Issue 523, 24 May 2019


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New from the SMC

Expert Reaction: Deepfake and the law

Blog: Voyager media awards showcase excellent science writing

New from the SMC global network

No rush for deepfake laws

Deepfake and other ‘synthetic media’ will be the next wave of online content causing concern, but there’s no need to rush to create new laws to cope.

A new report, funded by the Law Foundation, has cautioned against rushing to develop new laws to respond to synthetic media. Instead, the authors say there is already a long list of laws that cover the issue, including the Privacy Act, Copyright Act and the Harmful Digital Communication Act.

'Deepfake' refers to artificial intelligence techniques used to create mass volumes of fake but convincing audio, images or video.

Report co-author Tom Barraclough told Morning Report "the ability to detect these things is quite limited at the moment".

"Part of the issue is that law will only intervene retrospectively. In the time it takes for an investigation like that to take place, even if we could actually identify fake content, a lot of the harm would already be done because of the rapid spread of one of these videos or audio clips.

"We do really think it's going to change the way that people process and rely on audiovisual information in certain contexts."

University of Canterbury Associate Professor Amy Fletcher said the report was correct to caution against "knee-jerk regulatory responses".

"As a political scientist, I think we also need to consider synthetic media within a broad geopolitical context," which she said included growing political polarisation and extremism.

"These issues are not necessarily new, but they are increasingly urgent and pervasive, particularly as the speed and reach of advanced media technologies ramp up emotions and decrease response times."

Associate Professor Donald Matheson - head of the University of Canterbury's Media and Communication department - said a key problem to address was the "financial plight of journalism".

"If we’re to regulate, I would regulate at the structural level to foster a media environment in which misinformation finds it harder to gain purchase."

AUT senior lecturer Dr Minh Nguyen said deepfakes were potentially dangerous, "but creating realistic video is not easy for most people". However, he said voice generation was easier and could be used for phone scams.

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the report.

Quoted: Stuff

"It could well be that it's got something to do with the low levels of genetic diversity that we've found.

"The island ones, which is pretty much all of the current population, are basically inbred."

University of Otago Associate Professor Bruce Robertson on the fungal disease aspergillosis, which is afflicting kākāpō.

Science journalism shines

Last Friday journalists gathered in Auckland for the Voyager media awards.

SMC staff Rachel Thomas, Tessa Evans and Dacia Herbulock (right) with Eloise Gibson.

Newsroom's Eloise Gibson won the SMC-sponsored Science and Technology Award for her coverage on Sir Ray Avery’s plan to manufacture low-cost infant incubators and the legal threats he made to suppress studies.

Stuff’s Environment National Correspondent Charlie Mitchell won big this year, taking out the Feature Writer of the Year (long-form) and the Environmental/Sustainability Reporter of the Year for his work on snails, phosphorus, land reform, and sea-level rise. He was also named joint runner-up in the Science and Technology Award.

Hannah Martin from Stuff and Catherine Hutton from RNZ won the junior and senior nib Health Journalism Scholarships respectively.

New Zealand Geographic was awarded Magazine of the Year for the third year running, and contributer Ellen Rykers won best junior feature writer for her work including The Lie of the Land.

Congratulations also to our advisory board member Patrick Crewdson - Stuff's editor-in-chief - who was named Editorial Executive of the Year and also received the prestigious Wolfson Fellowship, which provides for 10 weeks’ study at Cambridge University’s Wolfson College.

He plans to use the fellowship to study new media business models beyond advertising and paywalls.

The full list of winners is on the Voyagers' website.

Video training for researchers

This June, the Science Media Centre will take its popular science video making workshops to Auckland, offering more researchers the chance to get science video savvy.

These video workshops (produced in collaboration with Baz Caitcheon) focus on giving scientists the tools and skills to communicate their research in short videos aimed at an online audience.

Producing short videos using the high-definition camera built into your smartphone or tablet has never been easier. We’ll show you to how to develop a video concept and give you tips on the best ways to shoot, edit and distribute your video content. In the weeks following, Baz will mentor you to help you produce your first science video.

26 June - 9am-1pm
Massey University, Albany - Apply now

The workshop is free to attend, but limited to 15 places. University and CRI researchers get top priority.

This is a competitive application process – the best applicants will be selected based on the video concepts outlined in the application form.

More information is available on the SMC website. Applications close 14 June.

Policy news & developments

Zero Carbon Bill: The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill has passed its first reading in Parliament 119 votes to one. Submissions are open on the Bill until 16 July.

Pike River re-entry: The Pike River Recovery Agency has successfully re-entered the mine's drift, following a delay due to a false oxygen reading.

M.bovis diagnostics: MPI is calling for proposals for diagnostic research outlined in the Mycoplasma bovis science plan.

Child poverty targets: The Government has confirmed the first set of official targets to break the cycle of child poverty.

