Issue 488, 07 Sep 2018


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New from the SMC

Expert Reaction: Health benefits of taking probiotics after antibiotic

Expert Q&A: 1080 use in NZ

In The News: Low-emissions economy report

Blog: Science journalism fund awards five new projects

New from the SMC global network

1080 back in the public eye

The use and safety of 1080 for pest control has re-entered public discussion in recent weeks.

DOC Ecosystems Principal Science Advisor Colin O'Donnell said a major benefit of using 1080 was controlling pests so that native populations of birds, bats, invertebrates and even freshwater fish could recover.

"These threatened species are heading towards extinction, often declining at rates of >5% per annum, unless predators are controlled effectively."

"For example, >50% of breeding female mohua and >80% of breeding female kaka are killed in areas without predator control; only 15% of rock wren nests survive, and annual survival of long-tailed bats is as low as 30% when there is no predator control," O'Donnell said.

"Such predation rates are unsustainable."

University of Auckland conservation biologist Associate Professor James Russell said there were ongoing refinements to make pest control solutions more species-specific, efficient and cost-effective.

"When deciding what pest control tool to use managers must optimise efficiency (does it kill enough pests to restore biodiversity), humaneness (does it do so humanely), and cost (is it affordable).

"Currently, aerially-delivered 1080 is the optimal tool for mammalian predator pest control over most of New Zealand (costing $12 – $16 per hectare, being relatively humane, and achieving conservation goals)."

University of Otago's Professor Neil Gemmell said there were a range of alternatives being explored, including species-specific toxins, a Trojan Female method of introducing infertility into populations, and gene drives, which he said was still a work in progress.

"Work in insects will lead the way, and may be ready for trials within the next year or so internationally. However, work in mammals will lag a long way behind."

"If we are serious about Predator Free 2050 and wish genetic technologies to be part of the solution we need to step up the conversations, increase our investment, and start planning out what the workflow for this project would look like over the next decade plus.

"This is the New Zealand version of the Space Race and we need commitment and resource aplenty if we are to achieve it. It can be done, but whether we have the resolve to resource this appropriately and see this through to completion remains uncertain. "

The SMC asked experts to comment on the use of 1080 in New Zealand.

Quoted: Newsroom

"It’s so important for the results of all clinical trials and fundamental science research to be published...

When information is missing because it hasn’t been published it can have massive consequences for medicine and human health, from time and money being wasted doing studies that were never going to work, to patients receiving useless or even dangerous treatments."

University of Auckland's Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles on why suppressing publications of clinical studies is unethical.

Report on low emissions shift

The Productivity Commission has completed its report into transitioning to a low-emissions economy.


The final report, released this week, recommended a suite of policy reforms to help drive the transition, including a ‘feebate’ scheme to increase the uptake of electric vehicles and introducing emissions standards for newly-registered vehicles.

Victoria University of Wellington’s Professor Adrian Macey told Newshub that he agreed with the Commission that New Zealand needed to make urgent changes in regard to transport. “What the commission is saying is we need to shift to electric cars much more quickly,” he said.

“The other point is that New Zealanders hold onto their cars way longer than most countries, so you’ve got emission locked in if you’re buying a car now and hold onto it for 15, 20 years. That’s not going to help.”

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said the report highlighted many areas the Government was already working on, such as establishing an independent Climate Commission. The Government would respond to the report’s 173 findings and 78 recommendations “over the coming months”, he said.

The Science Media Centre gathered expert commentary on the draft report when it was released in April.

Round 3: Sci journo fund

The winners of the third round of the Aotearoa New Zealand Science Journalism Fund have been announced, with recipients receiving over $17,000 in new grants to cover science topics for a range of media outlets. 


Funded projects range from a Te Ao Māori perspective on predator control, to innovative multimedia and digital interactives on Antarctica and greenhouse gases, to the scientific discoveries of everyday New Zealanders.

All of the projects will made available following publication under Creative Commons licence. Previously funded projects can be found here.

“It's been great to see a range of new applicants bringing forward innovative new ideas,” said the fund’s founder Dr Rebecca Priestley. “We are seeing a real impact from this initiative, with 16 high quality science journalism projects seeded in the first year across 10 media outlets.

"Looking to the future, we plan to transition to an annual funding round in response to media industry feedback, with an emphasis on providing greater flexibility for applicants across a range of topics."

Check out the full list of funded projects.

Upcoming SAVVY workshops

The Science Media Centre has several workshops coming up in October and November.

In October, our half-day video workshops will visit Christchurch and Dunedin. Produced in collaboration with Baz Caitcheon, the workshops focus on giving scientists the tools and skills to communicate their research in short videos aimed at an online audience.

The workshops are free to attend, but limited to 15 places. This is a competitive application process – the best applicants will be selected based on the video concepts outlined in the application form.


November SAVVY in Wellington

Our flagship media training course returns to Wellington for our fourth and final two-day Science Media SAVVY for the year.

