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SMC Heads-Up: Climate check, science podcasting, population

SMC Heads-Up: Climate health check, science podcasting workshop and our future population

Issue 288 18-24 July 2014

Climate report details a warming planet

Climate data from air, land, sea and ice in 2013 'reflect trends of a warming planet' - says the latest State of the Climate report, launched today by U.S. and New Zealand scientists.

The authors of the report, published this morning by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), likened the document to an annual doctor's check up of the environment.

According to the numerous indicators measured in the report, the warming of the planet is continuing - an unsurprising result for the scientists involved. "These findings reinforce what scientists for decades have observed: that our planet is becoming a warmer place," said NOAA Administrator Dr Kathryn Sullivan.

Increases in temperature, sea level and CO2 were observed, while Southern Hemisphere warmth and super typhoon Haiyan were among the year's most notable events. Other key findings include:

• Climbing concentrations of greenhouse gases, levels once again reach historic high values

• Globally averaged sea surface temperature for 2013 among the 10 warmest on record

• Continued rise in sea level

• Continued warming of the Arctic

The full report, highlights and visuals are available from the NOAA and the American Meteorological Society.

The SMC NZ rounded up the following comments from experts involved in the report.

James Renwick, Assoc. Prof School of Geography, Victoria University of Wellington and editor of the report comments:

"The 2013 State of the Climate Report demonstrates that the Earth continues to warm, as greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise.

"Southern Hemisphere countries felt this most clearly in 2013, with Australia having its warmest year on record, Argentina its 2nd warmest, and New Zealand its 3rd warmest year on record. Extreme events with large human and economic costs feature prominently in many parts of the globe (including the summer 2012/13 drought in northern New Zealand), underlining the rising frequency and cost of extremes associated with a changing climate.

"As climate change, sea level rise and ocean acidification pick up pace this century, the risks to humanity become enormous. It is still not too late to avoid catastrophic impacts, but the time for action is now."

Read more expert commentary on the Science Media Centre website.

Upcoming science podcasting workshop

The Science Media Centre is introducing a series of workshops that will offer scientists the opportunity to pick up tips and skills to help them communicate their science via blogging, podcasting, online video and animation.

The series kicks off next month with Dr Chris Smith of the top-rating science podcast The Naked Scientists hosting science podcasting workshops in Auckland and Wellington.

With a cheap digital recorder and free audio editing software you can now create your own podcasts and publish them to the web to showcase your science and build your confidence as a communicator.

Podcasts such as SciFriday, The Skeptics Guide to the Universe and The Naked Scientists are attracting millions of downloads and streams every month, often eclipsing the impact of mainstream media as a means of science communication.

This Science Media SAVVY workshop features Dr Chris Smith, the founder and host of the hugely popular The Naked Scientists podcast and BBC science correspondent, and will introduce you to the tools and techniques that will help you get your science podcast off the ground.

The workshop is aimed at scientists who are keen to develop either a podcast or audio interviews and features to showcase and popularise science. It will cover:

- Science communication in the audio format - what works and what bombs

- The basics of recording good quality audio and hassle-free audio editing

- Sourcing and using copyright-free music and sound-effects

- Promoting your podcasts, building an audience and collaborating with mainstream media

- Opportunities to contribute to existing podcasts with a large reach.

There will be opportunities for attendees to gain feedback on audio samples they submit as part of the application process.

FREE TO ATTEND: Limited to 30 attendees - applications via online form essential


Science Media SAVVY - science communication and podcasting workshop

Presented in association with AUT University and Royal Society of New Zealand

Venues and dates:

Auckland - AUT University, 1 - 4pm, August 11

Wellington - Royal Society of New Zealand, 12 - 3pm, August 12

Full event details will be sent to those selected for the workshop

Presenter: Dr Chris Smith, BBC science correspondent and founder of The Naked Scientists podcast

Attendees are also invited to special live recordings of the Naked Scientists in conjunction with Radio New Zealand'sThis Way Up show. AUCKLAND: AUT University's Wave Room on Saturday August 9th, 12 - 1pm. WELLINGTON: Paramount Theatre, Tuesday August 12th, 6 - 8pm. More details on theRadio New Zealand website.

On the science radar this week...

Martian maps, electric bacteria, bubble wrapchemistry, virtual nausea and the J-Lo water bug.

Organic foods a bit healthier... maybe

A new study has found that organic crops have some nutritional differences that could have health benefits, however independent experts are cautious of stretching the results.

The new meta-analysis, published in theBritish Journal of Nutrition, compiled and crunched results from 343 earlier studies. The analysis found that organic crops and crop-based foods had 18-69% per cent more key antioxidants than conventionally-grown crops. Based on these results, it is estimated that switching to organic fruit, vegetables and cereals could provide additional antioxidants equivalent to eating 1-2 extra portions of fruit of vegetables.

The author's did note that while there was some evidence that dietary antioxidants had positive health effects, the current study couldn't confirm eating organic food was 'healthier' on this basis.

The research contrasts with an earlier, widely reported meta-analysis did not find strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks.

The new study also found significantly lower levels of toxic heavy metals in present in organic crops including cadmium, which was almost 50 per cent lower in organic crops than conventionally-grown ones. Organic crops were also 3-4 time less likely to carry trace amounts of pesticide.

On the flip side, the research also found that there was on average less protein, nitrates and fibre in the organically grown crops.

The Science Media Centre collected expert commentary on the new study.

Peter Cressey, Environmental Health Scientist at ESR commented:

"While these [antioxidant] compounds are believed to have beneficial human health effects, these benefits have not been confirmed. It is probably more accurate to say that they are candidate compounds for the beneficial effects seen from a diet with high consumption of fruits and vegetables."

