SMC Heads-Up: Oil spill map, HIV rates spike and TIN 100
Issue 254 Oct 25 - 31 2013
Models, science and deep sea drilling
The Greenpeace-commissioned report looking at the estimated impact of a deep water oil well leak in New Zealand waters has received a lot of attention this week and for good reason.
In the whole argument over oil exploration and whether we should drill or not, there's been little science-based public discussion of the impact of a spill.
Sure, the likes of Anadarko have done the modelling and the Government has its own models, but nothing has been made public that lays out the scenarios as clearly as the animations created by DumPark Ltd, the Wellington-based science data company that Greenpeace commissioned to do the modelling.
Over at the Science Media Centre, we rounded up commentary on the Greenpeace report. Not all of it is positive - for instance Dr Rosalind Archer of the University of Auckland said:
The report gives no evidence that 40,000 barrels per day spill rate [the largest of the rates modelled] is reasonable for a New Zealand well... my assessment is that this report is likely to overstate the impact of a possible blow out in New Zealand waters.
Dr Willem de Lange, of the University of Waikato said:
The study is a reasonable and credible assessment of the potential impacts of the scenarios modelled. There is, however, no risk analysis of the likelihood of these events occurring, and, hence, the risks are not portrayed.
And Dr Ross Vennell of the University of Otago commented:
The predictions appear to be a reasonable first attempt to estimate the extent of a worst case spill from deepwater sites in NZ. It would require more work to clarify and expand on these predictions.
So a mixed response to the report. Modelling something like oil spills is tremendously complicated and rests on a number of assumptions - such as the nature of the spill, the rate of flow of oil, the sea and weather conditions in the period after the spill and the ability to successfully response to a spill with a relief well and containment methods.
At least we are now having a science-based discussion in public on the potential impact of an oil spill. Greenpeace deserve credit for being willing to subject their report to independent and transparent peer-review by independent scientists.
Let us have as much information, in a user-friendly format available, so the public can make an informed call when it decides whether deep sea oil drilling in New Zealand waters is worth the risk.
Peter Griffin, SMC Manager
Join the ranks of the media savvy!
Researchers keen to improve their media skills are invited to apply for the next Science Media SAVVY workshop.
21-22 November 2013 in Auckland
One week left to apply!
"The only way to gain experience with media is the real thing, and the SAVVY course provides exactly that 'on-the-spot-under-pressure' opportunity through their exercises with real journalists.
"After SAVVY I felt much more comfortable and prepared talking to journalists in print or on radio and television"
- James Russell, ecologist
"Attending the Science Media Centre's SAVVY course was easily one of the best time investments I made this year. My experience there inspired a complete overhaul of how our 60+ person research team communicates with the media and public.
"As an almost-immediate direct result of the course, our project has received fantastic publicity from major newspaper, magazine, and television news sources, and my fellow researchers and I are now much better equipped to deal with this attention.
"I cannot recommend this course and its trainers enough!"
- Elaine Smid, volcanic hazards researcher
More than basic media training, Science Media SAVVY is designed specifically to help researchers and scientists gain the confidence and practical skills they need to engage effectively with broadcast, print and online media.
An intensive day of practice interviews and hands-on exercises is followed with a newsroom tour, media discussion panel, and the chance to hear from real journalists who cover science.
Applications close Friday 1 November at 6 pm
HIV infection rates rise sharply in OZ
Statistics released at the 2013 Australasian Sexual Health Conference in Darwin this week have thrown increasing sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates into stark relief.
New HIV infections increased by 10% in Australia last year, more than in any single year in the previous two decades. A more casual attitude to unprotected homosexual sex among men under 25 is cited as a contributor to the trend, which has also been noted by health officials in New Zealand.
Rates of chlamydia and gonorrhoea diagnosis also increased in 2012 in Australia. In contrast, the proportion of young women and heterosexual men diagnosed with genital warts has plummeted since a national school-based human papillomavirus vaccination program for girls was introduced.
This is expected to decrease further with the vaccine extended to school-age boys this year.
Health campaigners in Australia are pushing for broad-based action including approval of home-testing kits for HIV and more equitable access to antiretroviral drugs.
See recordings of the AusSMC's online briefings this week on growing HIV rates and sexually transmitted infections among Generation Z.
No holding back journalism intern
A broken collarbone couldn't keep Holly Ryan out of the New Zealand Herald newsroom last week, as the SMC science and innovation intern returned to her keyboard to help the paper assemble coverage of the TIN100 - the annual snapshot of the country's high-tech sector.
Currently completing a postgraduate diploma in communication studies at Auckland University of Technology, Holly was all lined up to begin her internship at the Business Herald when a fall from her horse north of Auckland nearly put paid to her plans.
