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Wild weather | Nobel laureate's visit | Best Science Books

Issue 13 11 - 17 January

Heads-Up: Wild weather, Nobel laureate's visit and seeking NZ's best science books

In This Issue
Wild weather

Nobel laureate's visit


Science book awards

Going on expedition soon?

New from the SMC

Sciblogs highlights

Research highlights

Policy News

Sci-tech events

Quick Links

SMC Alerts

Media Registration
More About Us
Contact Us

Wild weather welcomes in 2013
The first weeks of the new year been defined by a number of extreme weather events in Australia and New Zealand.

A scorching heat wave across Australia has caused numerous bushfires across the country as temperatures skyrocketed past previous records. Temps rose so high that the Australian met service was forced to add a new colour to their national weather maps.

''The current heat wave - in terms of its duration, its intensity and its extent - is now unprecedented in our records,'' the Australian Bureau of Meteorology's manager of climate monitoring and prediction, David Jones, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

He also acknowledged the role of a warming global climate saying, ''Clearly, the climate system is responding to the background warming trend. Everything that happens in the climate system now is taking place on a planet which is a degree hotter than it used to be.''

Our colleagues at the Australian Science Media Centre have been working hard to collect expert commentary on the extreme temperatures and bushfires. A round up of expert response covering a range of topics such as climate, health and insurance issues, can be found here.

Latest reports indicate the the high temperatures are to continue over coming days, hampering efforts to control the fires currently burning in New South Wales and Victoria.

Home fires burning

Across the Tasman, New Zealand has also experienced fire troubles, with large fires breaking out in Canterbury, one destroying four homes and forcing evacuations near Prebbleton.

While dry weather was behind the Canterbury fires, the South Island has also been hit by the other end of the weather spectrum, with strong winds and rain lashing much of the island. A 'mini-twister' (as reported by Metservice via the Marlborough Express) caused havoc in Kaikoura yesterday, tearing up several properties .

The damage follows close on the heels of last week's heavy rainfall on the South Island's West Coast which washed out a State Highway 6 bridge.
And it seems Friday won't bring the end to the wild weather, with a Metservice Severe Weather report warning of heavy rainfall for western parts of the country over the weekend.
On the science radar...
James and the Giant Peach disproved, parasite treatment for obesity, scientific fiction, ancient pharmaceuticals and how the kilogram is getting heavier.
'Making science work'
Nobel laureate Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society of London, to present public lecture next week in Auckland.

Renowned British geneticist and cell biologist Sir Paul Nurse will offer his perspective on the interface between science and public policy in his upcoming talk.

In 1999 Sir Paul was honoured with knighthood in Great Britain for services in cancer research and cell biology and since 2000 has been a member of the UK Council for Science and Technology advising the prime minister. From 2010, Sir Paul has held the position of President of the Royal Society, and throughout his career Sir Paul has received a number of prestigious awards including the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2001 and the Royal Society Copley Medal in 2005.

Date and venue:
Friday 18 January 2013, 2 pm to 3 pm, University of Auckland Grafton campus

For more information, see the Office of the Prime Minister's Science Advisory Committee's website.

Asbestos in rebuild a 'landmine'
Asbestos concerns regarding the Christchurch rebuild have have exploded into the media with the potentially hazardous material being labelled as a 'health landmine' and a 'time bomb'.

The practice of encasing asbestos in quake-damaged houses undergoing repair, rather than removing it, has been condemned as a health hazard.

Dr Alistair Humphrey, Canterbury DHB Medical Officer of Health, has labelled the material a serious health risk and believes it should be removed as part of the rebuild.
"We have an opportunity to make sure houses are safe," he said to The Press. "They should just take it all out."

His concerns have been reiterated by Christchurch-based Labour MP Ruth Dyson and the Demolition and Asbestos Association.

The fibrous building material was once widely used on account of its fireproof properties but rapidly fell out of favour in the 1970s as negative health effects were identified. Importation of asbestos int New Zealand was banned in 1984.

Asbestos is now conclusively associated with a number of health conditions, primarily lung complications and cancer.

Fairfax reports 4000 homes may have the material in the buildings. Debate continues over whether their should be a also be register of asbestos-containing homes and if home owner should be forced to declare if their house contains asbestos.

Recognising NZ science writing
Calling all kiwi science writers! The Royal Society of New Zealand is calling for submissions from authors and publishers for the 2013 Science Book Prize.

The award is open to all books published in 2011 and 2012 which communicate scientific concepts in an interesting and readable way. Popular science books written by New Zealand authors are eligible for entry, as are books of fiction, drama and poetry provided they have strong science content.

The 'Call for Entry' details are on the Royal Society website and submissions close on 8 February 2011.

The winning book will be announced at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival in May 2013.

The Royal Society regards popular science books as a very effective way of getting the public interested in, and educated about, science. The category has boomed in recent years with international writers such as Richard Dawkins and Bill Bryson becoming household names.

Heading off somewhere exciting?
Scientists, are you departing on voyage of exploration?
Conducting field research in an exotic locale? Or running a fascinating project in your own backyard?

Sciblogs is soon to launch a new 'Field Work' blog, featuring real-time write-ups and photos from scientists on expedition to far-flung places, as well as closer to home, as we round out the field research season.

If you or someone you know may be interested in contributing, get in touch ASAP with

Quoted: The Press

"It is a landmine sitting there which we won't know about."

- Dr Alistair Alistair Humphrey, Canterbury DHB Medical Officer, on undisclosed asbestos in Christchurch houses.

New from the SMC

Experts Respond:
Australian heatwave: Experts comment on climate, health and insurance issues arising from the scorching temperatures in Australia.

Sciblogs highlights

Some of the highlights from this week's posts:

Curious case of the vanishing court file - Forensic scientist Anna Sandiford knows that everything leaves a trace, even legal documents.
Forensic Scientist

Too Hot: Australia's big heat breaking records - Gareth Renowden looks at the Lucky Country's scorching temperatures.
Hot Topic

Nonsense maths - Adding a bogus equation to an abstract can bump up the perceived importance of your research - at least to the unintiated - writes Marcus Wilson.
Physics Stop

Research highlights

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

Wrinkled fingers: The inevitable wrinkles we get from sitting to long in the bath could have an evolutionary bases according to a new study which found that the prune-like wrinkles make it easier to grip wet objects.
Biology Letters

Wood smoke risk: An analysis of Australian health paterns before and after a woodfire ban suggests that deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, could be significantly reduced with a decrease in biomass smoke.

Little Emperors: An analysis of 'only child' individuals born after China's one child policy has found that they are less altruistic and trusting, more timid and less competitive the Chinese who were born just before the policy.

Trusty brown eyes: A series of psychological studies has shown that, under most circumstances, people find faces with brown eyes more trustworthy than those with blues eyes.

Policy updates

Some of the policy highlights from this week:

Resolutions boost Quitline: Health Minister Tony Ryall has welcomed the news that over 2,000 people have signed up with Quitline in the first week of January and urges other smokers to contact Quitline for support to quit smoking.

Upcoming sci-tech events
Making Science Work - Public lecture by Sir Paul Nurse, President of the UK Royal Society - 18 Jan, Auckland
For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.


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