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SMC Heads-Up: Antarctic jeopardy, Nobels, SAVVY Auckland

SMC Heads-Up: Antarctic jeopardy, Nobel prizes and Science Media SAVVY in Auckland

Issue 252 Oct 11 - 17 2013

Antarctic research in limbo
As the US government continues its political stalemate over the new budget, a lack federal funding could see extensive disruption to American scientists in Antarctica and their Kiwi collaborators.

The very real threat of an Antarctic shutdown was confirmed by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) in a press release on Wednesday (NZT).

"Without additional funding, NSF has directed its Antarctic support contractor to begin planning and implementing caretaker status for research stations, ships and other assets." the agency said.

"Under caretaker status, the US Antarctic program will be staffed at a minimal level to ensure human safety and preserve government property, including the three primary research stations, ships and associated research facilities. All field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended."

Yesterday Minister for Foreign Affairs, Murray McCully -- who had just returned from his first trip to Antarctica -- spoke to the New Zealand Herald, confirming the impacts of the federal shutdown.

"A lot of the really good work we do in collaboration with the US will be paused for some time.' he said.

"We're particularly concerned that programmes that go back some years, where we've been keeping data to compare year-on-year, should be able to be protected.''

"We've made the offer to the US system that whatever we can do to help them, we will do."

Despite recent negotiations, the US government remains in shutdown mode and the NSF has estimated that funding for current Antarctic programs will be "depleted on or about October 14."

Science News has elaborated on the types of research that will be affected by a lack of funding.

New Zealand scientists contacted by the SMC shared Mr McCully's concerns.

Prof Craig Cary, Director of The International Centre for Terrestrial Antarctic Research (ICTAR, University of Waikato, commented:

"Our close collaboration with our US colleagues is critical to a large component of our program. Any change in their ability to do science on the ice will directly effect us."

Peter Barrett, Emeritus Professor, Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, said:

"Almost all Antarctic research today is collaborative, so most national programmes will feel some consequences, but especially those with traditional close links with the US, such as our own."

You can read more commentary and a statement from Antarctica New Zealand, on the Science Media Centre website.

The highest honour in science
The forefathers of computational chemistry, the instigators of 50-year hunt for subatomic particle and the cartographers of cellular transport have all been acknowledged in this year's Nobel Prizes.

The Nobel Prizes, awarded annually, recognise advances in the fields of literature, medicine, physics, chemistry, peace, and economics, and are widely regarded as the most prestigious award available in these pursuits.

This week has seen the four of the six prizes bestowed on the winners in Oslo, Sweden, with last two due to be announced in the next few days.
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel "for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems". Their models formed the basis of computer modelling of chemical interactions, taking chemistry out of the lab and into the digital era.

The Physics prize was awarded jointly to Francois Englert and Peter W. Higgs, who both posited the existence of the Higgs Boson some 50 years ago. Last year the the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider officially detected the particle.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was been awarded jointly to James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman and Thomas C. Südhof for "their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells."

And this morning (NZT) Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Canadian Alice Munro, "master of the contemporary short story".

The Nobel Prize for Peace will be announced at 10pm tonight (NZT) and the Economic Sciences Prize at midnight Monday.

Follow the action, and read extensive background info on the prize winners and their life's work at
What was big in science news this week...
Angry birds in Auckland , Invermay, Hep A in Ashburton, warmer Wellington and Dolphin holidays.

SAVVY returns to Auckland
Researchers keen to improve their media skills are invited to apply for the next Science Media SAVVY workshop.

The two-day SAVVY course is designed to help researchers at any stage of their career gain greater confidence and skills to engage with media - and get their science across effectively.

21-22 November 2013 in Auckland

Applications NOW OPEN

More than basic media training, this course has been built from the ground up to meet the specific needs of scientists and researchers.

We aim to move scientists out of their comfort zone, giving them new tools to connect with different audiences, all while providing direct feedback and support from fellow researchers.

The course also offers a unique chance to make valuable media contacts and gain first-hand insight into news media practices during an invited journalists' panel and newsroom tour. New skills are put to the test with the opportunity to pitch research stories directly to interested reporters.

For more information, see the SAVVY web page or contact the SMC. If you'd like to help us spread the word, you can download a flyer here.

Applications close Friday 1 November at 6 pm
Policy news and developments

Mercury Agreement: New Zealand has signed the the Minamata Convention on Mercury, an international agreement to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions of mercury and mercury compounds.

It's official: Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson today announced the recorded English names of the two main islands of New Zealand, the North Island and South Island, will be formalised.

Family health funding: The Government is investing $810,000 to support pregnant women and new mums to understand the importance of good nutrition and physical activity for their babies and for themselves.

Studying further: The latest report on enrolment data from the Ministry of Education shows more New Zealand tertiary students are studying at higher levels.

Farmers on tour: The Ministry for Primary Industries has announced a new programme for overseas farmers to spend time in New Zealand on an agri-tech study tour.
Dealing with scientific uncertainty
The tenth in a series of articles from the new edition of the SMC Desk Guide for Covering Science which is available in full here.