Mātauranga fund: 31 projects will receive funding worth $4 million over the next two years through the latest round of the Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund.

Family violence: In a pre-Budget announcement, the Government has said it will provide more support to breaking the cycle of family and sexual violence.

No insulation extension: Landlords have just over a month to ensure their rental properties meet the 2016 insulation requirements and there will be no extensions provided.

Walking access: MPI is calling for public feedback on a review of the Walking Access Act, which provides public access to outdoor spaces.

Four Sisters closed: DOC and Te Roroa have announced the temporary closure of the Four Sisters Walk due to the discover of kauri dieback in the near vicinity.

Weed moth targeted: The EPA has approved the introduction of a root-feeding beetle to control the noxious weed moth plant.

Trawl tech approval: Fisheries New Zealand has approved the use of the Precision Seafood Harvesting (PSH) Modular Harvest System (MHS) in North Island inshore fisheries for snapper, tarakihi, trevally, red gurnard, and John Dory.

Digital growth: MBIE and Stats NZ have released a new domain plan to measure New Zealand's digital transformation.

Rheumatic fever initiative: The Wellbeing Budget will support Māori and Pacific communities to develop their own community-led initiatives in the fight against rheumatic fever

This week on the NZ Conversation.

Charging the Christchurch mosque attacker with terrorism could be risky – but it’s important
Keiran Hardy, Griffith University

To build social cohesion, our screens need to show the same diversity of faces we see on the street
Arezou Zalipour, Auckland University of Technology

Migration is a growing issue, but it remains a challenge to define who actually is a migrant
Akhteruz Zaman, Massey University; Jahnnabi Das, University of Technology Sydney

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.

Moa's ark? Uncovering 'the Great Australianisation' of NZ
NZ Herald science reporter Jamie Morton writes about recent research investigating how so many Australian birds managed to establish themselves in New Zealand.

What’s really causing New Zealand’s measles epidemics
Hardline anti-vaxxers often cop the blame for New Zealand's frequent measles outbreaks - but researchers say an 'immunity gap' affecting an entire generation is what's allowing the disease to flourish, RNZ's Kate Newton reports.

The NZ Buyer’s Club
In the first of a four-part series, RNZ's Guyon Espiner investigates how Pharmac works and whether its model is costing lives.

A Waste of 1,000 Research Papers
Writing for The Atlantic, Ed Yong traces the course of a blockbuster scientific discovery that now appears to be a house of cards built on non-existent foundations.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
Improving health news through press releases

New research shows that when health-related press releases use cautious language and caveats to avoid hype, this often flows through to the resulting news coverage.
Lately, In Science
A bunch of bad guys – why David Cameron needs corpus linguistics

He paid heaps for his car and she loves him heaps - Andreea Calude writes about size nouns and Kiwi idioms.
Lippy Linguist
A new crater on the Moon

The scar on the lunar surface produced when the Israeli space probe ‘Beresheet’ slammed into the Moon on April 11 has just been spotted using an orbiting NASA satellite.
Out of Space

Data termination

Following reports that 2500 women had had their requests for abortion turned down over the last decade, Eric Crampton wondered whether there was a way to study the impacts of this using the IDI.
The Dismal Science

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
  • Infant microbiota: 27 May, Dunedin. Results from a study investigating microbiota and diet in infants and young children.
  • Gene-edited wasps? 27 May, Wellington. Phil Lester will talk about the potential of new gene editing technologies for wasp and pest control.
  • Better bioinformatics: 28 May, Auckland. Rob Elshire will talk about problems researchers face using bioinformatics software.
  • Just energy transitions: 28 May, Hamilton. Raphael Heffron will share his experience in energy and climate change law.
  • Ice prognosis: 28 May, Dunedin. Pat Langhorne will lead this month's Thirst for Knowledge, talking about Antarctica's sea ice.
  • Ecology and infectious diseases: 28 May, Auckland. Mick Roberts will talk about a long-term collaboration using mathematics to describe epidemics and pandemics.
  • Preserving biodiversity: 29 May, Auckland. Leilani Walker will discuss how land owners and managers perceive the risks and benefits of native reforestation.
  • Quantum computing: 29 May, Auckland. Wrapping up the Gibbons Lecture series, a panel discussion will consider the future of quantum computing.
  • Can't we all just get along? 29 May, Auckland. Anthropologist Agustín Fuentes will offer insight into why racism, intolerance, inequality, and violence are possible, but not obligatory.
  • How much is too much? 30 May, Wellington. Using virtual reality can seem gimicky - how much use is enough to justify the expense of the equipment, and how much is too much?
  • Dawn of the Wellbeing Budget: 30 May, Christchurch. Sasha McMeeking will describe the Living Standards Framework and Wellbeing Budget, to explore what these new approaches mean for the Aotearoa New Zealand ideal.

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