Issue 511, 01 Mar 2019


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Top news from  the Science Media Centre's news-sharing platform.

Tool picks who can take aspirin safely for heart disease prevention


New from the SMC

Expert Reaction: Environment tax recommendations

Expert Reaction: Rental standards for healthy homes

Expert Reaction: New fire in the Tasman region

Expert Reaction: Measles resurgence

In The News: New standards for warmer, drier rental houses

New from the SMC global network

Making rentals warm & dry

Landlords will have up to five years to install heaters, fans and insulation, under strict new standards for rental homes.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford on Sunday announced the new standards that set minimum requirements for heating, insulation, ventilation, moisture, drainage and draught stopping.

All rental homes will be required to have a heater in the main living area, ceiling and underfloor insulation, bathroom extraction fans and kitchen rangehoods, adequate drainage and guttering, and for any draughts to be blocked.

Public Health Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman, from the University of Otago, welcomed the standards which she says are "sorely needed to improve New Zealanders’ health and wellbeing".

"Cold, damp and mouldy homes make us sick", she says, with at least 6,000 kids hospitalised every year. "Many of those illnesses and deaths, and days missed from work and school, can be reduced by making homes warm and dry."

The announcement coincided with the Southern Hemisphere launch of the World Health Organization (WHO) International Housing and Health Guidelines at the University of Otago, Wellington, on Monday. WHO Coordinator for Air Pollution and Urban Health Dr Nathalie Röbbel was there for the launch. She told RNZ: "Vulnerable people like children and the elderly spend a lot of time at home, so it's a necessity from a public health perspective to make sure the places where people live are safe." 

New research from Motu Economic and Public Policy Research fellow Lynn Riggs released at the launch found preventable injuries and hospitalisations due to poor housing conditions in New Zealand could be costing more than $145 million annually in ACC claims and hospitalisation costs. She told NewstalkZB the new standards are "a good start to addressing the illnesses related to some of these problems".  

The SMC asked experts to comment on the new standards.

Quoted: Newsroom

"I don’t know how to say this, but we are all covered in a very fine patina of stool that we pass around to each other."

University of Otago's Professor Kurt Krause on how easily we pass on bacteria and why this is dangerous in a world with untreatable superbugs.

New fire flares in Tasman

Fire danger remains extremely high as dry weather continues in the region.

On Wednesday, the same day the State of Civil Defence Emergency expired in Tasman following the fire that began in Pigeon Valley, firefighters rushed to quell a blaze that ignited in pine trees in nearby Redwood Valley, 25km west of Nelson.
Fire and Emergency Tasman Marlborough area commander Grant Haywood told RNZ the Redwood Valley fire was completely separate fire from the Pigeon Valley blaze, which started three weeks ago. The speed with which the Redwood Valley fire took hold was a reminder of how dry the region was. "Any sort of ignition we have the fires are getting away from us really, really quickly," he said.
Both fires have now been contained, with firefighters dampening down remaining hotspots, but the region remained on edge because of the fire risk, Stuff reported.  A MetService spokesman said the region could expect to stay "hot and sunny" for at least another week. "We've got a range of high pressure and it's sitting around for at least a week, it's looking like it's going to be dry."

Grant Pearce, a fire scientist in the Scion Rural Fire Research Group, told RNZ: “Fire danger levels remain extremely high and among some of the worst ever recorded, indicating the potential for fires to start very easily, and spread quickly to become large fires that are very difficult to put out.”

Scion’s Rural Fire Research team will be producing new fire climate outlooks describing likely fire danger conditions across the country for the next three months (March to May) within the next week. Fire danger outlooks are available on the Scion Research website.

The SMC put together an expert reaction on the conditions that contributed to the latest fire.

2019 Science Media SAVVY

Applications are now open for two of our media training workshops in Auckland.

These highly-acclaimed workshops offer researchers first-hand insight into the workings of news and social media, as well as hands-on, practical exercises to improve communication. 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.

Established and emerging Māori researchers from all fields are welcome to apply for Māori Media SAVVY, hosted in conjunction with Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga. All workshop fees have been waived with support from Curious Minds – He Hihiri i te Mahara and travel and accommodation funding support may be available.

