Issue 530, 12 Jul 2019


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New from the SMC

Expert Q&A: 5G: hype vs reality

New from the SMC global network

Separating 5G hype and reality

5G has been lauded as a game-changing technology, but will it actually change our lives?

The latest upgrade to the mobile network has been making headlines with concerns about health risks and the potential interference with weather satellites relied on by forecasters.

MetService systems engineering manager Bruce Hartley said the organisation's main concerns were with emissions from equipment using 5G "leaking" out of approved bands into those that are important for weather forecasting.

Cabinet is currently considering the 3.5 GHz band, which Hartley said did not pose significant issues for MetService. However, the 26 GHz band was of concern because of its proximity to the water vapour channel.

"For example, for the 23.8 GHz water vapour channel, the weather satellite receivers are passive and the signals being monitored are coming from water molecules in the atmosphere. This channel cannot be changed and there is no way to amplify the monitored signal above the accumulated leakage."

Massey University senior lecturer Dr Faraz Hasan said 5G would be "great for data-hungry applications" like virtual reality.

Though virtual reality was often taken to mean online gaming, Dr Hasan said 5G's ability to handle large volumes of data could allow applications such as remotely-driven cars or live-streaming scenes attended by first responders.

In terms of cybersecurity, Dr Hasan said "security issues will always remain associated with connectivity in general".  Because the range of 5G base stations will be small, he said the network could potentially know the location of devices and their users more precisely.

EMF Services director Martin Gledhill said 5G was just a new application of radio technology and the frequencies will be similar to those used for several decades. He said research continues to show that everyday exposures are far below current exposure limits.

University of Auckland's Professor Keith Petrie said worries about new technology causing health problems are nothing new.

"There was a fear when telephones were introduced that they caused an increase in aural pressure, giddiness and pain. Similarly with radios that radio signals caused an increase in nausea. There were also fears that steam trains caused problems in the spine because the human body was not designed to go so fast.

"The internet has now brought a new dimension to worries about technology and unsubstantiated health worries can be spread instantly to those with similar concerns."

The SMC asked experts about 5G technology and associated health concerns.

Quoted: Stuff

"We know that in the last five years syphilis has increased 560 per cent, and babies have died.

"So if we wait another five years to implement the recommendations from the action plan, who knows what we're going to be facing?"

University of Auckland's Dr Peter Saxton on problems with the sexual health system.

Reporting rheumatic fever

An audit of Northland's rheumatic fever burden found numbers don't match up, sparking calls for a national reporting system.

Research published today in the New Zealand Medical Journal, Northland DHB doctors audited local rheumatic fever records from 2012 to 2017 and found an additional five cases that weren't included in the Ministry of Health's data.

Dr Kate Wauchop told RNZ that while rheumatic fever tended to be regarded as a childhood disease, their audit found 10 cases in people over 20.

"If you look at individual cases it's just so sad to see that this is what's occurring to people's lives and it's from a preventable disease."

University of Otago Professor Michael Baker told TVNZ's Breakfast that it was a missed opportunity for New Zealand. "We're just not counting this disease properly, and that has really serious consequences."

"The reason the disease was made notifable is that once you get acute rheumatic fever you need to be followed for at least ten years and given a monthly pencillin injection, and that's to stop you developing severe rheumatic heart disease, which really damages your heart valves for life."

"We're making life really difficult for ourselves in New Zealand by not having a national register."

Rates of rheumatic fever are much higher among Māori, which Professor Baker said was a result of a legacy of colonialism, intergenerational poverty, crowded housing and poor quality rental housing.

Apply for Wellington SAVVY

Our flagship two-day media training course returns to Wellington and Auckland for two final rounds for 2019.

August 29-30

November 21-22  

Apply now

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. 

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

Applications for the August course in Wellington close on 26 July.

Video workshops a success

Thanks to everyone who came along to our Auckland video workshops last month - we had a great turnout at both the Massey and University of Auckland campuses. 

Workshop facilitator Baz Caitcheon only had good things to say about both groups and we were pleased to see a good range of entries in the video competition that followed. The Massey competition was taken out by Nickkita Lau from Plant & Food, for her video on Plant & Food's Research Consumer and Sensory Science

University of Auckland chemist Joel Rindelaub took out the UoA video competition for his slick video which featured preliminary results from his research on meth remediation

Policy news & developments

R&D incentives: The Government says more businesses will be able to access financial support through the R&D Tax Incentive.

New stink bug rules: Biosecurity New Zealand has provisionally released new rules aimed at keeping brown marmorated stink bugs out of the country.

