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Heads-Up: Science challenges, World Science Week, supermoons

SMC Heads-Up: Science challenges, World Science Week and supermoons

Issue 291 8-14 August 2014

Further criticism of Science Challenges

A opinion poll of New Zealand scientists has highlighted concern over the Government's new National Science Challenges.

The National Science Challenges (NSCs), announced last year, aim to target government science funding and encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration.

The New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) poll, which was promoted to scientists via twitter, found that over 80 percent of the 289 respondents were dissatisfied with the National Science Challenges so far.

Dr Nicola Gaston, NZAS President, said in a media release, "Many of the respondents were greatly concerned by the lack of transparency in the process and some had the perception that the NSCs had been captured by a small number of senior scientists."

The full survey results are available here.

The NZAS survey follows earlier coverage of discontent regarding the Challenges. Last week, Radio New Zealand reported on a series of emails sent by scientists to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment expressing concern over the funding programme.

Speaking to Radio New Zealand, Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce was not swayed by the NZAS poll. "Ironically for the Association it's not actually a scientific survey, it's an opt-in survey ... there are 20,000 researchers around New Zealand, they're all going to have a different view but this is a programme that's had very wide support from the start."

Mr Joyce suggested that concerned scientists make a submission on the Draft National Statement of Science Investment, currently under consultation.

Deep South Challenge announced

This week also saw the release of further details of the Deep South Challenge, which will focus on climate change research and the role of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean in driving New Zealand's climatic conditions.

The government announced $24 million over five years to be allocated to the Challenge which will be hosted by NIWA and involve researchers from Victoria University of Wellington, the New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute, Antarctica New Zealand, GNS Science, Landcare Research, and the University of Otago.

On the science radar this week...

iTortoises show the way, it's a goo life for some, Hobbits don't exist (sorry), New Zealandrocks it for world records, and will there soon be a 'breathalyser' for fake drugs?

New face at the Science Media Centre

The Science Media Centre welcomes the newest member of the team, Laura Goodall, as Science Media Information Officer.

Laura has recently arrived from the UK where for the last few years she worked as a freelance science writer and editor. She was first critically appraised as a writer in 2007 - winning the runner-up prize at the UK's Daily Telegraph Science Writer Awards - and has since written for a wide range of audiences and publications, includingDefra (the UK Government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), the British Science Association, The Earth Times and London's Science Museum.

Alongside a Masters of Science in science communication from Imperial College London, she holds a Bachelor of Science in human genetics from the University of Leeds with a minor in Native American studies from the University of California, Irvine.

Aside from science, she's also passionate about photography, travel, environmental sustainability and indigenous issues.

Science high on agenda in late August

The end of August will see thousands of international scientists, advisors and policy experts arrive in New Zealand for several high profile meetings and conferences.

In Auckland a number of events will be taking place under the banner of World Science Week New Zealand, running from the25th of August to the 3rd September.

Supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand and the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, the line up includes: the first-ever meeting of international science advisors, hosted by Professor Sir Peter Gluckman; the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research biennial meeting and Open science conference; and the General Assembly of the International Council of Scientific Unions, hosted by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

There will also be a number of public lectures and panel discussions covering issues topics such as Antarctic astronomy, sea-level rise, the future of agriculture, climate change and health, the logistics of Antarctic research and New Zealand's role in international science.

You can see the full list of events on the Royal Society of New Zealand website.

Queenstown research week

If you thought Auckland was getting all the attention you would be proven wrong by the numerous scientific events kicking off in Queenstown at the same time.The annual Queenstown Research Week captures several annual conferences that keep drawing international experts back to New Zealand year after year for scientific meetings - and the odd spot of skiing - in the South Island resort town.

This year's events include:

the Australasian Winter Conference on Brain Research,

• the Medical Sciences Congress,

• the Australasian Society of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Toxicology conference, and

• a plethora of Queenstown Molecular Biology Meetings

It's going to be a busy time! Don't forget the Science Media Centre is here to help if you would like a hand navigating the events and people that will be accessible for media during late August.

Quoted: Dominion Post

''I want to get hold of people's imagination - pictures have the power to influence, to illuminate, to amaze and they also have the power to protect.''

National Geographic still photographer David Doubilet.

He is in New Zealand to perform his show Coral, Fire, and Ice.

Workshop a boost for science bloggers

The SMC is hosting a blog writing workshop with one of the biggest names in science blogging, Scientific AmericanBlogs Editor Curtis Brainard.

Writing a blog is a great way to spread the word about your science, network with like-minded researchers and even flesh out ideas for your research. It can also lead to career opportunities - conference invitations, funding opportunities, even book deals.

But blogging can also be a time vampire and get you offside with your colleagues and the public at large.

The free Science Media SAVVY workshop in Auckland will help you learn how to build science blogging into your science career, so that it can significantly add to your science communication efforts without getting you in trouble.

We will be joined by Curtis Brainard, New York-based blogs editor at Scientific American which hosts blogs for numerous leading science writers. Hear also from SMC Manager Peter Griffin, who founded Sciblogs, Australasia's largest blogging network, and Dr Siouxsie Wiles, one of Sciblogs' most popular bloggers and the 2013 winner of the Prime Minister's Science Communicator's Prize.

You can read more about the workshop and apply on theSMC website.

