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SMC Heads-Up: Ebola, Science in Society, Naked Scientists

SMC Heads-Up: Ebola concerns, Science in Society Strategy and The Naked Scientists workshops and live shows

Issue 290 1-7 August 2014

Ebola outbreak: low risk for New Zealand

Health authorities are allaying fears the world's worst outbreak of Ebola virus disease could spread to New Zealand from West Africa.

The latest update from World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that, as of the end of July, the total number of cases of Ebola virus disease in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria, stands at 1323 - including 729 deaths.

The deadly virus, spread by bodily fluids, initially causes flu-likesymptoms followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding. Symptoms can take between two and 21 days to appear. Outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90%.

The large number of cases and their geographical spread in West Africa led to international concern that infected individuals could carry the virus to other parts of the world. The WHO has just announced a US$100 million plan to increase control measures and prevent further spread of the disease.

African airlines and local authorities have put in place safeguardsto prevent infected individuals travelling and potentially spreading the disease further afield.

New Zealand threat 'unlikely'

Here in New Zealand, the risk of the virus reaching our shores is low. Speaking to, Dr Darren Hunt, the Ministry of Health's Director of Public Health, said that was little chance of Ebola reaching New Zealand.

"It is unlikely that New Zealand will have a case of Ebola virus disease because of our geographic isolation and the lack of direct flights to the affected countries," he said.

"While the incubation period is two to 21 days, it is most commonly five to 10 days. Additionally, the affected countries are not common destinations for New Zealand travellers."

ESR Virologist Dr Sue Huang, speaking to Radio New Zealand, said there was a "theoretical risk" of an infected person reaching New Zealand. However, she noted that New Zealand's preparedness and surveillance for infectious diseases had been stepped up in the wake of threats such as SARS and H1N1.

The Ministry of Health, while acknowledging the risk of infection is low for those not in a health care setting, has issued warnings to travellers in affected areas: Avoid direct contact with blood and other bodily fluids of people with Ebola virus disease or unknown illnesses and to avoid close contact with or handling of wild animals.

You can read a roundup of recent media coverage on the virus and expert comments from the UK SMC on the Science Media Centre website.

On the science radar this week...

Display screens for poor eyesight, translatingpenguin, Earth's rough early years, plans for agreenhouse on the red planet and why are thereblood types?

Science investment plans under scrutiny

The make-up of the Government's $1.5 billion in annual science funding was the topic of a lively panel discussion this week as submissions are sought on a science investment plan that will span the next decade.

The Science Communicator's Association's Shaping Our Science System discussion in Wellington covered everything from the design of the National Science Challenges to the stated goal of boosting research & development spending as a percentage of gross domestic product.

Two of the panellists, economist Adam Jaffe and public policy expert Wendy McGuinness, have in recent years authored reports looking at science investment in New Zealand. Also featured was Dr Ian Fergusson, the departmental science advisor for the Ministry for Primary Industries, who is also a long-serving senior scientist at Plant & Food Research.

An audio recording of the discussion is available for playback here. Feedback on the draft National Statement of Science Investment is currently being sought, with submissions closing onAugust 22.

Fostering a 'nation of curious minds'

Meanwhile, a series of initiatives have been announced in response to the Science in Society Challenge, which accompanies the National Science Challenges and looks to better engage New Zealanders with science.

A Nation of Curious Minds: A National Strategic Plan for Science in Societyincludes plans for a participatory science platform, contestable funding for science engagement initiatives for hard to reach audiences and a code of practice to be developed by the Royal Society of New Zealand covering how scientists engage with the public.

Other initiatives will aim to strengthen science teaching in schools and create linkages between science education and industry. The strategy covers the period 2014 - 2017. Funding commitments announced so far include $3.9 million from the Ministry of Education including $400,000 over the first two years to fund the Science Skills in Education Initiative, plus $3.5 million for teacher and learner support and resources for the science curriculum announced previously.

MBIE is dedicating $2.7 million in the 2014/15 year to support new Science in Society Initiatives. Other initiatives, including the Science Media Centre are funded from existing allocations.

Speaking at the launch of the strategy in Lower Hutt, Sir Peter Gluckman, who led development of the strategy, said:

"It is clear government action alone cannot change how we perceive and use (or limit) science. But it can act as a catalyst for positive change - something that will indeed take time, given the complexity of the issues both for the science community and for


Read a blog post from Science Media Centre manager Peter Griffin on the strategy and reaction to it.

Science podcasting - ready to hit record?

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.

A few places are still available in the SMC's

Auckland and Wellington workshops on science podcasting

hosted by Dr Chris Smith of the top-rating science podcast The Naked Scientists.

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



Get along to special live recordings of the Naked Scientists in conjunction with Radio New Zealand's This Way Up show.

The live shows are free for the public to attend and will feature New Zealand's leading scientists showcasing their research and demonstrating new technology with Dr Chris Smith and Radio New Zealand's Simon Morton hosting.


AUCKLAND: AUT University's Wave Room on Saturday August 9th, 12 - 1pm.

