Issue 514, 22 Mar 2019


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New from the SMC

Expert Reaction: Muslim identity and experiences in New Zealand

Expert Reaction: Live-streaming of traumatic events

Expert Reaction: Urgent changes to gun laws

New from the SMC global network

Gun policies set to change

The Government has announced urgent changes to gun policy within a week of last Friday's tragedy.

Flowers outside Kilbirnie mosque, Mike Dickison, CC BY 4.0.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced new legislation would be passed under urgency, banning all military style semi-automatics and assault rifles.

Speaking at a press conference, she said the most recent significant changes to gun laws came following the Aramoana shootings in 1990, which saw 10-year limits introduced for licence holders and the re-categorisation of military style semi-automatics.

"Those changes, however, did not go far enough."

An amendment to the Arms Act to give effect to the ban will be introduced when Parliament sits in the first week of April and passed under urgency. Ardern said there would be a short Select Committee process, "so I encourage all those who wish to submit to start now".

"My expectation is that the law will be in place by the end of the next two-week sitting session, which is by the 11th of April."

In the meantime, an Order in Council came into effect at 3pm yesterday to prevent stockpiling. Those weapons that are being banned under the Bill have been reclassified as requiring an E endorsement on a firearms licence.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said that meant those who had acquired the firearms legally with an A catergory licence will no longer be able to possess them.

"This means for many people, you will now be in unlawful possession of your firearm".

There will be a grace period for firearms to be returned, but Ardern indicated that the draft legislation would look to increase the penalties for those who continue to possess these weapons "after a reasonable period". Currently, the penalties range from fines of up to $4,000 and/or three years in prison.

University of Canterbury criminologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert said "past attempts to register firearms had been "seen as unworkable", but technological changes could make this easier.

Though he said "political knee-jerk reactions after terrible events should be avoided", in this instance recommendations had been around for a long time and were supported by the Police Association. 

"The political will in the past has been absent."

The SMC gathered expert reaction on New Zealand gun law throughout the week.

Quoted: RNZ

"This is how a heart breaks. This is how our world is torn apart. "

Islamic Women's Council of New Zealand spokesperson Anjum Rahman detailing numerous attempts for Government to address rising levels of discrimination.

Reining in social media

Following last week's shooting, questions have been aimed at social media companies over content shared on their platforms.

The alleged offender live-streamed the attack on Facebook and video later appeared on YouTube and other social media sites.

In a statement released today, Facebook said the video was viewed fewer than 200 times during the 17-minute live broadcast but was not reported by any of those viewers. Reports during livestreams are prioritised because "if there is real-world harm we have a better chance to alert first responders and try to get help on the ground," the company said.

The first report was received 12 minutes after the broadcast ended but as the video was reported for reasons other than suicide, "as such it was handled according to different procedures".

Within 24 hours, Facebook had removed 1.5 million versions of the video, 1.2 million of which were blocked at upload.

AUT's head of the department of computer science Associate Professor David Parry said automatically spotting and removing offensive videos "is an extremely demanding task". 

"Although Facebook does employ human moderators there are probably less than 10,000 of them whereas the number of posts per day is in the billions."

Swinburne University of Technology senior lecturer Dr Belinda Barnet said that while Facebook and Twitter had done a good job of removing ISIS material, "I don’t feel they’ve paid as much attention to right-wing extremism, and in many cases have promoted it".

Dr Alistair Knott, from the University of Otago, said he believed "big tech companies should be required by law to devote sufficient resources to important tasks like this". Public pressure wouldn't suffice, "because they are such a monopoly".

Kiwi telcos, including Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees, wrote an open letter to Google, Facebook and Twitter calling for change in the wake of the mosque shootings.

The SMC gathered expert reaction on live-streaming of traumatic events.

NZ Conversation's own page

Readers on The Conversation can now navigate directly to a New Zealand page filled with exclusively NZ stories.

Former RNZ science journalist Veronika Meduna has been the New Zealand editor for the Conversation for two years and over the past week has published numerous articles following last week's attack.

The dedicated New Zealand page went live yesterday. There is also a new New Zealand-focused newsletter.

Policy news & developments

Measles update: Almost 50 cases of measles have been confirmed this year, with almost two-thirds of the cases linked to the current outbreak in Canterbury.

