Kia ora from Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, more commonly known as New Zealand. This group of islands in the Pacific Ocean was one of the last places on Earth to be colonised by humans; Polynesians settled in the 13th century to give us the Māori, while Europeans first made contact in 1642. First named Nova Zeelandia after the Dutch province of Zeeland, this was later anglicised to New Zealand by British explorer James Cook.
During its long isolation, New Zealand (pronounced New Zulland by its native inhabitants) developed a distinctive fauna dominated by birds, including the flightless nocturnal kiwi. Kiwi is also used as a colloquial term to refer to the aforementioned inhabitants. Today, the country that gave the world bungy jumping and Peter Jackson is home to 4.4 million people, with nearly a third of them living in its largest city Auckland, which was ranked joint 3rd in the 2011 Mercer Quality of Living Survey. 2011 was a year of highs and lows for Kiwi’s: with the devastation of our third largest city, Christchurch, by an earthquake which killed 181 people, while the revered All Blacks beat the French (by a whisker but we don’t talk about that) to win the rugby world cup on home soil. Most Kiwi’s are mad about rugby so this was a big deal.
So what challenges are there to science and reason in Godzone*? According to a poll by UMR Research, a third of New Zealanders believe that Earth has been visited by UFOs from other planets, over half believe that some people have psychic powers such as ESP,and six in 10 believe in God or a universal spirit. Like many countries we suffer an abundance of ‘alternative medicine’ practitioners. Alas, this year an acupuncturist was even made a member of the NZ Order of Merit for services to acupuncture. And a much needed city rail loop in Auckland is threatened by a mythical taniwha. We also have the Vaccination (mis)Information Network who aren’t doing much to help stop outbreaks of measles. And last, but by no means least, we have Bishop Brian Tamaki and his Destiny Church who are fundraising to build their own town to protect members from the outside world.
But we also have much to be proud of. Thanks to being 12 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, we were the first to overdose on homeopathic ‘remedies’ as part of the 10:23 campaign. We have an excellent Science Media Centre who attempt to educate journalists, and who also host SciBlogs, the biggest blog network of scientists in New Zealand. We also have a Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, a vibrant Skeptics in the Pub network, the NZ Skeptics and the NZ Association of Rationalists and Humanists. Oh, and the Completely Unnecessary Skeptical Podcast (CUSP). The soldiers of reason fight on!
Siouxsie Wiles is a microbiologist and bioluminescence enthusiast who heads the Bioluminescent Superbugs Group at the University of Auckland. She can often be found blogging about miscellaneous science and skeptical issues at Infectious Thoughts on Sciblogs and ranting about pseudoscience on the CUSP.
*An abbreviation of ‘God’s Own Country’, a phrase that has been used for more than 100 years by some New Zealanders to describe their homeland.