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SMC Heads-Up: Eruption! Fracking briefing, brain injury...

SMC Heads-Up: Eruption! Fracking briefing, brain injury reassessed and a swag of science prizes

Issue 208 23-29 November

Tongariro eruption: take two
All eyes were on Mt Tongoriro this week following the second eruption this year from the North Island volcano.
Tongariro's Te Maari crater erupted just before 1.30pm on Wednesday afternoon, sending a plume of ash and steam 4km into the the air.

Prior to 2012 the crater had been dormant for over a century.

Currently, volcanic activity remains low, but substantial amounts of gas are sill still being emitted from the crater. GNS Science plans to undertake monitoring flights to sample gas around the volcano as soon as conditions become favourable.

Interestingly, GNS noted that a number of subsequent disruptions picked up on their monitoring network were not seismic activity but in fact lightening strikes from the thunderstorm the affected much of the North Island on Thursday night.
A larger eruption in August spread ash across the Central North Island and led to travel warnings on major highways in the region.

Ruapehu link doubted

Meanwhile, rumblings beneath the nearby Mt Ruapehu volcano have scientists concerned another eruption could occur there.
Results from the analysis of the crater lake samples taken on Wednesday suggest that the level of activity at Ruapehu hasn't changed since last week.

There are still indications of volcanic unrest, and despite Ruapehu being quiet at the moment, an eruption could occur with little or no warning.

Speculation that the activity and Tongariro and Ruapehu are linked has ben addressed by experts in the media. "We don't have evidence at the moment that the activity of the two volcanoes are related," GNS volcanogist Nico Fournier told "But we can't exclude it entirely."

BRIEFING: Fracking report due
Next week will see the release of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's interim report on hydraulic fracturing in New Zealand.

This report will cover the background, environmental risks, current oversight and future implications of the use of unconventional techniques in oil and gas production in New Zealand.

The Science Media Centre in conjunction with Commissioner Dr Jan Wright, will be hosting a media briefing where the details of the report will be explained. The briefing will be held at 12pm on Tuesday, the 27th of November (under embargo until 2pm on Tuesday) at the Rerserve Bank building in Wellington.

Registration is essential - journalists signed up with the SMC have received invitations. Contact the SMC for further information.

An embargoed copy of the full report will be available for download from the SMC Resource Library from 12 noon on the day of the briefing. The SMC is rounding up comment from scientists on the report, which will also be released on Tuesday morning.
Brain injury rates underestimated
Worldwide incidence of traumatic brain injury could be six times higher than previous estimates, according to new research based on a New Zealand sample.

The BIONIC (Brain Injury Outcomes New Zealand In the Community) study examined multiple overlapping sources of information (eg, public hospitals, family doctors, rehabilitation centres, coroner/autopsy records, rest homes, ambulance services, and prisons) to record all new cases of TBI that occurred over a one-year period in the Waikato region, an area representative of the New Zealand population in terms of demographic, ethnic, socioeconomic, and urban and rural structure.

The study was published in leading international medical journal the Lancet this week.

Lead researcher Professor Valery Feigin of AUT highlighted the global significance of the research, saying, "it is the first study to show that 95% of all TBI cases are mild and that the true annual incidence of mild TBI is substantially higher than recent World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates (100-300/100 000 people per year).

"Based on these findings, we estimate that some 54-60 million people worldwide sustain a TBI each year, of which some 2.2-3.6 million people incur moderate or severe TBI. This is almost six times higher than previous estimates and means that every second two people in the world are struck by a new TBI."

More information on the study, including a breakdown of NZ statistics, can be found in an AUT media release, and a round up of news coverage is available on the SMC website.

Quoted: Dominion Post

"People routinely tell untruths. In fact, it has been suggested that, in large representative samples, so many people admit to regularly fibbing that those who say they never tell a lie are, well, lying."

Professor Marc Wilson, Victoria University, on a survey of lying in Generation Y respondents.

SMC summer internship on offer
The Science Media Centre is looking for a summer intern / volunteer to lend a hand with day-to-day operations of the centre.

The successful candidate will join a fast-paced, savvy editorial team finding unexpected angles on science stories for the media and tracking down experts who can offer an evidence-based steer on breaking news and controversial topics.

You'll need to be:
• a confident, skilled and snappy writer
• interested in science, environment, health, tech, ag and other research-driven topics
• solidly-skilled in website content management; reliable and highly self-motivated
• available to help out in our central Wellington office for a minimum of 15 hours a week in Jan-Feb 2013.
For more information, contact Dacia Herbulock at the Science Media Centre on 04 499 5476. To apply, please send an expression of interest and CV with "SMC summer internship" in the subject line, no later than 3 Dec 2013.

More information about this opportunity can be found here.

On the science radar...
Town birds tweet a different tune, postulated Killer robot prohibition, Thanksgiving turkey science, visualising carbon emissions and yawning fetuses.
Sciblogs: An ecologist's perspective
Sciblogs has a new contributor with Victoria University's Dr Wayne Linklater joining the science blogging stable.

Dr Linklater's blog Polit-ecol Science will look at New Zealand's ecological issues and where they intersect with politics.

Ecological science is at the heart of tackling our "most wicked problems", argues Dr Linklater in his maiden post. He calls for an effort to "synthesize" expertise and knowledge to find ways to better protect and manage the environment.

"We could make major advances in how knowledge and research contributes to New Zealand and the quality of lives of Kiwis if we could put all the human endeavours in one room towards solutions to our most important problems or highest aspirations as a country," he writes.