Dr Ian Musgrave, Senior Lecturer at the University of Adelaide, commented to the AusSMC:

"Their findings are largely similar to previous meta-analyses, only a handful of nutrients are statistically different between organic crops and conventional crops, and only one is of plausible biological significance.

"While some organic crops (typically fruits) had statistically higher levels of antioxidants than conventional, the level variations were small and unlikely to significantly affect health...

"The levels of the toxic metal cadmium were lower in organic foods than conventional foods. Although most peoples intake of cadmium in conventional foods is below that associated with any health risk, this is one area where organic foods may have a larger margin of safety.

"Overall, organic foods generally have no biologically meaningful health benefits (with the possible exception of cadmium), given their much higher price, people need to carefully consider any decision to consume organic foods."

You can read more expert commentary on the Science Media Centre website.

What will our future population look like?

New Zealand's population is changing rapidly and we need to be ready to face the challenges that come with it, according to a new review from the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Our Futures: Te Pae Tawhiti, released this week by an expert panel of the Society, pulls together the latest data from the 2013 census and expert analysis to identify the trends that will shape the future of New Zealand.

The review identifies seven key themes in its analysis of New Zealand's changing population: diversity, population change, tangata whenua, migration, households and families, regional variation, and work.

In exploring the implications of change in these areas, the review provides critical insight into how our infrastructure and social policy may need to adapt to accommodate coming shifts in New Zealand demographics.

Professor Gary Hawke, chair of the panel, says the review is unique in that it is multi-disciplinary and focused on the big picture.

"We wanted to highlight what an evolving New Zealand society might look like, what is underlying these changes, and the challenges and opportunities these present."

The full report and associated materials, including a video interview with Prof Hawke and a comprehensive infographic, are available on the Royal Society of New Zealand website.

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

Quoted: New Zealand Herald

"They're exciting experiments and big, dangerous experiments. They're the sorts of experiments you don't get to do at home."

'Stunt scientist' Tom Pringle on his show at last week's NZ International Science Festival.

Policy news and developments

ICT funding - The Government is investing just over $1 million to help entrepreneur-driven ICT start-up companies become investment ready.

CPI turns 100 - Stats NZ is celebrating a century of the Consumers Price Index (CPI), measuring the rate of price change of goods and services purchased by individuals and families since 1914.

Immunisation extended - The Ministry of Health is extending the seasonal influenza immunisation programme to the end of August. Vaccines are funded for elderly and at risk individuals.

Transplant boost - The government is investing an extra $4 million to establish a National Renal Transplant Service to increase the number of live kidney donor transplantations.

The Friday video...

Spinning magnet in copper pipe (Lenz's Law)

New From the SMC

In the News:

Our Futures: Read coverage of the Royal Society of New Zealand report exploring our changing population.

Experts respond:

Is organic food better? Experts comment on a new meta analysis comparing organic and conventionally grown crops.

NOAA climate report: Read commentary from experts involved in the latest annual climate report.

From the SMC Network:

From the UK SMC:

Expert reaction: David Willetts steps down as Science Minister

Expert reaction: cannabis and paranoia

Expert reaction: labelling people having 'pre-diabetes'

Expert reaction: asthma and children's growth

from the AusSMC:

NEWS BRIEFING: HIV Update - the latest Australian stats

NEWS BRIEFING: Is any lead too much lead?

Sciblogs highlights

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

Science, sexism and the media - Michelle Dickinson admirably outlines her approach to science communication in the modern media.


Fluorescence, quantum dots - future solar cells - Lynley Hargreaves sheds some light on Dr Justin Hodgkiss' solar panel research.

Infreqently Asked Questions

Is the future for our sheep their milk? - Selling sheep milk might be as crazy a venture as it sounds, writes Peter Kerr.


Will the Health Star Rating labels improve peoples diets?Ninya Maubach outlines the potential pitfalls in the new food labelling scheme.

Public Health Expert

Research highlights

Some of the research papers making headlines this week.

Long feathered dino: The largest 'four-winged' microraptorine dinosaur, with remarkably long feathers, has been found in China. The unique feathers on the dinosaur's tail and legs provide insights on flight performance in this close relative to birds. This specimen, named Changyuraptor yangi, has the longest feathers ever recorded in any non-avian dinosaur.

Nature Communications

Should research fraud be a crime? In a 'head to head' article, DrZulfiqar Bhutta from Canada and Dr Julian Crane from the University of Otago, square off over the issue of criminalising scientific misconduct. Bhutta calls for legal punishment for research fraud but Crane argues that it would be "a sad, bad, even mad idea" that will only undermine trust.


Sexual harassment in science: A survey of several hundred men and women with experience in field studies in anthropology, archaeology, geology and other scientific disciplines reveals that many of them - particularly the younger ones - suffered or witnessed sexual harassment (64 percent) or sexual assault (20 percent) while at work in the field.


Squishy yet hard robots: Researchers from MIT have developed a 'phase-changing' material built from wax and foam, and capable of switching between hard and soft states, reminiscent of Terminator 2's T1000. The technology could allow even low-cost robots to move through fragile or narrow spaces but also perform actions requiring rigid body structure. Image available.

Macromolecular Materials and Engineering

Biological pacemakers could replace implants: Genetically tweaking heart tissue to regulate the speed of heartbeats could one day be an alternative to electronic pacemakers, a new animal study reports. If proven to work in humans, these biological pacemakers could be used in special cases where people need an electronic pacemaker but can't get one and ultimately replace the implants altogether.

Science Translational Medicine

Upcoming sci-tech events

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

Inspiring the next generation: science engagement at the Otago Museum - Seminar by Dr Ian Griffin - 22 July, Dunedin.

Every six seconds... ASPIRE2025 Seminar with Prof Janet Hoek - 25 July, Dunedin.

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