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SMC Heads-Up: Climate report outlook, stem cells 'go live' a

SMC Heads-Up: Climate report outlook, stem cells 'go live' and risk communication

Issue 248 13 - 19 September 2013

IPCC climate report approaches
Six years on from the last major climate report, the global community of climate scientists is gearing up to release its successor.

The IPCC AR5 cover
The first section of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s follow-on report (Fifth Assessment Report; AR5) is due out in Stockholm at the end of this month.

In a SMC media background briefing this morning, New Zealand scientists involved in the report's creation sat down with journalists to answer questions about the IPCC process, explain what has changed since the last report, and what topics will be covered this time around.

You can listen to the full briefing online here.

The IPCC's upcoming 'Working Group 1' report evaluates the physical science behind climate change, drawing together the best current understanding of temperature increases, sea level rise, extreme weather events, climate sensitivity, ocean acidification, ice loss and other topics.

This mammoth undertaking relies on contributions from 259 authors across 39 countries.

Although the speakers at this morning's briefing could not comment on specifics in the upcoming report, they hinted that new information on sea level rise (which for the first time warrants its own chapter in the report) and Pacific climate would be of interest to New Zealand media.

Asked about New Zealand's large author contribution to the report, Dr David Wratt, NIWA Chief Scientist and Vice-Chair of the IPCC Working Group 1, jokingly remarked that New Zealand was likely the world leader in 'IPCC lead authors per capita'. He noted the strong Kiwi input reflected the "very high standing of many of our scientists and the research that they do, which perhaps isn't really recognised by people here".

The full AR5 report is due to be released in Stockholm on Friday, 27 Sept at 8pm NZT.
What was big in science news this week...
Syria's chemical weapons, NZ tobacco efforts praised, In vivo stem cells
, fizzy drink & gout,
Kiwis' burning bums, Happiness
Stem cells farewell the Petri dish
Scientists have reprogrammed adult cells to revert to a stem cell state inside living mice.

Induced pluripotent stem cells, which have the potential to differentiate into many mature cell types, have been generated in Petri dishes in the lab, but never before in a living animal. Now, Spanish researchers have shown that the with the right chemical coaxing, cells from the kidney, stomach, intestine and pancreas all show signs of being reprogrammed to stem cells in vivo.

Their research is published this week in the journal Nature, and may have future implications for the generation and use of induced stem cells in the repair of organs in regenerative medicine.

You can watch a video explaining the research and its implications here.

Our overseas colleagues collected the following expert commentary.

Associate Professor Andrew Laslett is Research Group Leader, Stem Cells at CSIRO Materials Science & Engineering, said to the AusSMC:

"The ability to change multiple different cell types in a living mouse back into iPS cells (induced pluripotent stem cells), that can turn into any cell type in that mouse or even into an entire new mouse, is unprecedented. This research provides a better understanding of the reprogramming process in mice and will enable further investigations into applications targeted at treating specific diseases and injuries."

Dr Ilaria Bellantuono, Reader in Stem Cell and Skeletal Ageing, University of Sheffield, commented to the UK SMC:

"This paper is very exciting... This opens up opportunities to investigate ways to partially reprogram cells in the body to a desired state of dedifferentiation. In principle, these partially dedifferentiated cells could then be induced to differentiate to the cell type of choice inducing regeneration in vivo without the need of transplantation."

You can read further expert commentary on SMC website.
Policy news and developments

Hauraki health: Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith has launched the Hauraki Gulf Marine Spatial Planning process to help shape the gulf over the next 30 years.

High-tech health: The Ministry of Health is developing a new national telehealth system so more New Zealanders can receive health and injury advice via text, online-chat, phone, email and smart phone applications.

EEZ& EPA: The Environmental Protection Agency has posted an online presentation to explain its role in the new EEZ regime.

Fluoride facts: The Ministry of Health has launched a new website,, to help local communities make informed decisions on water fluoridation.

Eel science: An independent panel to review scientific information regarding longfin eel fisheries has been announced by the Ministry for Primary Industries.
Communicating stats and risk
The sixth in a series of articles from the new edition of the SMC Desk Guide for Covering Science which is available in full here.

It may be tempting to try to put risk in perspective by comparing it to something your audience is familiar with (e.g. road accidents, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day). But be careful!

When translating statistics and risk from one context to another, it's all too easy to get things wrong. Here are a few common pitfalls.
Absolute risk vs. relative risk

Absolute risk refers to the naturally-occurring frequency of an event. It gives an ordinary frame of reference that is easy to understand.

Example: Four out of every 1000 women will die of breast cancer in the next 10 years.

