Issue 490, 21 Sep 2018


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New from the SMC

Expert Reaction: Needles found in Australian strawberries​

In The News: Aspirin unlikely to help older people live longer

Expert Q&A: Global TB burden falling

New from the SMC global network

Aus strawberries needled

Australia's strawberry industry was dealt a massive blow this week when needles were found in the fruit, by people who had purchased them from local stores. 

Two of New Zealand’s major supermarket chains halted the distribution of strawberries from Australia in the wake of the incident, and masses of strawberries were dumped as a federal investigation took place. 

It was later revealed a young boy had admitted to inserting the needles as a prank, and authorities have said he will be dealt with under the youth cautioning system. Other incidents were expected to result from copycat behaviour.

Contaminated strawberries were reportedly found in all six states, prompting major disruptions to distribution and a conversation around food sabotage penalties.

The Australian government was expected to push through harsher penalties for sabotaging fruit - increasing maximum jail time from 10 to 15 years, and a new offence of "recklessness" was expected to be implemented, with imprisonment of up to 10 years.

New Zealand supply chain expert Nigel Grigg from Massey University said food terrorism remained an ever-present threat.

The only safeguards would be airport-style security checks of all product carried out at ports of entry or by the final retailers, he said. "However, the costs of such security would be prohibitive, and it is hard to imagine what battery of tests could effectively identify all conceivable contaminants."

The SMC gathered expert comment on the incidents.

Quoted: One News

"Historically, we've been seeing health and wellbeing tracking towards more positive outcomes. [But] this is looking like this generation is going to be less healthy than their parents' generation."

Suffrage 125 on Sciblogs

The 125th anniversary of universal suffrage in New Zealand has been marked on Sciblogs through a series of blogs covering everything from women in STEM to paid parental leave.

SMC senior media advisor and Sciblogs editor Dr Sarah-Jane O'Connor put a call out for women in science to contribute a piece with a very broad brief: they could write about anything relating to their lives, their science, or greater issues around diversity and equity.

The result: a stream of pieces about women on research voyages, penguin sex and Edwardian puritanic shock, non-binary gender and finding the stories that bust fusty stereotypes wide open, and finding scientists in our communities. 

"The leaky pipeline is never more evident than at sea," wrote GNS Science's Dr Lucy Stewart, reflecting on the gender imbalance aboard research vessels. She's currently off the East Coast on the NIWA research vessel Tangaroa, and said, "five out of the fourteen scientists on this voyage are women; that’s pretty good as these things go".

University of Auckland astrophysicist Dr JJ Eldridge wrote about the sadness of missing out on strong women in science role models because their stories were hidden.

"For a long time, I feel like I was brainwashed that to be good in astrophysics I had to be a man, and always tried to fit the mould.

"I’m also inspired to find out more of these stories and make sure more people discover these hidden histories, knowing the importance of their impact."

Manaaki Whenua kairangahau Māori Yvonne Taura reflected on her journey learning both mātauranga Māori and western science simultaneously.

"I have the privilege of working with a team of intelligent and passionate mana wāhine, who I am in awe of, observing their amazing talents and strengths in their work.

"What sets us apart from many scientists engaged in the conventional scientific realm is that we, as kairangahau Māori, have a holistic approach to our research."

The Suffrage 125 series is available on Sciblogs.

Payout from meth testing

The Government has agreed to pay compensation to 800 tenants affected by unnecessary testing for meth contamination in Housing NZ homes.

These tenants suffered by either losing their tenancies, losing their possessions, being suspended from the public housing waiting list, negative effects on their credit ratings or, in the worst cases, being made homeless, Housing Minister Phil Twyford said

They will also recieve a formal apology from Housing NZ, he said. 

The apology and offer to compensate followed a report into the agency's meth testing regime, released on Thursday morning.

It found that between July 2013 and May 2018 nearly 5000 Housing New Zealand (HNZ) properties were tested for meth contamination, with about half of these tests testing positive for the too-low standard at the time, Stuff reported.

The Government now admits the testing was not needed.

That report follows one released in May by then Chief Science Advisor Sir Peter Gluckman, which examined methamphetamine residue on household surfaces, potential health risks, recommendations for testing and remediation based on health risk and differences between properties where meth was manufactured versus where it was smoked.

A key finding from Gluckman's report was that there was no real risk of harm from properties where meth had only been consumed - not cooked.

