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SMC Heads-Up: Science of crime, SAVVY, Challenges

SMC Heads-Up: Science of crime, SAVVY hits Wellington, Challenges ahead

Issue 229 3 - 9 May 2013

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Is NZ up for the Challenge?
The government has laid out ten 'National Science Challenges' - areas of research focus for the next decade. What are they? And what do they mean for New Zealand?

The ten science challenges were unveiled by Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce, alongside Prime Minister John Key and his Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, at a launch event in Auckland on Wednesday

The challenges, ranging from healthier lives for New Zealanders to Antarctic research to land and water use, were selected by a specialist panel chaired by Sir Peter Gluckman after extensive consultation with scientists and the public (as the 'Great NZ Science Project'). The challenges are expected to guide research focus and investment in science over the next ten years.

Read the full list of the ten challenges, and listen to briefing audio from the launch, on the SMC site.

Minister Joyce also announced an extra $73.5 million in funding for the challenges, to be added to the $60 million already allocated in last year's Budget

Although the exact format of how the challenges will be implemented is still to be fiinalised, the panel's report identified key opportunities and themes for each challenge and specific scientific and societal goals. A core focus of the challenges will be to draw the physical, biological and social sciences together and break down silos of research expertise across the country.

In addition to the 10 core Challenges, the panel also issued a special 'Leadership Challenge' to government calling for greater efforts towards enhancing public understanding of science and promote engagement between science and society. In their final report the panel noted,

"We see this Challenge as the most important and of the highest priority, and implementation of this Challenge should be regarded as critical."

The Science Media Centre collected reaction from science leaders across the sector.

Anthony Scott, Chief Executive, Science New Zealand, comments:

"[The Challenges] set big and demanding objectives, are exciting for both scientists and the wider public, and are globally significant in their science requirements. They will require close engagement of scientists and the wider public in all elements of their pathway to achievement."

Professor Elaine Rush, Faculty of Health and Environmental Science, AUT, comments:

"The biggest challenge is around leadership of science and education, and then ensuring that the outcomes of this considerable investment in future New Zealand do translate into real differences for people and the environment. Let's get started - bring it on!"

Associate Professor Peter Dearden, Director of Genetics Otago, University of Otago, said:

"I think the announcement of the National Science Challenges is a great boost to New Zealand science and a sensible refocusing of science effort... I am excited about the challenges and what they will mean for NZ science and look forward to contributing."

Prof Shaun Hendy, Victoria University Wellington, was more circumspect, commenting:

"I am disappointed that the process has failed to throw up anything that is really new or innovative...

"I would have preferred to see New Zealand set itself the challenge of investing more in science in this sector rather than just look to rearrange the deck chairs once more. The primary sector focus of these challenges also aggravates the mismatch between the type of research our government does and that carried out by our private sector."

You can read much more expert commentary and round up of news coverage, on the Science Media centre site.

On the science radar this week...
Colonial cannibals, atomic movies, whale bone-eating worms, bionic ears and sweaty baby aggression.
SAVVY workshop for Wellington
The Science Media SAVVY media training programme comes to Wellington in June, with applications now open for the intensive two-day media skills building workshop.

Designed specifically to orient scientists and researchers to the realities of a rapidly changing media environment, these workshops offer practical skills and experience that will help participants work more effectively with media.

Over two days, participants will gain confidence and strategies to enable them to successfully navigate a range of media encounters. The individualised media training, mock TV interviews, and feedback provided can accommodate a range of experience levels, from intensive introduction to master class for seasoned science communicators.

Significant opportunities to get alongside working journalists - during the newsroom tour, media panel and pitch sessions - are a unique strength of the course.

Find out more about the workshop and what past participants have to say about it here.

When: June 20 - 21,
Where: Royal Society HQ, Wellington


Courtroom lessons for scientists
What do jury members ultimately base their decisions on when the evidence is laid out in court?
That depends on how compellingly the evidence has been presented says Charlotte Shipman, a Wellington-based 3 News reporter who covered the murder of Scott Guy and the subsequent trial of accused Ewen Macdonald, who in July was found not guilty of Guy's murder.