WELLINGTON: Paramount Theatre, Tuesday August 12th, 6 - 8pm. More details and registration available on the Radio New Zealand website.

Quoted: New Zealand Herald

"Study your maths, study your physics, and come work for us."

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck's message for space-loving Kiwi 5-year-olds

New sciblogger: Honest Universe

Sciblogs welcomes Auckland-based science enthusiast and psuedoscience buster, Mark Hanna, whose Honest Universeblog is now part of the Sciblogs line-up.

Hanna has recently blogged about the extent of funding ACC pays out for alternative medical treatments and an Advertising Standards Authority complaint he recently made on, yes, "drinkable sunscreen".

Hanna is the co-founded of the recently established Society for Science-based Healthcare.

Policy news and developments

Science & Society - The Government has launched its stategic plan to encourage engagement with science and technology across all sectors of New Zealand.

Energy stats - MBIE has published the Energy in New Zealand 2014 report, detailing the supply, transformation and use of all types of fuel in New Zealand.

Drinking water - The Ministry of Health has announced $9.3 million in subsidies to help small communities establish or improve their drinking-water supplies.

Drink driving - New legislation has passed lowering drink-driving limits from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, to 50mg starting 1 December 2014.

Manuka honey - MPI has published an interim labelling guide today for the manuka honey industry to clarify what claims can be made and what constitutes manuka-type honey. The beehive is pleased.

The Friday video...

Zebrafish brain activity in real time, neuron by neuron

New From the SMC

Experts Respond:

Ebola: UK experts comment on the disease as the as the West African outbreak grows, and local media explore the risk to NZ.

In the News:

Rocket Lab: NZ company rocket lab has launched their Electronlow cost rocket programme.

Reflections on Science:

Curious minds: A new report from the government lays out a plan to encourage and enable a more science-literate and aware society.

Science Challenges: Several segments on Radio NZ explore criticisms of the National Science Challenges.


Science funding future: Listen to audio from this week's SCANZ panel discussion on the future of science investment.

From the SMC Network:

From the UK SMC:

Expert reaction to committee report on IPCC

Expert reaction to reporting on mitochondrial DNA replacement

from the AusSMC:

Briefing - PIN codes to replace credit card signatures

Briefing - Future foods: improving our diet at the source

Sciblogs highlights

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

Stick Insects: The Clone Wars - Lynley Hargreaves interviews Thomas Buckley about his Marsden-funded stick insect research.

Infrequently Asked Questions

Uber surge pricing: 'Sugar coated poison'? - I the new private car hire app Uber really going to ruin the taxi market, asks William Taylor.

Dismal Science

False memories after sleep deprivation - Did that really happen, wonders Karyn O'Keeffe, or are you just lacking some Z's?

Sleep on it

GMO myths & mythinformation - GM scientists are labelled Nazis and truth goes out the window in the latest internet assault on GM, writes Alison Campbell.


Research highlights

Some of the research papers making headlines this week.

Lead pollution beats explorers to South Pole: Antarctic ice cores shows industrial lead pollution on the southern continent dates back to 1889 - beating polar explorers by more than 22 years. Researchers estimated that 660 tons of lead have since been deposited on The Ice. Isotopic analysis suggests the initial source of lead pollution was the smelting of silver ore from the Broken Hill mine in Australia.

Scientific Reports

See-thru mouse: The scientists behind CLARITY, a novel technique that renders tissue transparent, have refined their approach to allow for clarifying the whole body of a mouse (post mortem). These 'see-through' mice allow researchers to mark and visualise whole organ systems and tissues in 3D with no damage.


Devoted octo-mum: Using a remotely operated vehicle, US scientists have observed an incredibly patient deep sea octopus mum who tended her eggs for 4 and a half years until they hatched.


Running (even just a little bit) good for you health: Running for only a few minutes a day or at slow speeds may significantly reduce a person's risk of death from cardiovascular disease compared to someone who does not run, according to a new study. Compared with non-runners, people who did any kind of running had a 30 percent lower risk of death from all causes and a 45 percent lower risk of death from heart disease or stroke, and lived an average of three years longer.

Journal of the American College of Cardiology

Ozone crop risk: Many studies have shown the potential for global climate change to cut food supplies. But these studies have, for the most part, ignored the interactions between increasing temperature and air pollution -- specifically ozone pollution, which is known to damage crops. A new study shows that these interactions can be quite significant, suggesting that policymakers need to take both warming and air pollution into account in addressing food security.

Nature Climate Change

Upcoming sci-tech events

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

Navigating our future: Addressing risk and building resilience - Environmental Defence Society (EDS) conference - 5-7 August, Auckland.

Climate change and New Zealand's economy: where is it heading and what can we do?- University of Otago Winter Lecture Series 2014With Professor Colin Campbell-Hunt - August 6, Wellington; August 7, Auckland.

Science Express: Planetary Overpopulation - Public talk from Dr John Robinson - 7 August, Wellington.

The Naked Scientists Live - August 9 and 12, Auckland and Wellington

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