Uncertainty is part of the process: Science cannot prove a negative - no matter how many carefully designed experiments they've already run, scientists will never be able to say, they're "100% certain" that something is safe. That's because they are always open to the possibility that new research tomorrow could overturn current understanding. This flexibility of approach is one of science's great strengths.

Enough is enough: That said, when the studies start to stack up, most scientists will agree that they've done everything in their power to rule out a given risk or association. Accept a "high confidence" level as the scientist's most strongly worded statement on the subject, and don't vilify scientists who won't categorically rule out a given possibility.

Experts may focus on the gaps in knowledge: Be aware that scientists may spend less time talking about what they do know (which they assume everyone probably knows already), than talking about what they don't know. This is because the unknown is an area of intense interest and potential discovery for scientists. Overall, this can give a skewed view of how important the gaps in knowledge actually are.

Qualifiers and caveats are essential: Editors and sub-editors hate them, but qualifiers indicate the level of scientific uncertainty and are not the result of weak writing in science-related stories. If scientists are uncertain about their results, you need to report that accurately. Leave notes to the sub-editors when you file your story to try and avoid qualifiers and caveats being cut and inappropriate headlines being created for your stories.

Avoid single-source stories: It can be tempting to spin a yarn from a well-crafted press release and the one scientist it quotes, but you need to get views from other scientists, particularly when dealing with uncertainty in results.
Scientists are often too close to their work to accurately say how much weight their findings should be given. Check their claims against the peer-reviewed literature and their peers.

To be continued next week... or read it all here if you cant wait.

Quoted: Waikato Times

"'When they bite into locusts it's like potato chips. You can hear it, the crunch, crunch, crunch."

PhD student Kristie Cameron, on the possums' favourite snack

New from the SMC

In the News:

Nobel pursuits:
Read about the winners of this year's Nobel Prizes in Medicine/Physiology, Physics and Chemistry.

Experts Respond:

Antarctic shutdown: New Zealand experts comment on the Antarctic research repercussions from the United States federal shutdown.

Reflections on Science:

Vaccince myths: Writing for The Conversation, Racheal Dunlop dispells six classic vaccine myths.

Sciblogs highlights

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

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics goes to... Marcus Wilson blogs about the Nobel Prize for physics, awarded to Francois Englert and Peter Higgs for "discovering" the Higgs Boson.
Physics Stop

Should those with Scientific Backgrounds be More Assertive? Pseudoscientifc ideas should be challenged, albeit it carefully, writes Michael Edmonds.
Molecular Matters

Extinct moa brought to life - Big birds abound in Quinn Berentson's Moa: the life and death of New Zealand's legendary bird, reviewed by George Gibbs.

The addictive choice - Eric Crampton examines recent research showing addiction and rationality and not mutually exclusive.
Dismal Science

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.

Ocean acidification: The impacts of ocean acidification on ecosystems may have been underestimated according to new University of Otago research. Most experimental studies of acidification have simply lowered the pH of sea water in a laboratory setting, but the new study shows that lowering the pH while accurately mimicking real world fluctuations of acidity produces different -- and potentially more concerning -- results.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Weight-loss apps light on evidence: Smartphone apps designed to help you lose weight are lacking in evidence-based content, according to a new US study. Researchers evaluated 30 of the most popular apps on the market and determined that most of the apps include few or no scientifically proven behavioural weight-loss strategies. However the authors noted that technological advantages such as barcode scanners were "really interesting".
American Journal of Preventative Medicine
Hands-free heart monitor: A simple video camera paired with complex algorithms appears to provide an accurate means toremotely monitor heart and respiration rates day or night, researchers report. The inexpensive method for monitoring the vital signs without touching a patient could have major implications for telemedicine, including enabling rapid detection of a heart attack or stroke occurring at home.

Aircraft noise and the heart: Exposure to high levels of aircraft noise is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, according to new studies. One study examined hospital admissions in the vicinity of Heathrow airport in London, while the other analysed data from older adults living near 89 different airports in the US. Both studies identified a link between aircraft noise exposure and cardiovascular problems such as heart disease and stroke.

Watery asteroid hints at life: Astronomers have found the shattered remains of an asteroid that contained huge amounts of water orbiting an exhausted star, or white dwarf. This suggests that the star GD 61 and its planetary system - located about 150 light years away and at the end of its life - had the potential to contain Earth-like exoplanets, they say.

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

What if...Breast cancer could be caused by a virus? What if Wednesday lecture with Ann Richardson - 16 October, Christchurch.
Low Carb High Fat - Challenging Beliefs - Seminar from Prof Grant Schofield - 16 October, Auckland.
Geoenginnering the climate: How will the public respond? Seminar with Prof Malcolm Wright, Prof Damon Teagle and Pam Feetham - 17 October, Wellington and online.
It is rocket science! Igor Zotikov and his theory that sub-glacial lakes might exist- Public talk from science historian George Jones - 17 October, Wellington.
Leading the way - the changing face of National Research and Education Networks - University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor's Lecture with REANZ CEO Steve Cotter - 17 October, Auckland.


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