HNZ expects to spend about $2.4m on the compensation.

RNZ reported compensation was unlikely for private landlords, who lost out financially by sticking to the former guidelines. 

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, 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

New Housing NZ objectives: Housing NZ has eight new social objectives set by the Government and no longer has to return a surplus, Phil Twyford announced, following the release of the report into meth contamination testing. 

Tahr control: An 8-month cull of introduced Himalayan tahr will begin in the Southern Alps to protect special alpine plants and their habitats.

Refugee quota to lift: New Zealand will lift the refugee quota from 1000 to 1500 within this political term, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced.

New fish catch limits: Commercial catch for 32 fish stocks in the areas off the east coast of the North and South Islands is to be reduced in an effort to rebuild the depleted stock.

Pay equity: On the day NZ marked Suffrage 125, the Government introduced the Equal Pay Amendment Bill, designed to address pay discrimination in female-dominated occupations.

Health research priorities: Consultation is now underway into what New Zealand's priorities should be in health research. This is a chance for Kiwis to have their say on the direction and focus of health research for the next 10 years.

Cattle deaths: DOC is investigating the deaths of eight cattle following a 1080 pest control operation in Mapara.

This week on the NZ Conversation.

Why New Zealand was the first country where women won the right to vote
Katie Pickles

Legalising medical marijuana shows no effect on crime rates in US states
Yu-Wei Luke Chu, Victoria University of Wellington

Why NZ’s emissions trading scheme should have an auction reserve price
Suzi Kerr, Victoria University of Wellington

How better tests and legal deterrence could clean up the sticky mess left behind by fake honey row
Samuel Becher, Victoria University of Wellington; Hongzhi Gao, Victoria University of Wellington, and Jessica C Lai, Victoria University of Wellington

The kīngitanga movement: 160 years of Māori monarchy
Michael Belgrave, 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.

Big read: The gap between the rich and poor at university
Kirsty Johnston looks at new university data, which indicates circumstances you're born into are likely yours for life.

When anti-1080 activism grew noisy, and got ugly
Anti-1080 activism has exploded in popularity and intensity in the last few months. The Spinoff's Hayden Donnell goes down the rabbit hole to find out what’s behind the movement’s rise.

Winner and losers - native birds in a pest-free sanctuary
In the latest Our Changing World, Alison Ballance takes a look at the effects of the predator-free Zealandia in the midst of our capital city.

How will police solve murders on Mars?
If humans ever go to the Red Planet, the worst of our impulses will follow us there. Writing in The Atlantic, Geoff Manaugh imagines Mars PD.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
The books we’ve shared

Kate Hannah discusses the many books she shared with her grandmother, who passed away last week.
Suffrage 125
Science & 1080

Alison Campbell tackles some of the myths around 1080.
NZ behind on paid parental leave

Dr Frederique Vanholsbeeck asks: What’s more important the right to vote or paid parental leave?
Suffrage 125
Confidence in the Vice Chancellor

Questions have been raised about how Massey University's Vice Chancellor dealt with Don Brash's scheduled speaking event.
The Dismal Science

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
  • Our lives online: 24 September, Wellington. In one of a series of free public talks, Dr Claire Henry discusses Netflix, Youtube and the end of censorship.
  • From the Speaker: 24 September, Wellington In a lecture series from public office holders, Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard will discuss his responsibilities and why he's made some changes at Parliament.
  • A year on: 24 September, Dunedin. A cross-university panel will discuss Labour's first year, with focus on leadership, reducing inequality, climate change policy, and outcomes for Māori.
  • Our AI future: 25 September, Dunedin. This informal lecture by Associate Professor Colin Gavaghan from Otago's Faculty of Law will cover upcoming artificial intelligence technologies.
  • Crime, poverty and taxes: 25 September, Wellington. Professor Lisa Marriott will highlight issues of equity and privilege in New Zealand, drawing on her research that examined tax evasion and welfare fraud.
  • Replanting science: 26 September, Dunedin. This talk explores approaches to native tree restoration, drawing on past restoration projects against the background of the 1 Billion Trees government initiative.
  • Anything out there? 26 September, Christchurch. Emily Lakdawalla gives a free public lecture on behalf of Astronz, on looking for life in our solar system. 
  • Brain imaging: 27 September, Auckland. This talk will give an overview of the 4D MRI flow method and discuss some of the clinical applications.

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