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SMC Heads-Up: Science Journalism Fellowship, Wifi, Kiwis

Issue 262 20 Dec 2013 - 13 Jan 2014

SMC takes a break: Holiday hours

It has been another busy year for the Science Media Centre team and we would like to thank the scientists, journalists, press officers, government agencies and advisors we have worked with over the last 12 months to improve coverage of the big science-related issues.

The SMC office will be closed this holiday period from noon on December 24 - January 13. Research Radar and Heads-Up newsletters will resume from then.

We wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and look forward to working with you in 2014.

Peter, Dacia and John

Cancer death sparks Wifi worries

The death of Horowhenua child Ethan Wyman from a brain tumor has sparked a push by the boy's father to have Wifi hotspots in the local school turned off.

Damon Wyman to the conclusion that electromagnetic radiation from the device is to blame for his son's death.

Wyman and another Horowhenua father are now spearheading a campaign to have Wifi hotspots removed from Te Horo School requesting that internet instead be delivered via wired, Ethernet cables.

The Te Horo School Board of Trustees has written to parents, surveying them on their views about the removal of Wifi from the school and will make a call on it in the new year.

But what does the science say about the health impacts of Wifi?

"There is no evidence anywhere in the peer-reviewed literature to suggest Wifi signals pose an elevated risk of developing brain cancers," writes SMC manager Peter Griffin, in a blog post on the issue that was published by the Sciblogs and the National Business Review.

The SMC recently gathered reaction from experts on the Wifi issue which are available on the SMC website. The move mirrors efforts overseas in Australia, Germany and France to ban wifi hotspots in schools.

Support for science journalism studies

The Science Media Centre is pleased to offer the Science Journalism Fellowship in conjunction with the Association of Scientific and Technical Communicators (NZ).

The aim of this Fellowship, which is for candidates with a science background who are interested in pursuing journalism as a career, is to assist them to secure a post-graduate diploma in journalism and find employment in the editorial offices of one of New Zealand's media organisations - newspaper, magazine, television or radio, including their online operations.


Applications close January 15, 2014


The Fellowship is to promote scientific accuracy in the media and to enable the New Zealand media to more adequately tackle science-related issues, by encouraging more people into the industry who have a science background. This Fellowship builds on the science and innovation journalism internship programme the SMC has been running for two years, which allows journalism students to gain experience of science and innovation reporting as part of their industry internships.

At least one Science Journalism Fellowship may be awarded per year, to start in the 2014 academic year.

Applications are now being accepted from candidates who meet the criteria outlined below and are seeking to undertake a post-graduate diploma in journalism at an approved New Zealand journalism school in 2014.


Fellowships are open to applicants who have completed a physical or biological science-based degree, such as a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences. Degrees in science-related fields such as engineering, agriculture, public health and the environment will also be considered. While a science degree is the minimum requirement, applications will also be accepted from those with masters' degrees and PhDs.

Conditions of eligibility

Applicants must be a citizen or permanent resident of New Zealand and must have completed their science degree in New Zealand.

Applicants must be successful in applying for a graduate diploma course in journalism at an accredited New Zealand journalism training institution.

Applicants must demonstrate in the application process their intention to pursue a career in journalism.

Fellowship value

Each Fellowship will be of one year's duration, and will cover:

• A contribution to University tuition fees to a maximum total of $3,000

• A further payment to the value of $2,000 if and when the Fellow secures full-time employment in the New Zealand media.

• The total value of an individual Fellowship in any one-year would be a maximum of $5,000.

Support and mentoring

The Science Journalism Fellow will also receive mentoring and advice from the Science Media Centre's experienced team of journalists and science communicators as well as gaining access to key people at the Royal Society of New Zealand and to editors in the industry who work with the SMC.

The opportunity will be made available to the Science Journalism Fellow to contribute to the platform to gain additional experience in science writing and develop a portfolio of science-related articles.

Application process

Applications close January 15, 2014

• A panel comprising representatives from the Science Media Centre and the Association of Scientific and Technical Communicators (NZ)* and including at least one external party will undertake the final assessment process including interviews and independent referee support.

• The Science Media Centre will advise the successful applicant on behalf of the parties.

*The Association of Scientific and Technical Communicators (NZ) was the professional organisation for science communicators active in the 1980s and 90s that is no longer active. Funds supporting the Science Journalism Fellowship come from remaining monies generated by the ASTC when it was in operation.


What was big in science news this week...

Wairarapa 'Astronauts', Vit D for mums, penguins vs dogs, DoC computer cost glitch, herpes-free oysters.

Kiwi's ancestor an Australian - study

Is New Zealand's national bird about to go the way of Phar Lapp, Crowded House and pavlova? The Aussies are almost claiming the Kiwi, but not quite.

New research suggests that the Kiwi is not a dwarf version of the Moa, as some theories suggest, but in fact shares a common ancestor with the emu which may have flown to New Zealand from Australia.

Flinders University researcher Dr Trevor Worthy, (AKA Dr Moa; himself a New Zealander now claimed by Australia) discovered fossils of what is believed to be the Kiwi's ancestor three years ago in St Bathans in Central Otago.

