulphate in the samples and then use this value in calculations to work out the amount of alcohol consumed per person in the wastewater treatment plant catchment area.

An illustration of wastewater getting analysed.

Wastewater-based epidemiology has a lot of advantages over existing methods such as surveys and sales data in understanding a population’s consumption habits. It is unbiased, non-invasive, informative, low cost and near real time. Even when survey and sales data is available, wastewater-based epidemiology can fill gaps and provide depth and nuance to our understanding of consumption habits. This was certainly true for our study of alcohol in Aotearoa.

Some of the results of our study were fairly unsurprising. They showed that in Aotearoa, we consume more alcohol on the weekends compared to weekdays, more on long weekends compared to normal weekends, and during lockdowns all of these trends went out the window!

However, this study also unveiled some surprising trends that we didn’t anticipate:

  • Larger cities have lower levels of alcohol consumption.
  • On average, New Zealanders consume less alcohol than many other countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States of America.
  • Drinking levels are higher in the South Island compared to the North Island.
  • Spikes in consumption could be mapped back to particular events happening on a given day, including a one-night-only male revue show, ‘The Stallions’, performed in Queenstown.

An illustration of three beverages beside some wastewater pipes.

The results of this investigation not only highlight the detailed level of information that can be obtained using wastewater-based epidemiology, but also show how useful this approach can be to inform organisations and help direct resources where they’re needed the most. Looking to the future, I have two different, but equally as important studies in the pipeline. The first is understanding vaping habits in Aotearoa. The second is investigating whether we can extend the techniques we have developed to monitor cancer prevalence in our communities.

So next time you flush, take a moment to congratulate yourself on contributing to research that can make a positive change to our communities.

 


Lisa Pilkington is an analytical chemist at Waipapa Taumata Rau, the University of Auckland, and a principal investigator with Te Pūnaha Matatini. You can read more about the results of the alcohol consumption in Aotearoa study here: https://doi.org/10.1002/asia.202301120.

Jean Donaldson is a designer and native bird fanatic based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. You can see more of her work at https://jeanmanudesign.com/.

Sifting through the unknown with recipe-free research

Sifting through the unknown with recipe-free research

I’m a baker, so I like having a recipe to follow. It’s comforting to have a set of ingredients and a list of instructions to start with — even if I treat the recipe as more of a guide than directions for a science experiment. Knowing where to start, and what I will most likely end up with at the finish helps me feel like I know what I’m doing, and means new recipes still have a sense of familiarity to them.

Research, or other projects, are similar. We generally have an idea of what ingredients and equipment we need, along with a recipe — or plan — of what we need to do to reach the outcome at the end. These plans are comfortable and familiar. They help us feel like we’re on the right track, and even when things don’t go as expected, we can figure out where things are different from the original plan, and either solve them or make a new plan from there.

Co-production is not like that.

In my experience so far, co-production is more like one of those team challenges in a MasterChef bake off — they’ve asked you to make a selection of items for afternoon tea and left it at that. Except you also don’t know who’s in your team, and your test kitchen hasn’t been kitted out. So before you can start, you need to figure out who’s in the team and what equipment you might need or have available — partway through you might also discover you’re actually in a field kitchen rather than the test kitchen!

Making a selection of items for afternoon tea sounds clear enough, but when you start thinking about it, you realise how many possibilities there are. Using co-production to create a selection of research questions about women’s health that are a priority to women is similarly broad. We’ve had to grapple with questions such as “Is women’s health all health issues that impact women?” or “Is it only those health issues that just women experience?”

When you don’t have a clear recipe to follow, it can be pretty hard working out where to start — the ingredients you use are influenced by what equipment you have available, and vice versa.

An illustration of a stick figure hanging from a cake floating in the sky.

Thankfully, unlike a MasterChef challenge, we don’t have a ridiculously tight time limit. We’ve been able to take our time getting to know each other in the core research team. A key principle of co-production is prioritising relationships, so developing the team and designing foundational values has been important.

