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Bowel cancer, cyber security, Dunedin Study

Science Deadline: Bowel cancer risk, cyber security, the Dunedin Study's new findings and Gluckman on social licence

Issue 404, 16 Dec 2016

Holiday hours:
The SMC will be closed from Dec 24and reopen on Jan 9. If you have urgent queries over the break we will be monitoring email - send us a message and we'll get back to you ASAP.

We've loved working with you in 2016. Have a great Christmas break and we'll see you in the New Year.

Peter, Dacia, Sarah-Jane and Tessa

Top news from scimex.org the Science Media Centre's news-sharing platform.


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Expert Reaction: Childhood risk factors predict future economic burden

Expert Q&A: What are NZ'scybersecurity threats?

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Early childhood affects future
Findings from Dunedin's longitudinal study suggest a small proportion of the cohort make up the majority of adult economic burden.

US researchers using data from the Dunedin Study published findings this week suggesting it is possible to predict in early childhood the segment of the population that will go on to require the most assistance from government.

Information from the cohort of 1,037 New Zealanders who have been studied since birth was linked up with government administrative databases. The Duke University researchers found about 20 per cent of the study members made up nearly 80 per cent of the adult economic burden, accounting for factors such as criminal convictions, welfare benefits and prescription fills.

Dunedin Study director Professor Richie Poulton said these members could be identified with high accuracy when they were still young children, from data including neurological evaluations and assessments of language development, motor skills and social behaviour.

“We also found that members of this group tended to have grown up in more socioeconomically deprived environments, experienced child maltreatment, scored poorly on childhood IQ tests and exhibited low childhood self-control,” Professor Poulton said.

He told The Spinoff that the researchers "were at pains in the paper to point out that this is not part of something which justifies stigmatising".

Professor Cameron Grant, deputy director of the Centre for Longitudinal Research at the University of Auckland, said the new study aligned with previous research that highlighted the need to give "every child the best start in life if health inequalities across the life course are to be reduced".

“We absolutely need to do better to support our most vulnerable families and each of their children from conception onwards and not stigmatise individuals. However, we need to know how to intervene and what works for families in 21st century New Zealand."

Read expert reaction and a summary of media coverage on the SMC website.

Quoted: Radio NZ

"In Havelock North they had an outbreak from the water supply affecting around 5,000 people...from dirty chicken we have one of those events every two months."

University of Otago's Professor Michael Baker
on campylobacter in raw chicken products.


How cybersecure are we in NZ?
As news broke this week of yet another Yahoo hack, we asked cybersecurity experts about the threats facing New Zealand.

Another week, another large-scale data breach - or so it's seemed at times this year. Large database breaches, ransomware, unsecured devices...ever more cybersecurity issues are on the horizon.

University of Waikato's Dr Ryan Ko, who heads the Cyber Security Lab, said the Mirai botnet attack in September and October was "probably the most devastating cybersecurity attack in recent times". The largest denial of service attack to date, it disrupted ISPs and companies worldwide and highlighted the dangers of insecure, vulnerable 'Internet of Things' devices, he said.

The rapid growth in 'Internet of Things' (IoT) devices - every day items with internet accessibility - raised the risk of cyber attacks, said Unitec's Professor Hossein Sarrafzadeh. In the Mirai attack, "these devices were controlled by hackers and used to act as cannons to direct a large amount of bogus internet traffic and cause disruption".

"We are seeing a rapid growth in the sale and distribution of IoT devices that are not properly secured," Professor Sarrafzadeh said. "As more objects become connected to the internet the opportunity for attacks increases. Here in New Zealand, we are seeing a rise in ransomware attacks and whaling attacks."

Dr Ko said the two big threats facing individuals were ransomware and human-nature threats, "which we call 'social engineering'. With the promise of free WiFi, or an email which provides some alarming information, an unknowing or trusting user will click on a malicious link".

University of Otago's Dr Hank Wolfe said cell phones presented "the most ubiquitous threat to everyday computer usage".

"People, as a matter of routine, connect to whatever WiFi site is available wherever they are and perform private actions without any concern as to why they are receiving this service, essentially free."

And while he has been a "security evangelist" for his nearly four decades in New Zealand, Dr Wolfe said he had yet to see businesses take security seriously. "The public and businesses, in general, pay lip service to the notion of security but really have little in the way of commitment."

In the future, those exploiting our vulnerabilities might find even more ways to do so, said Victoria University of Wellington's Dr Ian Welch. "False news and information, what if attackers choose to tweak our perception of reality by changing information, inciting social upheaval, rather than directly attack our services? "

Read the full expert Q&A on the SMC website.

Why we reject new technologies
We need to change how science is done to gain 'social licence' says PM's Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman.

What causes some technologies to be accepted while others are rejected? To find the answer, consider the case of margarine, says Sir Peter Gluckman, who last week bid farewell to John Key, the departing Prime Minister he served for around eight years as his advisor on all things science-related. Incoming Prime Minister Bill English will now take advantage of Sir Peter's expertise.

It took 100 years for margarine to be accepted as a safe, viable, vegetable fats-based alternative to butter. From the dairy lobby mobilising to meet the threat of a new competitor to anti-margarine campaigners favouring "cows over chemists", a myriad range of issues met the arrival of what turned out to be a viable technology.

Sir Peter, a member of the OECD Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Group, says the scenario has been played over many times with the attempt to introduce new technology - from genetic engineering to in vitro fertilisation.

"First trust in the actors is really important," says Sir Peter. "Of course the technology has to be useful. Secondly, the response of the pre-existing technologies and the Darwinian competition has to play out. Thirdly, it takes time."

The answer to better acceptance of new technologies that promise to improve our lives?

"I believe appropriate social licence is much more likely, if we engage better in the concept of co-design, co-production and extended peer-review within science."

"That is involving people beyond the white-coated scientists in our processes from the earliest stages."

You can read Sir Peter's comments in full in the transcript of his address New technologies and social consensus.

Policy news & developments

Drop in 1080 use: The Environmental Protection Authority's 2015 1080 annual report showed a third less land was treated with the toxin, compared to 2014's bumper year which included Battle for our Birds.

Levy for game trophies? Consultation is open on a proposal to establish a levy for game trophies being exported from New Zealand, with the revenue to go toward the Game Animal Council's operations.

Youth mental health: More than 180,000 young people have been reached through the Prime Minister's Youth Mental Health Project, according to a new report.

Wellington conservation: Consultation is open on the draft Wellington Conservation Management Strategy.

Energy strategy: Public consultation has opened on a national renewable energy strategy, which has plans to increase efficiency and use of renewables.

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