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SMC Heads-Up: Sci comm lessons, disasters and popular diets

Issue 295 5 - 11 September 2014

Five lessons from the SMC experience

When it comes to communicating science, what works? What doesn't?

As part of World Science Week in Auckland last week, Peter Griffin, Founder and Manager of the New Zealand Science Media Centre, and Fiona Fox, Founding Director of the UK Science Media Centre, shared their views and thoughts on the SMC model and the science media landscape.

The panel discussion, titled 'Handling media frenzies - negotiating minefields in science communications', was hosted by the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand (PRINZ) and the Science Communicators Association of New Zealand (SCANZ).

Peter Griffin offered five key points he thinks are critical to communicating science effectively in today's media environment:

Openness is a good strategy: While it is tempting for organisations to go on lock-down if a controversial issue arises, openness and transparency almost always pay off in the long term.

The vacuum will always be filled by someone: If science organisations choose not to engage on controversial issues, interest groups and advocates will step into the breach, and the quality of public discussion on the science may suffer as a result.

Empower scientists to talk to the media: Offer guidelines, frameworks and training that allows scientists to speak to the media and share their expertise without creating conflicts with commercial interests.

Preparation is vital: Always have a plan to deal with your 'worst case scenario'. Practise crisis communication drills so that you are ready to go when things turn pear-shaped.

Complete the feedback loop: If things do go wrong with the media, don't hold a grudge, find out what went wrong. Talk with journalists, editors and scientists to understand where communication broke down and learn from such situations.

You can listen to the full audio from the event on the Science Media Centre website.
On the science radar this week...

Poo-sniffing tech detects superbugs, tiny computers in your skin, nap and smell the coffee, b-mailing thoughts, and the Dreadnought dinosaur that lived up to its name.
Disasters, media and the public

The Science Media Centre is hosting a communications workshop for natural hazards researchers, scientists and engineers -- Disasters, media and the public.

Communicating vital information to the public during disasters is an essential, but sometimes daunting, responsibility for scientists and engineers.

This workshop will cover a range of practical and research-based insights into effective science communication for different audiences, including media and members of the public.


Date: Friday, 10 October 2014
Time: 9:00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m.
Location: Wellington - Royal Society of New Zealand
Fees: $120 (Natural Hazard Research Platform members qualify for 50% subsidy - please contact NHRP for more details)

This workshop has been organised with support from: Natural Hazards Research Platform; Joint Centre for Disaster Research (Massey/GNS); Science Media Centre; Massey University; Engaging Social Science (eSocSci); and the Royal Society of New Zealand.

You can see the full workshop programme here and download a printable flyer here.

Little difference between pop diets

A new study comparing the outcomes of popular diets, such as Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and the Atkins Diet among others, has not found any real difference in weight loss between them.

The research, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, analysed the results of 48 clinical trials involving 7200 overweight and obese adults.

After six months, people on low-carbohydrate diets lost 8.6 more kilograms than those who were not on a diet, while those on low-fat diets lost 7.7 more kilos than those on no diet. After 12 months about one kilo of that difference was gone, and there was no difference between low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets.

"Our findings should be reassuring to clinicians and the public that there is no need for a one-size-fits-all approach to dieting because many different diets appear to offer considerable weight loss benefits," the authors wrote in the paper.

"This is important because many patients have difficulties adhering to strict diets that may be particularly associated with cravings or be culturally challenging (such as low-carbohydrate diets)."

When asked for his reaction to the study, Professor Tony Blakely from the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, Wellington, told that if dieters enforced the same amount of energy restriction, then they would lose the same amount of weight with any of the diets.

However, he cautions that while reducing energy intake is a good starting point for tackling obesity "...there are other considerations about what you're eating and its effect on different diseases: for example, its effect on cancers and cardiovascular disease."

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

Quoted: New Zealand Herald

''Science is one of the greatest things the human race has going for it. It has given us the things that now make our lives easier, healthier, more interesting, and longer. Yet our policy makers seem to ignore good science when it doesn't suit.''

Nigel Latta, reflecting on what he learnt in the television series "Is Sugar The New Fat"

Science and the Election 2014

Wondering where political parties sit on the science-related issues of the day? The Science Media Centre is on to it.

In the lead up to theSeptember 20 election, the SMC has been quizzing the political parties on their polices around some of the big scientific issues facing the country.

Keep an eye out next week for the launch of our Election 2014 SMC Q&A, covering topics such as science funding, the environment and genetic modification.

In the meantime you can check out the questions and responses from the 2008 election and 2011 election.
Policy news and developments

Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge launched - The Sustainable Seas Ko Ngā Moana Whakauka National Science Challenge has been launched, with an initial funding of $31.3 million over five years.

New Science Challenge to build a better NZ - The Government has announced a new initiative to develop better housing and urban environments as part of its programme of National Science Challenges.

Challenge boosts protection of biological heritage - The Biological Heritage Ngā Koiora Tuku Iho National Science Challenge is to receive funding of $25.8 million over five years for research to protect and manage the country's biodiversity.

Govt supports Gisborne study of fish spawning sites - Government funding of $65,000 is being injected into a Gisborne District Council project to get knowledge about spawning sites for native freshwater fish to ultimately help protect threatened species.