Marine dumping consent: The Environmental Protection Authority has granted consent to Ports of Auckland Limited to dispose of dredged sediment at an authorised dumping site.

Commissioner appointments: Retiring Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon has been appointed as the next Race Relations Commissioner, while Judge Andrew Becroft has been reappointed as Children's Commissioner.

Medicinal cannabis: Consultation is open until 7 August on proposed regulations and standards for medicinal cannabis.

Conservation boards: Fifty-five appointments have been made across 15 conservation boards.

This week on the NZ Conversation.

Study identifies nine research priorities to better understand NZ’s vast marine area
Rebecca Jarvis and Tim Young, Auckland University of Technology

How solar heat drives rapid melting of parts of Antarctica’s largest ice shelf
Craig Stewart, NIWA

NZ’s plan for deposit insurance falls well short of protecting people’s savings
Helen Mary Dervan, Auckland University of Technology

How to improve health outcomes for Indigenous peoples by making space for self-determination
Dominic O'Sullivan, Charles Sturt University

How Muslim women break stereotypes by mixing faith and modesty with fashion
Anoosh Soltani, University of Waikato; Hannah Thinyane, United Nations University

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

What we've been reading

With an abundance of news stories to 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.

Managed to extinction
In a two-part series, Stuff's Charlie Mitchell traces the plight of the longfin eel, which may be on the brink of a critical tipping point. Part two here.

Gorse for the trees
RNZ's Nine to Noon talks to Canterbury icon Hugh Wilson and the decades of work he's done turning hilly farmland on Banks Peninsula back into native forest.

A Groundbreaking Study Is Good News for Cats—And People
Normally, journalists are implored to take care when reporting on studies done in mice, but for once The Atlantic's Ed Yong rejoices about a pre-print study where successfully reproducing Toxoplasma gondii in mice is the whole point.

Should Neil Armstrong’s Bootprints Be on the Moon Forever?
Expect a lot of Moon landing coverage over the coming week leading up to the 50th anniversary, but in the meantime Nadia Drake writes in the NY Times about what should be preserved on the lunar surface and who gets to decide.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from recent Sciblogs posts:
“I’ve done my research!”

As the measles outbreak continues to tick along, so too do the media stories - Alison Campbell weighs in on the resulting Facebook comment threads.
The demand for statisticians and Easter bunnies

Specialised skills and education don't matter much in a "thin" labour market, as Dave Heatley found out in 1982.

The evolution of work and workers

Robert Hickson wonders about job automation and how evolutionary biology could help explain people moving into new niches.

There’s no place like home

Anyone who's ever moved towns for a job can tell you it's a tough decision to make - what is it that keeps us close to home when work is available elsewhere?

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details. 
  • Gospel of kindness: 15 July, Auckland. Janet Davis will talk about her recent book tracing the history of animal protection in the US and internationally.
  • Nuts and chocolate: 16 July, Auckland. You may never look at chocolate the same way again after hearing Bryony Jones talk about food texture and what goes on when we chew.
  • Waste into oil: 16 July, Christchurch. Chris Bathurst will walk about work that aims to convert waste into traditional crude oil with the aim of energising a zero-emissions world.
  • Southern Ocean secrets: 16 July, Dunedin. Christina Riesselman and Chris Moy will beam in from the JOIDES Resolution, a scientific research vessel currently in the Southern Ocean.
  • Learning to discriminate: 16 July, Hamilton. Can machines learn to identify pest species from photos? Eibe Frank will discuss how this might be accomplished.
  • A flying observatory: 16 July, Christchurch. NASA's flying observatory SOFIA is back in Christchurch and Stuart Ryder will talk about his experiences as an astonomer on board the heavily-modified Boeing 747.
  • "Just do it all": 17 July, Hamilton. Are millennials less resilient than previous cohorts, or are there deeper issues in university education leading to concerning levels of mental health and stress levels among students?
  • Legalising cannabis: 18 July, Christchurch. A panel of experts, MCed by Guyon Espiner, will discuss their views on potential legalisation of cannabis, plus the increased access to medicinal cannabis.
  • Future for public health: 19 July, Wellington. Deborah Woodley will reflect on her first five months in the role of Deputy Director-General Population Health and Prevention with the Ministry of Health.
  • Agencies of kindness: 19 July, Auckland. A symposium featuring a range of speakers talking about how kindness factors into economic and science thinking, research and practice.
  • Moon rocks: 20 July, Wellington. Visit Te Papa to view and learn about moon rocks collected on the Apollo 11 and 17 missions and hear from experts.

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