In co-production, the people or communities who are likely to benefit from the project need to be involved all the way through, and their lived experiences valued. To keep the MasterChef kitchen image going, before we could start making any afternoon tea items, we need to know who’s going to be eating the afternoon tea. Then we can make sure we meet any requirements they have, and use what’s important to them to help make the decisions we make.

So far in The Co-production Project, we’ve spent quite a lot of time talking to women about what’s important to them when it comes to women’s health. We connected with these women through the charity Good Bitches Baking, who I already had a relationship with. These women are volunteers for the charity, whose aim is to bake the world a better place.

Through conversations with this community we have been able to start considering areas for women’s health that research questions can be developed about with their input. Fittingly, we’ve mostly talked over a cuppa and cake. This more informal style helps us to take the time to build connections and listen to their experiences.

I wouldn’t say we’ve got a test kitchen kitted out yet, nor have we figured out an ingredients list. But we are getting more comfortable at sitting with the discomfort of having no recipe to follow.

 


Anjuli Muller is a PhD student and TPM Whānau member exploring co-production and participatory public engagement through the subject of women’s health in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Jean Donaldson is a designer and native bird fanatic based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. You can see more of her work at https://jeanmanudesign.com/.

Internships support a new generation of researchers

Internships support a new generation of researchers

Image: Te Pūnaha Matatini summer interns 2023-2024. Left to right: Jordan Phillips, Madeleine Barber-Wilson, Liam Gibson, Jaiya Bharti, Tiana Marshall, Zainab Rizvi, Jinglong Zhu, Mahin Panchia, Jared Clarke. Not pictured: Arwyn Whaanga, Halavaka Chapman, Tavake Tohi.

6 March 2023

A summer internship can be a lonely experience. That wasn’t the case for the 12 interns supported by Te Pūnaha Matatini over the 2023-24 summer.

As they worked on their diverse research projects in complex systems, the interns also came together to build whanaungatanga, experience the pioneering transdisciplinary approach of Te Pūnaha Matatini, and share their work with each other, supported by Te Pūnaha Matatini Deputy Director Associate Professor Mike O’Sullivan.

At Te Pūnaha Matatini we are growing and supporting a new generation of researchers who are ethical, collaborative, and do work that matters for Aotearoa New Zealand. This summer, our interns worked on projects ranging from the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science, how Pacific people perceive science in Aotearoa, enhancing an early warning system in a coronary care unit and improving virtual reality displays of a flood model, through to mathematically modelling lake health and investigating intergenerational language acquisition and transmission of te reo Māori.

“It gives us immense joy to see these interns coming through with all their skills and energy,” says Te Pūnaha Matatini Co-Director Associate Professor Priscilla Wehi. “It’s such a pleasure to interact and learn from them, and hopefully they will have learned something along the way as well.”

Madeleine Barber-Wilson (Ngāti Kahungunu ki te Wairoa, Ngāti Ruapani mai Waikaremoana) spent the summer working with Te Pūnaha Matatini Principal Investigators Associate Professor Graham Donovan and Dr Matiu Prebble as part of a project seed funded by Te Pūnaha Matatini to mathematically model the health of Wairewa Roto. Maddie explains that “shallow lakes are known to undergo abrupt transitions between a cloudy, polluted state with frequent algal blooms and a clear, healthy state based on changes in underlying conditions such as phosphorus levels. These critical transitions can be modelled mathematically, and our goal is to use a model to find mathematical early warning signals of changes in state for Wairewa Roto. This lake has particular significance as it is a customary eel fishery for Ngāi Tahu, so restoring its health means protecting a source of mātauranga and kai for iwi and hapū of the rohe.”

Te Pūnaha Matatini is the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence for Complex Systems, with researchers and students based across the country. We coordinate an internship scheme for partner organisations including iwi, ministries, government departments, and private companies.

Mike explains that “we want to give our interns a small community to feel like they’re a part of over summer, because sometimes internships can be lonely. It’s really exciting to see such talented researchers coming through our education system, and the diverse topics that they are all contributing to.”

