Issue 518, 18 Apr 2019
Happy Easter!

The SMC office will be closed April 19, 22 and 25 for Easter and ANZAC Day.


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New from the SMC

Expert Reaction: The state of Aotearoa’s environment

Reflections on Science:  Smears and fury in big telescope lobbying – Eloise Gibson

New from the SMC global network

Environment Aotearoa 2019

A state of the environment report has highlighted nine priority issues, including polluted waterways, greenhouse gas emissions and urban growth and pollution.

Environment Aotearoa 2019 - jointly released today by the Ministry for the Environment and StatsNZ - is the latest in the environmental reporting series established under the Environmental and Reporting Act 2015.

Drawing on data from across the five reporting domains - air, climate and atmosphere, fresh water, land and marine - the report "provides a health check on our environment," said Secretary for the Environment Vicky Robertson.

"[It] shows it's under pressure in many places - in our towns and cities, rivers and oceans."

Department of Conservation chief science advisor Dr Ken Hughey said the report "confirms the precarious state of much of New Zealand's biodiversity".

"Lack of data is still an issue. Only around 20 per cent of New Zealand's species are identified and documented," he said.

"There's an urgent need to document what exists, particularly in the case of insects, microplants such as liverworts, lichens and mosses, and marine life."

NIWA chief scientist freshwater Dr Scott Larned said water quality was a major topic in the report and, despite complications, some broad patterns were evident.

"Rivers, lakes and groundwater in pastoral areas have greatly elevated levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, fine sediment and faecal bacteria, compared to levels in native-forest areas. Many urban streams are also degraded, including being contaminated with heavy metals.

"The same national scale pattern has been reported for more than 20 years, which indicates that the government’s current reforms of the way we manage our freshwaters needs to be bold if they are to meet New Zealanders’ expectations for healthy and swimmable waters."

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the report.

Quoted: RNZ

"Really I think we've been far too complacent about antimicrobial resistance in New Zealand.

"It's going to be a series of really unpleasant surprises, where we can't rely on anti-microbial drugs to work in the same way as they have in the past."

Notre Dame damaged by fire

Firefighters fought for hours to save the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

New Zealand architect Mark Burry, who is overseeing the completion of Barcelona's La Sagrada Familia, told Newshub restoration of the cathedral was 100 per cent possible, but "it's going to be a very different landmark for a very, very long time - at least decades".

He said both Notre Dame and La Sagrada Familia had been recently mapped using laser technology. "I cannot overstate the value that that will be to the restoration team. It'll give them all the information they need."

Professor Guillermo Rein from Imperial College London told the UK SMC that firefighters had to aggressively fight the roof fire using aerial ladders "but at the same time, be gentle with the vulnerable structure of the stone vaults and walls".

He thought the reconstruction "will surely involve fire engineering to protect the iconic building from any future fire".

The 856-year-old cathedral was undergoing renovation prior to the fire. Martin Kealy, managing director of MKA Fire, said: "Sadly, fire is all too common in buildings under construction or during renovation, and is likely to be caused by or exacerbated by the renovation works."

Former London firefighter Andy Dark said the fire was "just the latest example of the fire risk to heritage buildings across the world".

"These buildings contain a lot of wood in their structure, which will be tinder-dry due to age and often have no fire protection."

French President Emmanuel Macron has said Notre Dame will be rebuilt within five years.

The UK SMC gathered expert reaction to the fire.

Policy news & developments

No CGT: The Government will not proceed with the Tax Working Group's recommendation for a capital gains tax. 

Medium threat level: New Zealand’s National Terrorism Threat Level has moved from high to medium following review by the Combined Threat Assessment Group.

New chief scientist: The EPA has appointed Professor Michael Bunce as the new chief scientist, starting in August 2019.

Possible Commissioner for DHB: The Health Minister is considering appointing a Commissioner to replace board members on the Waikato District Health Board. The Board has two weeks to formally respond before a decision is made.

Meth-testing debt wiped: People living in Housing New Zealand properties who were wrongly evicted because of flawed methamphetamine contamination policies will have their related debts written off.

First space licences: The New Zealand Space Agency has granted the first launch and facility licences under the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act, authorising Rocket Lab's operations from Māhia Peninsula for the next five years.

Cargo facilities: Facilities that deal with imported cargo now face fines for breaking biosecurity rules.

Teen pregnancies down: Data released by the Ministry of Health shows the rate of teenage pregnancies has halved in the past decade.

Koi carp surveillance: DOC and the Northland Regional Council are calling on the public's help to keep an eye out for invasive koi carp and rudd.

Midwifery accord: The midwives' unions, DHBs and the Ministry of Health have agreed to a joint accord for the midwifery workforce.

Crashes social cost: A new report estimates the social cost of road crashes at $4.8 billion in 2017.

Otago drilling consent: The EPA has called for public submissions on a marine discharge consent application for activity in the Great South Basin, offshore Otago.

Construction accord: Government and construction industry leaders have signed the Construction Sector Accord.

Future of work: The Productivity Commission has released an issues paper on technological change and the future of work, which is open for submissions until 5 June.

This week on the NZ Conversation.

New Zealand’s urban freshwater is improving, but a major report reveals huge gaps in our knowledge
Troy Baisden, University of Waikato

Were journalists ‘just doing their job’ in the political resignation of Metiria Turei?
Sean Phelan and Leon Salter, Massey University

Everyday racism fuels prejudice and hate. But we can challenge it
Kumar Yogeeswaran, University of Canterbury; Chris G. Sibley, University of Auckland; Danny Osborne, University of Auckland; Marc Wilson, Victoria University of Wellington; Mike Grimshaw, University of Canterbury

See more NZ-authored content on the New Zealand homepage.

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.

How did the Christchurch gunman stay under the radar of state agencies?
Despite his active online persona, the alleged perpetrator of the Christchurch terror attacks wasn't known to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, Stuff National Correspondent Katie Kenny reports.

Gene-Edited Babies: What a Chinese Scientist Told an American Mentor
Stanford University is investigating one of its scientists over allegations of his involvement with He Jiankui, the researcher who claims to have gene edited two babies born in China last year. The New York Times spoke to Stephen Quake, who denies the allegations.

It’s just in mice! This scientist is calling out hype in science reporting
A new Twitter account aims to make the line between research done in animals, and that done in humans, by calling out conflation between the two. STAT spoke to James Heathers, who started the account.

The Dark Saga of Katie Bouman
When the first image of a black hole was released last week, you might have heard about Katie Bouman, a postdoctoral fellow whose work helped capture the landmark image. But within hours the dark side of social media showed its face.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
Fighting fungi with feijoa

Andrew Munkacsi writes about Candida auris, antifungal resistance and the possibility of finding new drugs.
Guest Work
Is my science ethical?

John Pickering writes about research and social licence.
Kidney Punch

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
  • Ko Matariki e ārau ana: 23 April, Lower Hutt; 24 April, Palmerston North. Rangi Matamua will give a talk on Matariki and highlighting connections between Matauranga Māori and science.
  • Getting a second opinion: 24 April, Wellington. Lisa Sanders will give a public lecture on the advice parents often hear, especially when a diagnosis is serious or difficult.
  • Sociology of sport: 24-27 April, Dunedin. The World Congress of Sociology of Sport will focus on the theme 'alternative futures'.
  • From the mountains to the sea: 28 April, Dunedin. Sir Alan Mark and Mike Joy  will discuss the state of New Zealand's freshwater.

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