Great Walk consultation: DOC is seeking public feedback on the conservation management strategy for the new Paparoa Great Walk, which will pass the site of Pike River Mine.

New mental health resources: In the aftermath of the tragic events in Christchurch, the Ministry of Health has developed resources in several languages to help people cope and support their children. To talk to a trained counsellor, text or call 1737.

Condolence book opened: A national condolence book for victims of the Christchurch mosques attack can be signed at the National Library on Molesworth Street, Wellington.

What we've been reading

Normally here we highlight some of the standout science journalism from the past week. This week we thought we'd revisit some of our favourite, lighter reads because frankly, we've read enough terrible news to last a lifetime.

Suffrage 125
In September last year we ran a special series on Sciblogs featuring Kiwi women in science: many of the posts were heartfelt and uplifting, just what we need right now.

Return of the lost birds
Since humans arrived in Aotearoa, we’ve lost nearly half of our native terrestrial bird species. In this New Zealand Geographic feature, Kate Evans talks to scientists learning more about these long-lost species through the remains and DNA they left behind.

The extraordinary life and death of the world’s oldest known spider
You might have heard about the death of the world’s oldest known spider, but if you haven’t read this touching obit to the female Gaius villosus, it’s a beautiful tribute not only to ‘spider 16’ but also the long-term commitment of scientists to their study species.

Lie of the Land
Ellen Rykers’ ancestors were among a small group of colonists who tried to make a home on the Auckland Islands – she traces their tale in this feature article.

The obsessive search for the Tasmanian Tiger
It’s right up there with the dodo and passenger pigeon as an icon of human-driven extinction, but some people still think the Tasmanian Tiger lurks in the wilderness.

If anyone is going to save the world, it's Generation Z
A fresh-faced Swedish teenager fearlessly accused some of the planet’s richest and most influential people of imperilling her future while looking them dead in the eye. Writing for The Independent, Josie Cox dares anyone to fob off Generation Zers like Greta Thunberg.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
After Christchurch: What to do when our protective bubble has burst and why

Psychologist Sarb Johal offers advice for those reeling from the Christchurch mass shooting on what to do when our protective bubble has burst and why.
The Psychology Report
Thoughts on a question about kākāpō

Alison Campbell gives a primer on kākāpō and outlines potential answers to a previous scholarship biology question.
Does Earth have a natural prime meridian?

We're generally used to using the Greenwich meridian for mapping and time-keeping, but does the Earth have a natural prime meridian? Its location might surprise you.
Out of Space
New Zealand, the place that makes giant birds

What led the Haast's eagle to evolve into an island monster so quickly?
Guest Work

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
  • Brain awareness month: This month there are 17 brain-related events across New Zealand. The final few days will see a Brain Day at the Centre for Brain Research, a talk on neurodegenerative diseases in New Plymouth, and a final session on dementia in Auckland. 
  • Media integrity: March 25, Auckland. Professor Nasir Memon will discuss how media such as Deep Fakes have traditionally been generated and detected and new approaches that aim to return integrity and trust to digital media.
  • Wrongful convictions: March 26, Dunedin. Dr Bridget Irvine will discuss how errors in human memory can contribute to miscarriages of justice.
  • Logic and society: March 26, AucklandMarch 27, Palmerston North and March 28, Wellington. Rutherford Medal winner Rod Downey will address the question - what is logic and how does this type of reasoning contribute to advancing technology?
  • Weight loss that works: March 26, Auckland. Should we abandon diets and fund more weight loss surgery for the obese? Professor Alison Avenell talks about her research, obesity and long term weight loss.
  • Fruit flies and obesity: March 26, Auckland. From demented yeast and obese flies, visiting Professor Dieter Kohlwein discusses the use of model organisms in biomedical research.
  • Drug courts: March 27, Hamilton. Dr Joe Burton talks about what would be an effective policy response to narcotics abuse in New Zealand.
  • The AI revolution: March 27, Auckland. Visiting guest Dr John Flackett explores the current uptake of AI, the "AI winter" and whether we’re in another AI bubble.
  • AI conference: March 27-28, Auckland. AI-Day 2019 will showcase global trends, issues for humanity and case stories from local and international companies innovating with artificial intelligence.
  • Peak meat: March 28, Lincoln. A panel of food industry experts and innovators discuss the environmental impacts of meat and milk, fake meat and consequences for changing attitudes. 

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