In court each day following the trial, Shipman says she saw meticulously gathered and presented forensic evidence from ESR scientists overwhelmed by the showmanship and compelling presentation of Macdonald's lawyer, the late Greg King.

Forensic evidence in the trial centered on analysis of footprints found around the body of Guy, which were ascertained to have been made by a certain type of dive boot.

ESR presented 960 pages of forensic analysis and four hours of expert testimony in court.

"Defence counsel Greg King did one thing to undo all of that," says Shipman, speaking as part of a panel discussion this week in Wellington organised by the Science Communicator's Association.

"He just counted the number of ridges on the sample 9 boot that the Crown had. That had 29 ridges. These three partial impressions around the body had 32 or 32 ridges. The impressions could not have been made by this sample size 9 boot."

"It was this 'aha' moment for the jury. You watch them in court for hours. It was like a penny dropped for them and they thought 'I can understand this, I'm gonna go with this'."

"I believe that the jury then disregarded that science, simply because Greg King's method was easier to understand."

Shipman said there are valuable lessons in that courtroom anecdote for scientists attempting to communicate to the public.

"If you have an analogy or something you can work with for the layperson, it makes a world of difference."

Adversarial system

ESR forensic scientist Keith Bedford said the "adversarial system" used in our courtrooms meant the perception created by how evidence and testimony is presented, can have a bearing on case outcomes.

"In the theatre that is the criminal justice system, if you have a report of what the prosecution says on one day, it can sound like an open and shut case. If you have a presentation on what the defense is putting up on another day, it can sound like a potential miscarriage of justice."

These perceptions were often carried over into the media, which he gave a "mixed scorecard" for its coverage of the science of crime.

"Particularly in the current environment when increasingly the media are looking for soundbites, that sort of tabloid style, quick headlines, its very difficult to effectively and fairly provide a balanced account of the processes of the criminal justice system."

"Many people get their concept of the guilt or innocence of somebody just from the TV news headlines."

Shipman said the format of primetime TV news meant the need for decent science communication was even greater.

"What is the alternative when you have a news bulletin that is an hour long and has 25 stories in it?"

Full audio from the SCANZ panel discussion on the science of crime and how it is communicated is available here.

Vic Uni backs its climate scientists
Victoria University has concluded an investigation into a complaint against its scientists from visiting climate sceptic Viscount Christopher Monckton, dismissing the eccentric peer's claims and backing the scientists' right to speak out on climate change issues.

"I want to state clearly that I have faith in these academic staff. By speaking publicly in their field of expertise, they were doing exactly what we expect," says Vice Chancellor Professor Pat Walsh in a statement released today.

Victoria University and Otago University had both received missives from Monckton in the wake of criticism aimed at the lobbyist and former policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher, from respected academics and climate scientists, including Professor Jonathan Boston (public policy expert), Professor David Frame, and Dr James Renwick.

"The matter is now closed and no further action will be taken," Professor Walsh added.

He said the investigation considered such factors as the university's role as "critic and conscience of society" and "academic freedom", in coming to its decision. Academics, he added, were expected to speak publicly on matters in the their area of expertise "even if their opinions are controversial or unpopular".

The University of Otago is understood to be considering a similar complaint from Lord Monckton, who spent much of April in New Zealand on a self-described "barnstorming" tour of the country.

PM's Sciences Prizes
Applications the Prime Minister's Science Prizes -- recognising the nation's best scientists, teachers, students and communicators -- are now open.

The prizes recognise the impact of science on New Zealanders' lives, celebrate the contribution of current scientists and encourage those of the future.
There are five prizes in total with a combined value of 1 million dollars.

Prime Minister's Science Prize
Prime Minister's MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist PrizePrime Minister's Science Teacher Prize
Prime Minister's Science Media Communication Prize
Prime Minister's Future Scientist Prize

To find out more, visit . Prizes close 17th July, 2013.

Quoted: The Press

"As well as helping Lincoln University in its recovery after the earthquakes, the hub will reinforce the institution's place as a leading centre for agricultural research and education in New Zealand".

