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SMC Heads-Up: Science miscommunication, Antarctic horizons

SMC Heads-Up: Science miscommunication, Antarctic horizons and order your free Desk Guide!

Issue 275 24 April - 1 May 2014

Up Stream: Learning from listening

Why do people reject the facts, even when faced with rock-solid evidence?

It's a question three Australian researchers and filmmakers sought to tackle in Up Stream, a documentary just launched on Youtube that explores the reasons why people often don't act on facts.

In a column on The Conversation, the researchers Will J Grant and Luke Menzies point out that three decades of social science and behavioural research have identified clearly the ways people reach their own conclusions, but that little of this has filtered down into how science communication is undertaken.

The crowd-funded documentary grew out of a trip the researchers took across Australia with climate scientists, visiting rural communities to listen to their opinions and concerns about climate change.

"We encountered communities eager to hear and discuss - and plan for - their climate futures. In other places we encountered communities that didn't want a bar of it; communities who saw us and our scientists as an intrusion," the researchers write.

"Their concerns weren't with the climate projections, but with everything we stood for. We didn't heal any big divides - but this reception did point us towards new ways of thinking."

The documentary is available in full for free on Youtube. It was filmed by University of Otago science communication graduate Daniel Hunter. The documentary makers urge scientists to engage in science communication that reflects the evidence that identifies the barriers to people accepting science, particularly on controversial topics like vaccination and genetic engineering.

"It's clear we need to do better," conclude Grant and Menzies.

"We hope that by building greater cooperation between the social and physical sciences, between communicators and those planning their next decades of research, we can start to turn the tide on the rejection of science. We hope this documentary becomes a stepping stone in the right direction."

On the science radar this week...

Salty solar energy, asteroid fears fuelled, powdered alcohol, centenarian genes and how to makegraphene in your kitchen blender.

Scanning the Antarctic horizon

What will Antarctica look like in 20 years time, and how will any changes affect the world's oceans, weather and ecology?

More than 50 Antarctic scientists from around the globe converged on New Zealand to meet and debate these questions and how they should inform research on the icy continent.

They were part of the first-ever Antarctic and Southern Ocean Horizon Scanconference in Queenstown this week, organised by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR).

According to the SCAR website, the conference goal is to develop a "collective, community-based vision of the 100 highest priority scientific questions will be developed to assist in strategic planning; influence future directions in Antarctic research; highlight opportunities for collaborations and synergies; identify future critical infrastructure, logistical, and technological needs; and inform international decisions about investments in the Antarctic scientific enterprise."

In short, their aim was to come up with the most important questions about Antarctica that need to be answered in the next 20 years. In the last few months scientists submitted over 800 questions, which were culled to about 100 over the three days of the conference.

More information about the conferenceand a spread sheet of the finalised questions on the SCAR website.

"They were questions about how ice sheets relate to sea level, changes in the ocean, changes in the atmosphere and also changes in weather and long-term climate patterns," said American oceanographer Chuck Kennicutt, Chair of the SCAR steering committee which organised the meeting.

Seal level rise and ocean acidification were just some of the issues raised which could have a major impact on New Zealand over the next two decades.

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

Quoted: 3rd Degree

"Honestly guys, you would reject two and a half million years of human evolution and understanding how human metabolism works and just go with the food pyramid?"

Prof Grant Schofield on the debate over low-carb, high saturated fat diets.

Policy news and developments

Food council: Food Safety and Assurance Advisory Council is being set up to provide independent advice to the government on issues relating to food safety in the wake of the whey protein contamination incident.

Hunting council: the Government has appointed 11 members to the inaugural Game Animal Council representing hunters of deer, tahr, chamois and pigs.

Handy media desk guide for scientists

The Science Media Centre is proud to present Desk Guide for Scientists: Working with Media, a 28 page booklet packed with tips and tools for scientists keen to work with the media to communicate their science.

Helping journalists do a better job of covering science is at the core of what we do. But we have found that the key to quality media reporting on science is the ability of scientists to communicate effectively.

From preparing your messages and working with your comms team to engaging in social media and blogging, the Desk Guide lays out what our experience shows work. The Desk Guide features input from New Zealand's leading science communicators, journalists and communications experts.

Read a digital copy of the Desk Guide here or order some free copies to share with your colleagues.

New From the SMC

In the News:

Antarctic horizons: Scientist met in Queenstown this week to hammer out the key questions that should guide Antarctic research for the next 20 years.

Mite research: Landcare Research has secured funding to study a wasp -attacking mite as a potential biocontrol agent.

Sciblogs highlights

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

Anti-fluoridation advertising deceptive - The scientific fight-back against the misinformation coming from anti-fluoridation groups is having some success, writes Ken Perrot.

Open Parachute

Tiger time in the Sping Thaw - Brendan Moyle has been snapping photos of Amur tigers in the north of China.

Cthonic Wildlife Ramblings

The Kiwi innovation space is starting to look awfully crowded- Peter Kerr ponders the preponderance of innovation organisations taking private and taxpayer dollars.


Research highlights

Some of the research papers making headlines this week.

Parasite promotes promiscuity in NZ Snails: New Zealandfreshwater mud snails have more sex and do it with more partners if infected by a parasite which eventually leaves them sterile, according to a US study. The authors suggest that the snails increase their mating frequency and promiscuity to ensure production of a genetically variable brood of offspring before being rendered infertile by the parasite.

Biology Letters

'Shocking' gene therapy for cochlear implants? Researchers have used electrical pulses combined with gene therapy to boost the growth of damaged auditory nerves around the electrodes of a cochlear implants to improved hearing in a guinea pig model of deafness. Images and video available.

Science Translational Medicine

Manure harbours antibiotic resistance genes: Manure from dairy cows, which is commonly used as a farm soil fertilizer, contains a surprising number of newly identified antibiotic resistance genes from the cows' gut bacteria. The findings of a new US study hint that cow manure is a potential source of new types of antibiotic resistance genes that transfer to bacteria in the soils where food is grown.


Citizen scientists keep a sharp eye on sharks: Shark data collected by recreational divers may be as reliable as data collected using automated tools, according to a new study. According to the authors, the research validates using citizen scientists for cheaper and more wide ranging data collection in marine research.


Upcoming sci-tech events

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

NZBIO 2014 Conference - 29 April, Auckland.

Patient engagement and interaction with healthcare services via patient portals: learnings from USA - Seminar from Dr Susan Wells, Harkness Fellow in Health Care Policy and Practice - 29 April, Auckland.

In the Company of Ocean Giants - Auckland Bioengineering Institute Seminar from Amos Nachoum -29 April, Auckland.

Communicating science in situations of real or imagined risk - SCANZ talk from Dr Andrew Powell of Asia BioBusiness, 30 April, Auckland.

The Project - digital disruption conference - 30 April - 1 May, Auckland.

Wellington Health Entrepreneurship Forum - networking event - 30 April, Wellington.

Puzzles of the human mind - Royal Society of New Zealand 10x10 talk from Prof Harlene Hayne - 1 may, Wellington.

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