Our experienced facilitators provide a supportive environment for researchers to consider their work from different perspectives and find new ways to describe the value of their research to the public. 

Ideally suited for researchers with previous media experience seeking further development of their skills, as well as beginners anticipating media interest in their work. 


Policy news & developments

Endeavour Fund: Megan Woods released the latest  Endeavour Fund Investment Plan, which will support the Government’s aim of transitioning to a more sustainable economy.

Low emissions economy: The Productivity Commission’s final report on the opportunities and challenges for New Zealand becoming a low-emissions economy was released this week.

Pacific journalism fund: Foreign Minister Winston Peters announced plans for an enhanced free-to-air Pasifika TV service with a $10m funding boost. 

Healthier homes: Proposals to make rental properties warmer and drier have been released for public consultation.

Canterbury Earthquake Insurance Bill: The Government has passed the first reading of the Canterbury Earthquake Insurance Tribunal Bill on the 8th anniversary of the first Canterbury Earthquake.

Plastic Bag Ban: One week left to submit on the proposed phase-out of single-use plastic shopping bags, with submissions closing on Friday 14 September. 

Diversity in science: Megan Woods has launched new measures to increase diversity in New Zealand’s science system.

Forestry School: The Provincial Growth Fund will provide just over $300,000 to pilot a forestry training course as a solution to the growing forestry skills shortage.

This week on the NZ Conversation.

Rise of executive coaching: how leadership ideologies drive anxiety in academia
Andrew Dickson, Massey University

Dead as the moa: oral traditions show that early Māori recognised extinction
Priscilla Wehi, Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research; Hēmi Whaanga, University of Waikato; Murray Cox, Massey University

See more NZ-authored Conversation articles.

What we've been reading

With an abundance of news stories to possibly read, watch and listen to, it can be hard to find the gems. Here we highlight some of the stories that caught our attention this week.

Tawaki, marathon penguins
Giselle Clarkson has drawn a beautiful cartoon outlining the findings of a research paper from last week by the Tawaki project. It's a great example of a novel way to communicate science. 

Is it time to change our mind on GMOs?
Writing on Newsroom, Farah Hancock talks to experts and a former activist turned supporter on GMOs: is it time we changed our minds?

What Was Lost in Brazil’s Devastating Museum Fire
Two hundred years of work — and millions of priceless specimens — have been destroyed in a preventable tragedy. Ed Yong tried to sum what's been lost for The Atlantic.

Bird brain
Wellington writer Ashleigh Young wanted to write about Nigel the lonely Mana Island gannet and wound up with this beautiful essay on animals, anthropomorphising and analogies.

Don't Be Fooled: Weather Is Not Climate
Climate scientist Kate Marvel reiterates the difference between weather and climate in Scientific American, but says "when records fall this often, you have to suspect doping is involved".

Scientists must keep fighting fake news, not retreat to their ivory towers
Last week we shared Jenny Rohn's last blog on the Guardian's network: here's UK SMC's Fiona Fox in response.

Why Are Puffins Vanishing? The Hunt for Clues Goes Deep (Into Their Burrows)
This beautifully-illustrated New York Times feature follows the researchers trying to figure out why Iceland's puffins are in trouble.

Plus, check out some of our favourite stories from July and August on Sciblogs.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
Mental health in public life: Is the experience of politicians and how we make policy intertwined?

Politicians might not always get your sympathy, but their jobs are high pressure and high stress; is there a better way to address politics and mental health?
The Psychology Report
Screening for lung cancer in NZ is highly unlikely to be cost-effective: New NZ study

A new study suggests screening for lung cancer might not be cost-effective in New Zealand.
Public Health Expert
Genetic solutions to pest control

The best tool we currently have for large-scale pest control is 1080, writes Neil Gemmell, but it would be great to have a tool that isn't a poison. Neil discusses how potential genetic control technologies can help New Zealand become Predator Free by 2050.
Guest Work
Why synthetic marijuana is so risky

American academic Michael White describes issues the US is facing with synthetic cannabinoids, many of which mirror our own.
Guest Work

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
  • Infectious diseases: 11 September, Wellington. The Otago Spotlight Series will be a day of short, accessible presentations on infectious disease research.
  • Kei a tui tōna kōkō: 11 September, Dunedin. Tahu Potiki will discuss the importance of language to place.
  • Aviation weather: 11 September, Wellington. Ravi Kandula from MetService discusses aviation weather and why accurate forecasts are as important to passenger aircraft as they are for stratospheric flights.
  • Glaciers and ice sheets: 11 September, Wellington. Andrew Mackintosh will explain how recent breakthroughs are helping to answer questions about glacier and ice sheets responses to climate change.
  • Pounamu terrane: 11 September, Auckland. Alan Cooper will present the Hochstetter Lecture, discussing a new Cretaceous exotic terrane within New Zealand's Alpine schist.
  • Isotopes: 13 September, Dunedin. Isotope geochemist Claudine Stirling will present her inaugural professorial lecture.

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