Scientist defends statements

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 12:49 24/11/2012

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A Massey environmental scientist attacked for criticising New Zealand's "clean, green" image in the New York Times has hit back at his detractors, saying he is "disgusted" by the stoush that followed.

The paper recently ran a piece criticising New Zealand's environmental status in the context of the "100% Pure" Tourism New Zealand campaign, which was slammed in leaked emails from a prominent Wellington lobbyist.

Published as the world's gaze turns to Wellington for the premiere of the first of Sir Peter Jackson's Hobbit films, Massey freshwater ecologist Dr Mike Joy told the newspaper New Zealand's "picture perfect" green image is pure fiction.

Joy's comments prompted a prominent Wellington lobbyist to label his environmental research as akin to "the foot and mouth disease of the tourism industry" in an emailed leaked by Green Party co-leader Dr Russel Norman on Facebook this week.

Emails from Saunders Unsworth co-founder Mark Unsworth addressed to Joy accused the scientist of going on an "ego trip" by airing New Zealand's environmental issues in the international press, labelling it tourism industry "sabotage".

The late-night leaked email, the first in a volley between the pair, called for the academic to act in taxpayers' best interests where tourism was concerned.

"Letting your ego run riot worldwide in the manner you did can only lead to lower levels of inbound tourism. You may not care given your tenure in a nice comfy university lounge, but to others this affects income and jobs," Mr Unsworth wrote.

"Give that some thought next time you feel the need to see your name in print in New York. And possibly think of changing your name from Joy to Misery - its more accurate (sic)".

Unsworth, known for his work as longtime editor of the who's-who style handbook issued to MPs at parliament's triennial changing of guard, said he stood by his comments.

"I don't wish to add any more comments, it is bizarre enough," he said.

But Joy said his detractor had taken aim at the wrong target.

"If he wants to have a go at somebody, he should have a go at those who are polluting our rivers, not the guy researching it," he said. "I'm pretty disgusted . . . I have been quoted in this article commenting on the state of the environment and people have called me a traitor to this country. I'm just the one doing the research."

Joy had been interviewed by a New Zealand-trained journalist writing for the New York Times Company-owned daily International Herald Tribune, and had not realised his comments would be also published in the New York paper.

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However he stood by his comments.

"I have dedicated my life to trying to save the environment . . . to have someone label me a traitor is pretty horrible."

"It's up to independent scientists like me to highlight the real issues because no one else is going to and that is part of my responsibility as an academic."

Saunders Unsworth clients have in the past included Air New Zealand and Massey. Responding to the Tertiary Education Union, a spokesman for the university said it had not been a client of Saunders Unsworth for more than a decade.

- Manawatu Standard

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