Relative risk refers to a change in the level of risk. This kind of figure often sounds very impressive, and is frequently used in reports of drug trials or new treatments, but it has little meaning unless it is put into the correct context.

Example: This drug reduces a woman's risk of dying from breast cancer by 25%.

One of the most common confusions occurs when these two types of risk are mixed up. In the example above, the 25% decrease actually means that for every 1000 women taking the drug, three will die of breast cancer instead of four. In other words, this treatment could potentially save one life in 1000.
When the percentage is given in terms of a woman's overall risk of dying from breast cancer, it means a reduction of 0.1 percentage points.

This is because the risk of dying from breast cancer is relatively small to begin with, so even a large reduction in that risk does not equate to many lives saved.

Using the context of absolute risk (or getting an expert to provide this) is the best way to explain what a result will mean for your audience in their daily lives.

Positive vs. negative frame

Pay attention to the way statistics are framed. While a 97% chance of survival, and a 3% chance of dying may both be correct, they don't always mean the same to the person listening.

Evidence shows that positive framing is more effective than negative framing in persuading people to take risky treatment options.

To be continued next week...


"It's quite painful for them... it'd be like having haemorrhoids and then having a red hot curry".

Assoc Prof Brett Gartrell, Diretor of Massey University's Wildbase Hospital, on a tissue infection afflicting the bottoms of Brown Kiwi.

New from the SMC

In the News:

Gout: Researchers have examined how genes and sugar combine to increase gout risk.

E-cigs: Electronic cigarettes are as effective as nicotine patches in aiding smokers to give up tobacco, according to new Kiwi research.

Experts respond:

In vivo stem cells: Scientists have reprogrammed adult cells to revert to a stem cell state inside living mice - experts respond.


IPCC: New Zealand scientists working with the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change talk about their upcoming report.
Sciblogs highlights

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:

Should scientists respond to pseudo-science? John Pickering muses on the proverbial "pearls before swine" in pseudo-scientific debate.
Kidney Punch

Food cravings and sleep - Don't go shopping when tired, warns Karyn O'Keeffe, noting new research which links sleep deprivation with high calorie food choices.
Sleep on it

Is technological progress history? Are we seeing the end of high tech innovation? Not according to Paul Walker's sources.
Dismal Science

Your lips move, but I can't hear what you say - Christine Jasoni explores the neuroscience of how our brains handle badly dubbed movies.
The Nervy Nomad

Research highlights
Some of the major research papers that made headlines this week...

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

Ancient DNA bears all: Fragmented mitochondrial DNA from a 300,000 year old bear fossil found in a cave in Spain has been sequenced by an international team of researchers (including a New Zealander). This research demonstrates that sequence-able DNA can survive for hundreds of thousands of years -- unfrozen -- and opens the prospect of making more samples from this time period accessible to genetic studies.
Spiderweb electronics: Strong, flexible and electrically conductive fibres formed from spider silk coated with carbon nanotubes have been developed by US researcher, paving the way for the use of silk in electronic applications.
Nature Communications

Tarantula venom insecticide: Spider venoms are usually toxic when injected into prey, but a new protein discovered in the venom of Australian tarantulas can also kill prey insects that consume the venom orally according to new research. The protein is strongly insecticidal to the cotton bollworm, an important agricultural pest. Images available.

Warning: teens don't learn from warnings: A study finds that young people may be more prone than adults to learning inaccuracies when presented with negative, as opposed to positive, news. the authors suggest that reframing information to highlight benefits of desired behaviour rather than the dangers of undesired behaviour might have a beneficial effect on teen choices.
'Feeling' spicy: Szechuan pepper is 'felt' as much as 'tasted' according to new research which measures how the tingling sensation characterising the Asian spice is perceived. Researchers show the sensation is interpreted by the brain as a light vibration on the skin at the rate of 50 times per second, mimicking the sense of touch.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B
Policy-friendly science: In a comment article for Nature, Ian Boyd, Chief scientific adviser at the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), calls for a certified standard, or 'mark', applied to research to "help policy-makers to assess the robustness of studies for use in particular applications". His comments follow hot on the heels of Sir Peter Gluckman's report on the inconsistent use of science in policy in NZ.

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

Linking businesses with academia - Smart materials and devices - University of Otago Centre for Bioengineering and Nanomedicine Forum - 13 September, Dunedin.
Brain development: The good, the bad, and the unexplained - Seminar by Dr Christine Jasoni - 17 September, Dunedin.
Network coded TCP for a faster Internet - University of Auckland 2013 Vice-Chancellor's Lecture with Prof Muriel Medard (MIT) - 19 September, Auckland.

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