Results show limited spread of kauri dieback - Aerial and ground surveillance of the Coromandel Peninsula show that the presence of Phytophythora taxon Agathis (PTA), or kauri dieback disease, is not widespread in the area.

Freshwater projects - The Government has funded freshwater research and management projects in Auckland and northern regions, the West Coast, the Wellington region, Marlborough,Waikato, and the Otago region.

The Friday video...

Archerfish tailor water jets to pack more punch

New From the SMC

SMC Blog:

Five lessons from the SMC experience: Peter Griffin (SMC NZ) and Fiona Fox (UK SMC) share their thoughts on the science media landscape.

Experts respond:

Breast cancer gene: Australian experts comment on Federal Court of Australia ruling that breast cancer genes can be patented.

In the news:

Ancient kaka 'cousin' found in the Chatham Islands: New Zealand officially has a new species of parrot, but unfortunately it has already been extinct for several hundred years.

Any diet works, if it's one you can stick to: A new study comparing the outcomes of popular diets, such as Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and the Atkins Diet among others, has not found any real difference in weight loss between them.

From the SMC Network

From the UK SMC:

Expert reaction to seismic activity in Bardarbunga volcano

Expert reaction to the discharging from hospital of the British volunteer nurse who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone

Expert reaction to new research on activity levels and telomere length

Expert reaction to latest BIS/Mori poll on public attitudes to animal research

From the Australian SMC:

EXPERT REACTION: Experimental drug for Ebola (Nature*)
Sciblogs highlights

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

Extreme futuring - Robert Hickson looks at what the future of the universe might look like, in pictures.

Inside a Chinese Ivory Carving Factory - Brendan Moyle shows us what happens inside factories as part of his ongoing investigations of the ivory markets in China.
Chthonic Wildlife Ramblings

Hundreds struck down by social contagion - some 'outbreaks' could be all in the head, says Helen Petousis Harris, who looks at the symptoms of mass hysteria.
Diplomatic Immunity

Will regular tobacco tax increases get NZ to the tobacco endgame? - Nick Wilson, Linda Cobiac and Tony Blakely explain how their newly published study shows that increasing taxes isn't the only solution for getting New Zealand smoke-free by 2025.
Public Health Expert

Monday Micro - the microbiome of death! - Siouxsie Wiles discusses research looking at the microbes living on corpses.
Infectious Thoughts

We Play Dirty at the Climate Talks Too - David Tong tells us that although Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics doesn't touch much on climate change politics, they're not clean either.
Hot Topic

Research highlights

Some of the research papers making headlines this week.

NZ free from contagious dog cancer: Canine transmissible venereal tumour (CTVT), a form of cancer sexually transmitted between dogs, is a problem in 90 countries around the globe, reports a new survey. The only country to report zero cases of the disease ever is New Zealand, thanks to our strict dog quarantine policies.
BMC Veterinary Research

Suicide report: A WHO report bringing together 10 years of research and data from countries around the world has found suicide to be the second leading cause of death in 15-29 year-olds globally. However the study also provides hope, as there is evidence to show that suicide is preventable, with education and government coordinated plans making a difference.
Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative

Stomach bugs make eco-friendly fuel: The bacteria E. coli, with its bad reputation for causing stomach illnesses, can now be seen as a good guy thanks to scientists who've used it to make renewable fuel. The researchers changed the genetic makeup of the bacteria so that instead of producing fatty acids as normal, it made propane.
Nature Communications

Kids skipping breakfast linked to diabetes risk: A study of more than 4,000 UK school kids has found that those who skip breakfast have higher levels of known diabetes risk factors, such as impaired glucose control. However, the authors note that further research is needed to prove causality.
PLOS Medicine

Coffee genome: Researchers have mapped the genome of Coffea canephora, the source of 'robusta' coffee beans. The information will ultimately help improve coffee breeding, accelerate the development of new coffee varieties, and increase the resistance of coffee plants to environmental stresses.

Ocean trash blame game: Australian researchers have created a new model that could help figure out who is to blame for ocean garbage patches in specific regions and should take responsibility for cleaning them up.

Upcoming sci-tech events

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

Sustainable transformation of human society - 5 September, Wellington. Professor Yuan T Lee, President of the International Council for Science, discusses how human pressure is changing our planet to the extent that within this century, the survival of mankind may come under threat.

Democracy in New Zealand - 9 September, Wellington. Nicky Hager talks about his recent book, Dirty Politics, and what needs to be done differently to protect and enhance our democracy.

Has environmentalism become anti-scientific? - 10 September, Dunedin. Lecture given by Professor Bob Carter, Emeritus Fellow, Institute of Public Affairs, Melbourne.

New Zealand's renewable geothermal resources - 11 September, Dunedin. Hochstetter Lecturer Chris Bromley at GNS Science asks: what additional future use could we make of our geothermal resources?

A better life with a small footprint? Understanding happiness, satisfiers and nature's contribution - 11 September, Dunedin. Dr Lin Roberts, senior lecturer in sustainability and environmental management at Lincoln University, discusses 'ecosystem services' mean to us.

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