If you are from an organisation that is interested in collaborating with us on future internships, get in touch at tepunahamatatini@auckland.ac.nz.

 

An ancient witness to changing land stewardship

An ancient witness to changing land stewardship

4 March 2024

A collaboration between freshwater ecologist Kati Doehring and illustrator Jean Donaldson. Edited by Jonathan Burgess.

Tēnā koe – let me introduce myself. My name is dacrydium cupressinum, but most of you would know me as rimu. Gather close, for I have a story to share – a tale woven with resilience and hope.

My home lies nestled within a 400-hectare farm in the enchanting expanse of Dovedale Valley, cradled in the embrace of Te Tau Ihu, the top of the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. Here, amidst the ebb and flow of seasons, I have stood witness to the dance of life for centuries untold.

I have seen many creatures come and go. During my childhood, when my brothers and sisters were still standing tall next to me, big feathery chicken-like critters roamed my courtyard. Those were tranquil and harmonious days.

Then, during my teenage years, two-legged creatures appeared. Their needs were very different from mine, and they changed what used to be. It was in 1881 that the Win family became stewards of this land, altering the tapestry of my existence forever. John, the first generation farmer, did what was right at the time. They took my brothers and sisters, my aunties and uncles and used them to build their houses, churches and schools. They did what was right at the time.

I held on tight to what I had – my roots, my beliefs, my mana. I stood taller than ever at 60m in height. I am, after all, one of Aotearoa’s tallest forest species.

Life for me was in constant flux. Farming generations came and went – second, third and fourth – and with them the way they farmed. From Clydesdale horses to machines taking away my kin, then bulldozers root raking the soils that protected my veins. They put up fences to keep pigs, sheep and cattle in place, and secured hillsides and strengthened waterways to stop them from washing away. They did what was right at the time.

I watched how the land around me transformed into mosaics I had never seen before. Different creatures appeared, adding new colours to my courtyard. Goats, possums, magpies, wasps, old man’s beard and wild pigs spread like wildfire. And I stood tall.

Over the last two generations, I noticed more change and it made my roots tingle with excitement. Twenty years ago, the fifth-generation farmer, Arthur, together with his family, ensured that my family could come back and have a safe space to grow and thrive – two families bonded through time. They protected the patch of land I stand on so tall – all 25 hectares (61 acres) – and called it a Significant Natural Area. They did what was right at the time.

Today, under the stewardship of the sixth generation, led by Bryce, I am allowed to thrive once more. Together with his parents Arthur and Debbie, and Grandfather Bob, they farm for life, not just for a living. They do what is right. They reduced stock numbers over time and decreased fertiliser use on their farm.

As for me, I stand taller than ever. With each passing day, year, decade and century, I await the dawn of tomorrow with eager anticipation. I am an ancient witness to the many facets of land stewardship, observing the shift of environmental goalposts across the past and future of land management in Aotearoa.

Just the other day, I saw Bryce and his family plant a seedling, whose story can unfold under the protection of my canopy over centuries to come. They will do what is right.

Special thanks to Debbie Win for sharing the Win family story with us.


Kati is a freshwater ecologist who specialises in science communication, and a member of TPM Whānau. You can read more about her work with freshwater catchment communities here: https://ourlandandwater.nz/project/register-of-land-management-actions/

Jean Donaldson is a designer and native bird fanatic based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. You can see more of her work at https://jeanmanudesign.com/.

International experts in complex systems gather in Aotearoa

International experts in complex systems gather in Aotearoa

Image: Dr Juniper Lovato presents at the Capital City Complex Systems Symposium 2024. Photo by Mark Coote.

23 February 2024

In a world facing unprecedented challenges, the need for innovative solutions has never been more pressing.

Last week Te Pūnaha Matatini brought together national and international experts in complex systems alongside practitioners in government, industry and community to explore how the study of complex systems holds the key to unlocking sustainable solutions for our most daunting challenges.