Policy news & developments

Warm and dry homes: New standards set minimum requirements for heating, insulation, ventilation, moisture and drainage, and draught stopping in residential rental properties. 

Hep C test urged: On Monday, The Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand, the Health Promotion Agency, and the Ministry of Health launched a campaign - Get Hep C Tested - to raise awareness of hepatitis C and encourage more people to get tested and treated.

Rural Innovation Lab: Massey University has received a $400,000 grant from the Provincial Growth Fund to establish a Rural Innovation Lab to drive digital farm opportunities in the primary sector.

$1 million fisheries fine: A Napier commercial fishing company, its directors and general manager have been fined a total of $1,086,673 for the sustained under-reporting of bluenose catch.

New bio control in beetle battle: A committee appointed by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has approved an application to release the parasitoid wasp Eadya daenerys to combat the destructive eucalyptus tortoise beetle.

EPA wants tighten rules for herbicide: Public submissions are open on a proposal by the Environmental Protection Authority for the herbicide paraquat. 

MMR vaccination: The Ministry of Health is reminding travellers to make sure they are immunised against measles following outbreaks in the Philippines and parts of Europe. Since 2012, all cases of measles in NZ came from travellers bringing the disease from overseas.

Resilient regions: Projects planning for earthquakes from the Hikurangi subduction zone and improving Māori community engagement have been awarded funding from the 2019 Resilience Fund.

R&D rising: R&D spending is up to 1.37 per cent of GDP ($3.9 billion) based on the latest Research and Development Survey by Statistics New Zealand. 

This week on the NZ Conversation.

Sex and sport: how to create a level playing field
Brenda Midson, University of Waikato

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.

He Jiankui’s Genetic Misadventure: Why Him? Why China?
Bioethics professor Jing-Bao Nie from the University of Otago explores the societal factors at play that may have led He Jiankui to violate numerous ethical and scientific norms. Prof Nie was also interviewed for this excellent investigative piece in STAT by Jane Qiu that found Chinese government funding may have been used for ‘CRISPR babies’ project. 

Climate change scientists look to Māori and other indigenous people for answers
Former SMC-staffer Laura Goodall details how scientists around the world are increasingly looking to indigenous communities for help with climate change research. 

Where are all the extra nurses?
After last year's hard-fought pay increase for nurses, Newsroom's Farah Hancock investigates why there are still 1500 nursing positions vacant.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
SS4C – School Strike 4 Climate

Children around the world are adding their voices to protest about the lack of action on climate change. Alison Campbell analyses the response to reports of the nationwide School Strike for Climate planned for March 15. 
Guest Work
The Dawn of the Age of Plastics

The 1939 World’s Fair was a testament to cork’s primacy in consumer packaging. But a little-known substance called plastic was waiting in the wings, writes David Taylor for Undark.
What's in a name?

Identifying species is not always as easy as it seems, especially when that creature is a sponge, writes Megan Shaffer.
Guest Work
Ardipithecus and bipedal walking

Ardi, the hominid skeleton discovered near Ethiopia’s Awash River in 1994, holds a wealth of information about the rise of bipedalism in hominins.

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
  • Rewriting mammalian 'source code': 4 March, Auckland. Researchers are trying to establish new frameworks for programmed regulation of gene expression.

  • Palmy's plastic pollution: 6 March, Palmerston North. Using citizen science to benchmark plastic pollution and implement a community strategy. 

  • Why sleep apnoea is bad for your brain: 6 March, Christchurch: Why is sleep apnoea bad for your brain, who do we need sleep, and just what are local sleeps. 

  • Strategies for youth suicide prevention: 6 March, Auckland: How policy and research can optimise youth suicide prevention efforts.

  • Fire in Yellowstone: 6 March, Auckland. fire activity is increasing as climate warms; what this means for the future of the world’s first national park is unclear.

  • Women in Data Science: 9 March, Wellington. This one-day conference provides an opportunity to hear about the latest data science related research and applications.

  • Coastal ecology lab open day: 9 March, Wellington. Join the Victoria University of Wellington Coastal Ecology Lab team to learn about their marine biology research.

  • Taiātea - Gathering of Oceans: 11 March, Auckland. A panel discussion at Auckland Museum on protecting threatened marine environments.

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