The Press editorial on
agricultural R&D hub at Lincoln

New from the SMC

Experts Respond:

National Science Challenges: Read extensive commentary from across the science and innovation sector on the recently announced National Science Challenges. Briefing audio from the official launch also available.

In the news:

Science Challenges: The media Have reported widely on the National Science Challenges. Read a round up of coverage here.

Superbug: A new study of the 'superbug' known as MRSA, shows infection rates in New Zealand are increasing both in hospitals and in the wider community.

Reflections on Science:

Criminal conversations: Listen to a audio from the SCANZ panel discussion on forensic science, featuring a forensic expert, a criminologist, the media and the police.

Sciblogs highlights

Some of the highlights from this week's posts:

The science of science advice - Robert Hickson notes that the reception of scientific advice isn't always rational.

National Science Challenges - an insider perspective - Elf Eldridge, a member of the Science Challenges panel, sheds some light on the Challenges and the ethos behind them.
Just So Science

Further blogging on the National Science Challenges:

The tao of science missed by National Science Challenges
John Pickering - Kidney Punch
Additional to the NZ Science Challenges
Grant Jacobs - Code for Life
New Zealand's National Science Challenges announced
Siouxsie Wiles - Infectious Thoughts
Science Challenges- Govt unveils the areas of focus
Peter Griffin - Griffin's Gadgets

Research highlights

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

Home is where the hazard is: New research from the University of Otago, Wellington, has found that millions of dollars in injury costs could be saved through simple home repairs. A survey of homes by trained inspectors combined with local hospital records revealed that 38% of injuries are related to a structural aspect of the home environment, both inside the house and outside in the garden.
Accident Analysis and Prevention
New anti-ageing targets: New research has identified two signalling pathways in the brain region called the hypothalamus which are involved in the ageing process. Researchers found that by blocking or enhancing the activity of the messenger molecules (NF-kB and GnRH) they could slow down or speed up aging in mice.

Bug's eye view: Inspired by the array of lenses in the insect compound eye, researchers have developed a digital camera with a distortion-free 160-degree field of view. The camera has a high-depth perception and a wide field of view. Potential applications range from advanced surveillance cameras to miniaturised endoscopes. Images available.
Fly, robot: Scientists have built tiny robots which mimic the flight of houseflies.The design offers a new way to study flapping-wing flight mechanics and control at the insect-scale and it may inform future studies of miniaturised power, sensing and computation technologies, according to the researchers. Video available.
Being American an allergy risk: New survey research suggests children living the in the United States but born outside the US are less likely to develop allergies than their US born counterparts. However, foreign-born Americans develop increased risk for allergic disease the longer they reside in the US.
JAMA Pediatrics

Implant gives a heads-up on seizures: For the first time, a small device implanted in the brain has accurately predicted the onset of seizures in Australian adults who have epilepsy that doesn't respond to drugs, according to a small proof-of-concept study. Electrodes implanted under the skull detect abnormal brain activity and transmit a warning signal to a hand held device.
Lancet Neurology

Policy updates

Some of the policy highlights from this week:

Pest control submissions: MPI is looking for feedback on a proposed national policy direction for pest management plans and programmes.

More synthetic cannabis banned: Assoc Health Minister Peter Dunne has announced a Temporary Class Drug Notice banning more substances found in tested samples of K2 synthetic cannabis.

Animal Welfare Strategy - MPI has launched the NZ Animal Welfare Strategy, setting out a high level framework for how we treat animals.

MPI Boss resigns: Ministry for Primary Industries CE Wayne McNee has announced his resignation to take up a new role as Chief Executive of Livestock Improvement Corporation.

Upcoming sci-tech events

Mastering molecular chess to mine nature's medicine chest - 2013 Rutherford Lecture from Prof Margaret Brimble - 7 May, Nelson; 8 May, Wanaka; 9 May, Dunedin.
Using science to save dolphins, and whaling without a harpoon - Prof Steve Dawson inaugural lecture - 7 May, Dunedin.
Human-Elephant Relations in South Asia: A Multidisciplinary Symposium - 7-8 May, Christchurch.

For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.


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