The Capital City Complex Systems Symposium 2024 interwove the latest advances in complex systems research with the concerns of communities, business and policy around how to ensure prosperous, resilient, equitable and just democratic life in a time of grand challenges.

 

Eleanor McGechie deep in conversation with Ciro Cattuto.

The Capital City Complex Systems Symposium was a chance to network with international complex systems experts.

 

Stephen Hawking famously said that the twenty-first century would be the “century of complexity”. Te Pūnaha Matatini has been leading the charge in Aotearoa New Zealand over the last decade with its pioneering transdisciplinary approach that applies complexity science to the critical and pressing issues of our time. “The issues we face – whether it’s building resilience against natural disasters, rethinking human mobility, preserving fragile ecosystems, or enhancing health and wellbeing – are deeply interconnected,” says Te Pūnaha Matatini Co-Director Associate Professor Priscilla Wehi. “They are not isolated problems with simple solutions but rather intricate puzzles demanding a holistic approach.”

The Capital City Complex Systems Symposium 2024 featured keynote presentations from complex systems experts from Vermont, Italy, South Korea and Australia. They spoke about issues of consent in socially networked environments, explored the complexity of human proximity networks, asked how we can unleash productivity through understanding creativity, and explored ethical dilemmas in disease interventions.

 

Markus Luczak-Roesch and Cilla Wehi smile for the camera.

“The issues we face…are not isolated problems with simple solutions but rather intricate puzzles demanding a holistic approach.” Te Pūnaha Matatini Co-Directors Professor Markus Luczak-Roesch and Associate Professor Cilla Wehi. Photo by Mark Coote.

 

University of Auckland Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research, Professor Frank Bloomfield, said that “the complexity of the world we live in has been brought to the forefront of our attention over the past few years. The University of Auckland is proud to host Te Pūnaha Matatini, a Centre of Research Excellence, and to be at the heart of the complex systems research community in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

Over two days, contributed talks challenged existing paradigms with innovative new approaches to biosecurity and disease transmission through to artificial intelligence, economic complexity and data science for transport policy. A stimulating poster session explored environmental policy reforms, the trajectory of te reo Māori language revitalisation, and creating simulation frameworks for entire hospitals.

Participants raced against the clock in lightning talks to explore the complexity of data in the public sector, data quality in large language models, the philosophy of complexity, and the relationships between research and policy. The symposium was purposefully single streamed with generous breaks, to build connections and community in complex systems research and practice.

 

Michael Miller discusses the trajectory of te reo Māori in Aotearoa.

Michael Miller discusses the trajectory of te reo Māori in Aotearoa. Photo by Mark Coote.

 

Professor Nicola Gaston ended the symposium by making the case that complex systems researchers are uniquely well placed to understand matters of equity, inclusion, and diversity.

Representatives from government ministries and commissions, consultants, entrepreneurs and specialists in data science, sustainability and machine learning were among the participants. “This was a unique opportunity to learn from experts, network with peers, and discover new perspectives on complex systems to improve the lives of communities,” says Te Pūnaha Matatini Co-Director Professor Markus Luczak-Roesch.

 

The 100 participants in the Capital City Complex Systems Symposium 2024.

The Capital City Complex Systems Symposium 2024 brought together 100 researchers and practitioners in complex systems. Photo by Mark Coote.

 

Te Pūnaha Matatini is the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence for Complex Systems, and is hosted by the University of Auckland. It brings together 101 researchers in complex systems from across Aotearoa for collaborative and strategically focused research that creates significant knowledge transfer activities.

“Complex systems theory provides a groundbreaking framework that illuminates the hidden connections and feedback loops shaping our world,” says Markus. “By understanding the structure and dynamics of these systems, complex systems researchers provide invaluable insights into how small changes can ripple outward, creating transformative impacts on a global scale. It’s an incredible privilege that through Te Pūnaha Matatini we are part of the global network of leading scholars in this cutting-edge field of research.”

The next Capital City Complex Systems Symposium is planned for 2026.

Find out more about the Capital City Complex Systems Symposium 2024.