Dr Linklater joins nearly 30 scientists and science writers on Sciblogs, Australasia's largest science blogging network.
Awards recognise top scientists
The New Zealand Research Honours Dinner, an annual awards evening celebrating top New Zealand researchers, was held in Auckland this week.

Professor Margaret Brimble from the University of Auckland School of Chemistry was honoured by receiving not one but three medals at the Royal Society of New Zealand's annual Research Honours Dinner, which was held in the Auckland Museum on Wednesday.

A world leading researcher in synthetic organic chemistry, Prof Brimble's a specific focus is in the design of synthetic analogues of naturally occurring molecules produced by the brain in response to injury.

Prof Brimble was awarded the highest honour in science, the Rutherford Medal, for exceptional contributions to the advancement and promotion of public awareness, knowledge and understanding in addition to eminent research or technological practice.

The recognition of Prof Brimble's work did not end there. She also received the MacDiarmid Medal for outstanding scientific research that could have large human benefit and the Hector Medal for excellence in chemical sciences.

Science outreach recognised

The Callaghan Medal 'for outstanding contribution to science communication' was awarded to Professor Shaun Hendy (Victoria University Wellington and Industrial Research Limited) and Sciblogs contributor for his outstanding work in raising public awareness of science and its role in increasing economic prosperity.

The Science Media Centre congratulates all the researchers receiving awards at the event. A full list of recipients can be found here.

CONGRATULATIONS also to Neville Jordan, entrepreneur, investor and the former President of the Royal Society, who was last night named Wellingtonian of the year.

New from the SMC

In the news:

Tongariro redux:
Intial news reports and extra information from this week's eruption of Mt Tongoriro.

Brain injury study: New research from AUT has found rates of traumatic brain injury to be much higher than expected.

Reflections on Science:

Royal Society Awards: The Annual Research Honours Dinner paid tribute to NZ's top researchers this week.

Diabetes wake up call: Writing in the ODT, Prof Jim Mann chastises authorities for lack of engagement on diabetes in NZ.

Sciblogs highlights

Some of the highlights from this week's posts:

Sciblogs is pleased to welcome new Sciblogger Prof Wayne Linklater from Victoria University to the network. Prof Linklater's blog, Polit-ecol Science,

Type I and Type II Errors - Reporters have a much easier time finding people who've died due to bad drugs than finding those who have been saved because a good drug was approved more quickly, writes Eric Crampton.
Dismal Science

We all own our agricultural story.....that's the problem - New Zealand's agricultural success in owned by all of us, writes Peter Kerr, but no one has ever claimed it.

Making the waka go faster - Bill Kaye-Blake reflects on the launch of He kai kei aku ringa, the Crown-Maori Economic Growth Partnership.
Dismal Science

Seeing circular polarization - Marcus Wilson awards the title of 'coolest eyesight mechanism' to the mantis shrimp and its unusual ability to dectect some of the more obscure properties of light waves.
Physics Stop

Climate change deniers don't understand expertise - Ken Perrott covers the latest climate report from the World Bank and the criticisms it has recieved over the last week.
Open Parachute

Research highlights

Please note: hyperlinks point, where possible, to the relevant abstract or paper.

The heartache of the jobless: Unemployment, multiple job losses and short periods without work may be associated with increased risk for acute myocardial infarction (AMI; heart attack), according to study of 13,451 older Americans. In fact, the more jobs an individual lost in their lifetime, the more likely that heart attack became. The authors said, as a risk factor, multiple job loss was comparable to smoking, diabetes and hypertension.

Breast cancer and jobs: Is there a link between the risk of breast cancer and the working environment? Canadian researchers attempted to address this question by comparing breast cancer cases with randomly selected and matched community controls. The authors found that women in jobs with potentially high exposures to carcinogens and endocrine disrupters (including agriculture and metal-working) had an elevated breast cancer risk.
Environmental Health

Old new species: New species can literally spend decades on the shelf before being noticed. A review of newly described species has revealed an interesting fact: most 'new' specimens aren't actually that new - the average time between specimen collection and official description is 20 years! The authors of the research note the slow process can be due to a lack of expertise in a field or the collection of multiple specimens for confirmation.
Current Biology

'Obese but happy gene': A gene variant which predisposes people to obesity is also linked with a decrease in the risk of depression, according to new research. A study which analysed 17,200 DNA samples from participants in 21 countries found that the obesity promoting version of a gene called FTO was also associated with an eight percent drop in depression incidence. The discovery challenges the common perception of a reciprocal link between depression and obesity.
Molecular Psychiatry

Weak teens die sooner: Low muscle strength in adolescence is strongly associated with a greater risk of early death from several major causes, particularly cardiovascular disease, according to a Swedish study of one million male adolescents. The effect is similar to well established risk factors for early death like being overweight or having high blood pressure, leading the authors to call for young people, particularly those with very low strength, to engage in regular physical activity to boost their muscular fitness.

Policy updates

Some of the policy highlights from this week:

MPI Consultation: The Ministry for Primary Industries is seeking public views on possible changes to the Horticulture Export Authority (HEA) Act. Submission close 15 February 2013.

Upcoming sci-tech events
Water: know your limits - 2012 NZ Hydrological Society Conference - 27-30 November, Nelson.
Prime Minister's Science Prizes - Te Papa, 29 November
What If alcohol was not as socially costly as everyone says? - 'What if Wednesday' lecture with Dr Eric Crampton - 28 November, Christchurch.
For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.

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