Earlier research from renowned evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould had argued that the kiwi had derived from a common ancestor shared with the moa. But Dr Worthy's analysis of the the St Bathans fossils, coupled with genetic data, suggests that the Kiwi's ancestor was a tiny bird about one third of the size of a small kiwi today, and likely shared a common ancestor with the emu in Australia.

Dr Worthy said it was not uncommon for birds to "jump" from Australia to New Zealand, citing the Mallard duck, the little banded dotterel and the cattle egret as three species which regularly fly back and forth.

Speaking to the Guardian, Dr Worthy allayed concerns that Australia was claiming the Kiwi itself.

"The ancestor may have come from Australia, but it then developed into the kiwi," he said. "It probably didn't even look like a kiwi, or an emu. It probably looked more like a chicken."

The research, undertaken in collaboration with Canterbury Museum and Te Papa, was recently published in Proceedings of the 8th International Meeting of the Society of Avian Paleontology and Evolution.

You can read a round up of media coverage on the Science Media Centre website.

Policy news and developments

Drug policy: The Government is calling for submissions to update and help shape its National Drug Policy to minimise the harm caused by tobacco, alcohol, illegal and other drugs.

Rotavirus vaccine: The Ministry of Health has this week announced that a vaccine for rotavirus will be added to the National Immunisation Schedule.

Callaghan Innovation shift: Two new research institutes are being established at Victoria University of Wellington to take up some of the fundamental science work previously conducted by Callaghan Innovation.

EPA on 1080: The Environmental Protection Authority has released its Five-year review of the aerial use of 1080 pest control.

Challenge funding: Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce today announced funding of up to $804 million over ten years for seven of New Zealand's National Science Challenges.

Quoted: Stuff

"The ageing process we discovered is like a married couple - when they are young, they communicate well. But over time, living in close quarters for many years, communication breaks down"

"And just like a couple, restoring communication solved the problem."

UNSW Biologist David Sinclair explains the cellular ageing his team are working to reverse.

New from the SMC

Experts Respond:

Antibacterial soap: UK experts back the FDA's calls for soap manufacturers to come clean about how effective antibacterial handwashes really are.

Reflections on Science:

Climate policy 'disgrace': The New Zealand Herald's Economics Editor Brian Fallow expresses his concern on climate policy in New Zealand.

In the News:

NZer of the year: Climate scientist Dr David Wratt receives recognition for his efforts as part of the NZ Herald's NZer of the year series.

Kiwi ancestor:
New research indicates the Kiwi descended from a smaller bird which flew here from Australia.

Sciblogs highlights

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

Annihilate, really? - show me the evidence - When comes to arguments about cats being an ecological help or hindrance, Wayne Linklater wants data not stories.


Callaghan Innovation's evolution gets curiouser and curiouser - Peter Kerr goes goes down the rabbit hole considering the latest developments from the new crown agency.


How much dairying is too much in terms of water quality? Daniel Collins asks the big questions about how dairying and the environment can get along.


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.

A climate of erosion: Erosion of of mountains increased as the global climate cooled over the least few million years, say authors - including a New Zealander - who analysed temperature records and erosion rates around the globe. Worldwide, the highest rates of erosion occurred in mountainous regions like the Southern Alps but also in glacier-rich areas like Fiordland. The authors also note that resulting sediments may have acted as a CO2 sink, further cooling the climate.


Antarctic diamonds:
New geological research has identified deposits of the igneous rock Kimberlite, the major commercial source of diamonds, in Antarctica. The authors and independent experts are quick to note mining in Antarctica is prohibited under the Madrid Protocol until 2041 and even after that date the logistics of mining in Antarctica mean a future 'ice' rush to the south pole is unlikely.

Nature Communications

The crop ceiling:
Around 30% of the main global cereal crops, including rice and wheat, may have reached their maximum possible crop yield potential in farmer's fields, reports new research. Yields of these crops have recently displayed an abrupt decrease or have plateaued. Future projections that would ensure global food security are, however, typically based upon a constant increase in yield; a trend that this research now suggests may not be possible.

Nature Communications

Disappearing data:
Careful evaluation of more than 500 randomly selected studies found that the original data behind those published papers have been lost to science at a rapid rate. By 20 years post-publication, 80% of that data obtained through publicly funded research is inaccessible due to mundane issues, primarily old email addresses and obsolete storage devices. The researchers call on journals to require that authors share their data on a public archive before a paper can be published.

Current Biology

Neanderthal incest: Sequencing DNA from a 50,000 year-old Siberian Neanderthal woman's toe bone revealed that she was the child of two closely related individuals, and that such pairings were not uncommon among her more distant ancestors too. The toe also revealed frequent interbreeding between Neanderthals, modern humans and their lesser known cousins, the Denisovans, hinting at at the existence of an as-yet-unknown group of human relatives that interbred with the Denvisovans.


Upcoming sci-tech events

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

Great escapes. - Wellington Nerd Nite - 20 January, Wellington.

© Scoop Media

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