Please note that although free, this workshop is limited to 30 attendees - applications essential. Successful applicants will be sent the full details of the workshop.

Supersized supermoon this weekend

The biggest and brightest supermoon yet will be illuminating our night skies on Sunday 10 and Monday 11 August, prompting stargazers and photographers to ready their equipment.

Supermoons appear larger and brighter than normal full moons because the moon reaches its perigree - the closest point to Earth on its oval-shaped orbit. But this 'supersized' supermoon will also be at its closest ever distance to Earth, which won't happen again until 2034.

"At its closest, the moon will be 356,896 kilometres away from the Earth. The perigee distance changes with time in a cyclical way and the closest the moon can ever get to the Earth is 356,400 km, so this is a very close full moon," explains Karen Pollard, Associate Professor in astronomy at the University of Canterbury.

"On Sunday night the close-to-full moon will rise above the eastern horizon in Christchurch at 5.09 pm and on Monday night the just-past-full moon will rise at 6.24 pm. The best time to see or photograph the moon is as it is rising."

The supermoon will appear much larger when seen on the horizon rather than high in the sky, because of an interesting optical illusion.

Pollard also points out that another supermoon for 2014 will occur on September 9, although it will not be as bright.

Policy news and developments

Eels - MPI has announced a proposed package of measures to improve the status of New Zealand's iconic longfin eel population.

ETS data - The Environmental Protection Authority has published the latest annual data reports on the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme.

Protected areas - New marine protected areas to conserve Kaikoura's whales, dolphins, seals, albatrosses, rock lobster, shellfish and finfish were formally opened this week by Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith.

The Friday video...

Rare footage of tuatara hatching

New From the SMC

Experts Respond:

Ebola: UK experts comment on the ethics of using experimental Ebola treatments in the current outbreak.

In the News:

Ebola meeting: As the Ebola outbreak grows the WHO is holding a meeting to determine the international threat posed by the disease.

Reflections on Science:

Prof Easther: As part of the New Zealand Herald's 'Twelve Questions' series Sarah Stuart quizzes cosmologist Prof Richard Easther on life, the universe and everything.


Expert encounter: Listen to audio from this month's Expert Encounter with Dr Heather Hendrickson on antibiotic resistance (you can catch her on Radio New Zealand as well).

From the SMC Network:

From the UK SMC:

Briefing: aspirin and cancer

Expert reaction to vitamin D and dementia

Expert reaction to WHO review of Ebola treatment

Expert reaction to fatty acids and diabetes risk

Expert reaction to reports Ebola treatments

Expert reaction to decision not to retract BMJ statins articles

from the AusSMC:

Briefing: Ebola: is Australia next?

Expert reaction: PSA screening risks and benefits

Sciblogs highlights

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

Monday Micro - 200 million light years of viruses?! - Siouxsie Wiles crunches the numbers on an astronomical estimate.

Infectious Thoughts

Defining Genetic Modification - Peter Dearden and the High Court wrestle with semantics in defining GMOs.

Southern Genes

Where do you fit on the scientific Kardashian Index? - Michelle Dickensen critiques a twitter based measure of scientists' work. Nano Girl

Cheesecake files: A stadium full - A new study from John Pickering explains how a patient's 'pee profile' can offer clues about kidney injury.


Research highlights

Some of the research papers making headlines this week.

Antarctic horizons: The researchers behind a recent Antarctic "Horizon Scanning" conference in Queenstown have published an editorial in this week's issue of Nature, highlighting the the big issues for the future of Antarctic research. Their priorities included minimising human damage to the continent and the international community working together to protect Antarctica as key location for marine, ecological, climate and space research.


Kiwifruit 'eco efficiency': An analysis of Bay of Plenty kiwifruit orchards shows that conventional and organic growers have about the same size carbon footprint, but differ in terms of yield and profit. Conventional orchards produce more fruit, but are outperformed by organic orchards in terms of net profit, in spite of similar production costs.

Journal of Cleaner Production

Risks still remain for PSA testing: Screening for prostate cancer could reduce deaths from the disease by about a fifth, according to long-term results of a major European study involving over 162 000 men. Despite this new evidence for the effectiveness of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing to reduce mortality, doubts remain as to whether the benefits of screening outweigh the harms and the authors conclude that routine PSA screening programmes should not be introduced at this time. PSA screening continues to be debated in New Zealand.

The Lancet

Mercury rising: The levels of mercury in ocean surface water have more than tripled in some areas as a result of mining and fossil fuel combustion, according to new research. The study, drawing on observational data from Atlantic, Pacific, Southern and Arctic oceans, has important implications for understanding the accumulation of the toxic metal in fish and seafood.


Tiny transformers: Self-assembling robots have been created by researchers inspired by the art of origami. The minuscule machines start out as a flat sheet of paper and then fold up automatically to create a body and limbs, eventually crawling across the surface. This research could help others in designing emergency equipment, such as war shelters, that could be rapidly assembled at a safe distance in dangerous environments.


Upcoming sci-tech events

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

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

New Zealand Marine Sciences Society conference -August 11-14, Nelson

The Ballot Box 2014 panel series: How green is our valley? - August 13, University of Auckland Business School

What if...cancer screening can cause harm as well as benefit? - August 13, University of Canterbury

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