But the 22 year-old soldiered on, delicately tapping away, to deliver a series of stories and profiles on the high-tech sector, which the TIN100 report revealed is now a $7.3 billion industry.
Holly is the second science and innovation intern to spend time at the Business Heraldworking on science and innovation stories as part of the SMC's internship programme. Last year saw Skye Wishart complete the internship ahead of taking up a full-time position at Auckland independent magazine publisher Tangible Media, where she contributes science, technology and innovation stories to Idealog magazine and Idealog.co.nz.
Like Skye, Holly completed a science degree at university ahead of attending journalism school.
"Throughout my life I have always had a keen interest in the environment and the majority of my papers at Otago were in Zoology and Ecology," she said.
"While completing my undergraduate degree, I found more and more that many of the major discoveries or innovative technologies were not widely published or well known."
Holly completed a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Zoology at the University of Otago before taking a break which convinced her that journalism was the career she wanted to pursue.
"I spent six months last year travelling around Europe which only strengthened my resolve to become a science journalist and not just discover amazing things but be able to share them with the public in a relatable and very accessible way."
Science background invaluable
Holly has also completed internships at the Otago Daily Times and the Bay of Plenty Times, where she mainly focussed on science and environment stories. Her Business Herald internship included a stint the Science Media Centre headquarters in Wellington, where she met and interviewed scientists and executives at the likes of GNS Science, Callaghan Innovation, Creative HQ and Lower Hutt-based tech start-up Times7.
She also covered a SMC press conference held with New Zealand lead-authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's new report on the state of climate science.
Holly will now join dozens of journalism graduates around the country seeking work in the media.
Science Media Centre manager, Peter Griffin, said the internship was an opportunity for those students passionate about science to gain the experience and contacts necessary to pursue science journalism.
"We have to be realistic about the fact that there are no dedicated roles for science journalists in the country's newsrooms. But science is a major component of many big headline-grabbing stories, so there is a valuable role for journalists with a science background to play in making sense of these issues and reporting them."
He said the SMC planned to continue the annual internship with the aim of assisting one journalism student with a science degree to join the New Zealand media each year.
"When I read Te Waha Nui and other student newspapers, its clear that the new generation of fledgling journalists is particularly interested in science, environment, technology and health-related stories," said Griffin.
"As a result, the future of science journalism, in all its new and changing forms, looks incredibly promising."
TIN100: Snapshot of the tech sector
The TIN100 report released this week shows the top 100 New Zealand high-tech companies generated revenues of $7.3 billion, up 3.7 per cent on the previous year.
What was big in science news this week...
The Science Media Centre is teaming up with Wiki New Zealand in a partnership aimed at improving understanding of the role science plays in everything from agriculture and the environment to healthcare and high-tech innovation.
Wiki New Zealand, a registered charity which has generated hundreds of graphs and visualisations based on key sets of data that have been made available to the public.
In the coming months, Wiki New Zealand will graph new sets of science-related data as they are published, offering them to media outlets and to the public for free reuse.
The explosion in big data and increasing availability of tools to make sense of it has led to new forms of data-driven journalism in newsrooms around the world. Changes in media consumption patterns are also seeing increasing demand for visually-driven stories with infographics and news data applications providing context and insights alongside text-based articles and videos.
"There is a deluge of data from the scientific community, the government and the private sector, but much of it isn't available in a user-friendly format," said SMC manager Peter Griffin.
"Wiki New Zealand specialises in putting this type of information together so it is instantly easy to understand. Their visualisations are clean, interactive and vetted for accuracy. Our partnership means more sets of science-related data will get the Wiki New Zealand treatment."
The partnership kicks off this week with a special on innovation. Wiki New Zealand has graphed key indicators from theGlobal Innovation Index 2013 as well as the data sets used in Get Off The Grass, the critically-acclaimed book by the late Sir Paul Callaghan and Professor Shaun Hendy.
Wiki New Zealand founder Lillian Grace said, "We are really excited to have support from the Science Media Centre who are also committed to providing content that is unbiased and accessible. Together, we will be able to produce science-related content for everyone to use and share."
Wiki New Zealand's visualisations are available in a number of formats for re-use and embedding on third-party websites. The raw data is also available for download.
The data visualisation partnership builds on the SMC's ongoing work on science-related infographics which so far cover issues as diverse as the blood alcohol limit, obesity, mobile phone radiation and greenhouse gas emissions.
Visit Wiki New Zealand and click on the science tab to bring up
Policy news and developments
Psa treatment: The Environmental Protection Authority has approved a new antibiotic for plants, KASUMIN, that can be used to control the kiwifruit vine disease, Psa.
Hospital feedback: The Ministry of Health is planning a new national patient survey to be rolled out to all New Zealand public hospitals from mid next year with the results published regularly.
