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SMC Heads-Up to 11 August

SMC Heads-Up to 11 August: Top 5 best science coverage, ESR tests reaffirmed, impacts on deep-sea

Highs and lows of science media coverage

Last night, TVNZ's Media 7 aired a special programme on science, which included Sciblogs' readers picks for the best and worst of media coverage of science stories over the past year.

Peter Griffin has posted a summary of reader responses and top 5 picks on his blog Griffin's Gadgets. High points included careful treatment of conflicting research conclusions on vitamin D, vaccination, the teaching of climate change and earthquake prediction.

The Media 7 episode also featured interviews with Sir Peter Gluckman and British science communicator Lord Robert Winston, who toured the country on a speaking tour this week.

You can watch the episode in full here.

Tests did find prescription drug in legal high

ESR scientists are rejecting false statements about their testing of synthetic cannabis products and the presence of the controlled substance phenazepam.

The claims were made in a press release issued today by a pro-cannabis political party.

A new temporary ban on all products containing synthetic cannabinoids was passed into law yesterday.

Dr Keith Bedford, General Manager - Forensics, ESR contacted the Science Media Centre with the following statement:
"Contrary to certain recent reports, ESR reaffirms that testing undertaken by ESR established the presence of phenazepam 'contamination' in samples of two branded synthetic cannabis products being sold in NZ, including 'Kronic Pineapple Express'.

"ESR testing has also shown that the active, synthetic additives in such products, including those found in 'Kronic Pineapple Express', can be variable. Other batches of 'Kronic Pineapple Express' do not necessarily contain phenazepam and may contain a different mix of active ingredients which is one of the issues of concern with such products"

Quoted: Business Day - (DomPost)
"As reporters, we should not ignore [challenging views], but we should be careful of crossing the line into dangerous territory. We don't want to put uncertainty into readers' minds when the science is clear or make radical views appear to be mainstream."

Jon Morgan, agricultural reporter for the Dominion Post

New from the SMC

In the News:

Kiwi scientists at forefront of cancer fight - Coverage of recent research advances published by New Zealand cancer researchers.
Report stirs up freshwater debate -
A report from the Cawthron Institute, commissioned by Fish & Game, compares the recent National Policy Statement (NPS) on Freshwater Management against recommendations from the Land and Water Forum and a previous board of inquiry.
Reflections on Science:

Why scientists won't debate Lord Monckton - The New Zealand Herald has published online a strongly-worded editorial from Australian cognitive scientist Stephan Lewandowsky on the nature of scientific debate and those who refuse to partake.

Experts Respond:

Most vulnerable deep sea habitats - A new synthesis report from experts involved in the Census of Marine Life's deep-sea projects (including two New Zealand co-authors) has highlighted man-made impacts on the last great wilderness: the deep sea. Additional comment here.

Asthma and exposure to magnetic fields - A new study has suggested that exposure to magnetic fields during pregnancy may be linked to asthma in children. However, experts are urging caution in the interpretation of the research.


Sciblogs highlights

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

Leighton Smith, Monckton melt down over climate - NewstalkZB host Leighton Smith welcomes the cliamte sceptic onto his show and rants at the media who wouldn't do likewise.
Griffin's Gadgets

The reality of scientific research - The scientific process is well documented and laid out. But what's it like in reality? This is a pretty good representation
Open Parachute

Mining the moon - There's platinum in them lunar hills. What are the chances for mining the moon for precious metals?
Mis.cience

The worst results of human behaviour - Forensic scientist Anna Sandiford explains why she undertakes her work.
Forensic Scientist

The salt debate continues - Nutritionist Amanda Johnson looks at the simmering disagreement among scientists over the benefits of lowering salt intake.
Food Stuff

Research highlights

Please note: hyperlinks point, where possible, to the relevant abstract or paper.

Remembering the imagined future: Brain scanning research from New Zealand psychologists has offered insight into how we encode memories. fMRI data from participants imagining future events revealed activation of a brain region well known for its involvement in memory formation - the hippocampus. The researchers found that different areas of the hippocampus were involved in storing and recalling memories of imagined events, providing a better understanding not only of memory, but also of the potential effects of brain damage on memory.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences


Tree bug examined: A new review highlights the mechanism of action of Phytophthora, tree parasites known to infect New Zealand trees. Although there a several possible ways in which the microbe is predicted to kill trees, the most likely mode of attack seems to be by blocking the xylem, or veins, of a tree, leading to death. The review lays out future research that can be undertaken to better understand the pathogen and protect trees.
New Zealand Journal of Forestry Research

Smokers indulge more after taking vitamins: New research shows that individuals smoke more after engaging in 'healthy activities'. Researchers administered placebo "multivitamins" to smokers and found it increased subsequent smoking when compared with a group of control smokers.
Addiction

'Poison rat' has unique defense mechanism:
Dogs have been known to die after biting the curious African Rat Lophiomys. New research reveals that this creature sports a striking crest made of hollow hairs that store the animal's spittle, which is applied after chewing the deadly poison-arrow plant Acokanthera. Any inquisitive and naïve predator, be it jackal or lion, is then presented with a powerful display and invitation to bite the crest. A powerful lesson is learned, with the rat hopefully escaping alive and well enough to see another day.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Ocean acidification threatens calcium phytoplankton: The environmentally important, carbon-fixing phytoplankton called coccolithophores are sensitive to ocean acidification, new research suggests. The single-celled organisms, which are covered in calcium carbonate, are responsible for a large part of modern oceanic carbonate production, yet their response to ocean acidification has been unclear. Now researchers have shown that an increase in dissolved carbon dioxide causes a decrease in calcification and coccolith mass.
Nature

New test improves prostate cancer screening:
A new urine test has been developed for use in screening for prostate cancer. The test supplements an elevated prostate specific antigen, or PSA, screening result, and could help some men delay or avoid a needle biopsy while pointing out men at highest risk for clinically significant prostate cancer. The research is highly relevant after last week's decision from the Health Select Committee here in New Zealand to reject a national screening programme - as the PSA test was not accurate enough.
Science Translational Medicine

Policy updates

Some of the highlights of this week's policy news:

Synthetic cannabis banned - An immediate temporary ban on supply of all products containing synthetic cannabinoids will come into effect next week.

First annual ETS report released - An assessment of the Emissions Trading Scheme one year after its introduction concludes a carbon price has "successfully entered the NZ economy". The full report is available on the MfE website.

Improvements in air quality highlighted - The Environment Minister has welcomed improvements to air quality in the latest PM 10 monitoring data and released a new compliance strategy.

Youth blood alcohol limit lowered - The legal limit for blood alcohol concentration for drivers under 20 will be reduced to zero from Sunday.

Upcoming sci-tech events

NZ Plant Protection Society conference - Includes a session on Psa disease in kiwifruit - 8-11 August, Rotorua.

Clinical Research: Mission Possible - 7th Annual conference of the NZ Association of Clinical Research - 8-9 August, Auckland.
A soupçon of science: Creativity at the interface of chemistry and cuisine - 9 August, Hamilton. 10 August, Wellington.

Out of Africa: The Allan Wilson Legacy - lecture from Professor Rebecca Cann - 8 August, Auckland.

The Mysterious Maya - 2011 RSNZ Aronui Lecture tour - Public lecture by Prof Norman Hammond - 11 August, Auckland. 12 August, Hamilton.

Myths, molecules and 5% magic- Public talk with Master Chef Simon Gault, Dr Bryony James and fine dining accompaniment - 11 August, Auckland.

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

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