Marine safety: Land Information New Zealand has developed a hydrography risk assessment methodology that will highlight areas of comparative risk in South Pacific that need more detailed surveying.
Rural GP funding: The Ministry of Health has announced an extra $9 million to support rural general practices over the next four years.
Quoted: Global Times
"You never know what to expect in the deep sea, animal life on the seamounts could be sparse, or there could be rich diversity and abundant new communities."
NIWA fisheries scientist Malcolm Clark
New from the SMC
The global cost of stroke: An international study, lead by New Zealand researchers, has calculated the total worldwide cost of stroke in terms of years of good health lost to death and disability - 100 million years. Expert comments.
Deep sea oil spill projections: A report out this week from Greenpeace attempts to model the potential spread of a major deep sea oil spill in New Zealand waters. We asked experts to assess the model's quality and credibility.
Bushfires: Australian experts comment on the bushfires currently ravaging New South Wales.
Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
Bugs in the system: How do we make sense of
recreational water quality? - When it comes to
recreational use of freshwater, are we swimming in mixed
messages? Gary Bedford investigates.
Making a green stand - literally and
figuratively - Peter Kerr discovers exhibitions
displays and bamboo are not mutually exclusive, thanks to an
Mobile phone use while driving
- Nick Wilson steers us through his latest research on
mobile phone use while driving.
Public Health Expert
Bootleggers and Baptists - calorie count
edition - Kilojoule labelling requirements on
booze could push small suppliers and importers out of the
market, writes Eric Crampton.
Some of the major research papers that made headlines this week.
Please note: hyperlinks point, where possible, to the relevant abstract or paper.
Pesticides become chemical weapon in ant wars:
Neonicotinoid pesticides can
change the way ants fight, according to new research from Victoria
University Wellington. Experiments showed that invasive
Argentine ants exposed to sub-lethal amounts of the
pesticide are more aggressive when confronted by native NZ
ants, whereas native ants become less aggressive when
exposed to neonictinoids. The results suggest that the
pesticides could turn the tide in battles between locals and
the Argentine invaders.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Toxic algae - the rich get richer: Nutrient enrichment and climate change are posing yet another concern of growing importance: an apparent increase in the toxicity of some algal blooms in freshwater lakes and estuaries around the world, which threatens aquatic organisms, ecosystem health and human drinking water safety. US researchers have outlined a feedback loop where toxic algal blooms produce self-protecting compounds, giving them a competitive advantage over other micro-organisms.
Breast milk online -- buyer beware: Results from a US study found more than three-fourths of breast milk samples purchased over the Internet contained bacteria that can cause illness, and frequently exhibited signs of poor collection, storage or shipping practices. The study is the first to examine the safety of selling breast milk to others over the internet, a trend that has become more frequent in the past several years.
Nitrogen-based fertilisers may pollute soils for 80 years: Nitrogen-based synthetic fertilisers, which can contaminate drinking water and freshwater and coastal marine ecosystems, are not fully absorbed by plants and could impact the surrounding environment for at least eight decades, say French scientists. They applied 'labelled' fertiliser in 1982 and found that, three decades later, crops had taken up just 61-65 percent of the fertilizer, 12-15 percent of it was still in the soil and the rest had leaked toward the groundwater.
Gold doesn't grow on trees...right? The detection of gold particles in the leaves of Eucalyptus trees provides a new way to locate buried gold deposits according to new research. Australian researchers used a type of X-ray imaging to identify naturally occurring gold particles in the leaves, twigs and bark of Eucalyptus trees that could help to identify gold deposits without the invasive excavation of land. Images available.
Baby dino: A chance find by a high school student led to the youngest, smallest and most complete fossil skeleton yet known from the iconic tube-crested dinosaur Parasaurolophus. The discovery shows that the prehistoric plant-eater sprouted its strange headgear before it celebrated its first birthday. Three-dimensional scans of nearly the entire fossil, alongside many other materials are freely available online, making this the most digitally-accessible dinosaur ever. Images available.
Upcoming sci-tech events
For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.
• ScienceTeller 2013 Festival - 25-27 October, Dunedin.
• Avoiding global collapse - Allan Wilson Centre 2013 Lecture with Prof Paul Ehrlich - 29 October, Auckland; 30, Wellington; 31, Christchurch; 1 November, Dunedin.
• What if...We knew how our brain worked? 'What-if Wednesday' lecture with Prof Tim David - 30 October, Christchurch.
• Public Health: From Foundations to the Future - Massey University Centre for Public Health research Seminar with Prof Paul McDonald - 30 October, Wellington.
• The Science of intimate relationships - Victoria Symposium - 31 October, Wellington.
• Plant Dormancy Symposium 2013 - 4-7 November, Auckland