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Deadline: A comms conundrum, DIY video and NZ mouth cancer

SMC Science Deadline: A comms conundrum, DIY video and NZ mouth cancer

Issue 322, 02 Apr 2015

New from the SMC

In the news: NZ falling behind in human rights issues

Expert reaction: Does watching TV increase diabetes risk?

Expert reaction: Mouth cancer in NZ men aged 40 plus

The SMC network


Expert reaction: E-cigarette use by teenagers

Expert reaction: Study investigating fruit and vegetables, pesticides and semen quality

Expert reaction: MenB vaccine deal and its addition to the national childhood immunisation programme

Expert reaction: UK Ebola patient leaving hospital, and the experimental drug MIL 77

Australian SMC

Expert reaction: Climate change to wake sleeping dragons

Media training for scientists

Upcoming Auckland,Christchurch and Hamiltonworkshops


Communication breakdown?

Science communication bodies criticise a UK Government code for civil servants requiring ministerial approval before they talk to the media.

The UK's Civil Service Code was updated this month requiring the pre-authorisation, which in theory also applies to scientists working for the government in units such as the Met Office and the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control.

In an open letter to cabinet secretary Francis Maude, the UK Science Media Centre, the Association of British Science Writers and Stempra, a science PR and communications network, wrote that the minor wording change could have a major chilling effect on government scientists speaking to the press on controversial issues.

UK SMC director Fiona Fox told the Guardian: "What we need are messages from on high that are supportive and back scientists sharing their evidence and expertise to better inform these debates. Unless the situation is clarified, this will have a chilling effect. Scientists will keep quiet to be on the safe side.”

In an editorial on the issue, science journal Nature said changes to the Civil Service Code may not become a topic of debate in next month's UK general election, but that scientists should "find their voices again" and question its meaning.

"Any block on transparency and openness is a step backwards. The government that takes over after the general election should clarify what it wants from its scientists, and how the rule change alters that. It should consider an exemption for researchers talking to the media about their work in acknowledged areas of public interest, such as climate or health."

The New Zealand situation

Government-employed scientists working in New Zealand's Crown Research Institutes generally can speak to the media as long as interviews are approved by their institute's communications staff. But major controversial issues are often dealt with by senior ministry spokespeople, so scientists are told to defer to the officials. Many CRIs also undertake contracted work for ministries so are contractually obliged to refer all media queries to the ministry they are working for.

The New Zealand Association of Scientists will explore the issue next week in its Wellington conference Going Public: Scientists speaking out on controversial issues. The conference will feature journalists, scientists and the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor Sir Peter Gluckman, who is developing a scientist's code of conduct for public engagement with the Royal Society of New Zealand.

DIY approach to video

Christchurch scientists will next week learn how to use short videos to communicate their science.

The Science Media SAVVY course will feature the team from Wellington-based Mohawk Media who will explore how a simple smartphone and some cheap editing software can bring a science paper alive.

The course to be held on April 15 is free and places are filling fast.Apply now to learn how to use short videos to transform your own science.

Sharp rise in mouth cancer

University of Auckland scientists have found a "rapid rise" in oropharyngeal cancerdiagnoses for men aged 40 and over.

Their research - published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health - analysed trends in diagnoses of different types of mouth cancers in New Zealand between 1981 and 2010, comparing differences in ethnicity and social deprivation as well as gender and age.

The authors say that although its unclear what exactly is causing more men aged 40 plus to develop oropharyngeal cancer, research in other countries leads them to suggest that the human papillomavirus (HPV) probably plays a role.

Experts contacted by the SMC agreed that there did seem to be a rising trend for this type of mouth cancer.

"There does seem to be an increase in oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) internationally over the last decade in patients who do not smoke tobacco or drink significant quantities of alcohol, factors traditionally associated with head and neck cancers. This subtype of OPSCC has been linked to certain types of HPV," says Alison Rich, Professor in Oral Pathology at the University of Otago.

"The most important recommendations relating to prevention of oral cancer continue to relate to avoidance of tobacco products and moderation in alcohol consumption, along with ensuring protection from sun damage if skin of the lip in considered in the spectrum of oral cancer," she advises.

"In addition regular self-inspection of the oral mucosa and regular dental attendance, so as the oral mucosa can be examined with good light and with access to all parts of the oral mucosa, is very important since early detection of a potentially malignant oral lesion (usually a persistent white or red patch on the oral mucosa) can lead to early diagnosis and a realistic chance of cure with minimum morbidity."

You can read more about the study and more expert commentary on our new science news portal,

Quoted: Radio New Zealand

"It was Darwin over 100 years ago, who said: it's not the strongest or most intelligent in a species that survives, but it's actually the ones that can adapt to change.

"Ironically, we are now adapting by passing our problems on to the next generation - the cost of clean-up and debt. Is that the right thing to do?"

Dr. Alison Dewes, Agribusiness consultant and farmer, commenting on dairy farming and its environmental impact.

Policy news & developments

Forestry projects identify practical solutions: New Zealand’s forestry sector will benefit from having about $1.2 million committed towards five new projects over the next four years in the latest round of the Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF).

$7.8m for new sustainable farming projects: 29 new projects have been approved for $7.8 million in new funding over four years through the Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF).

Law change to ban cosmetic testing on animals: The Government will introduce a change to the Animal Welfare Amendment Bill to ban the use of animals for testing finished cosmetic products and ingredients.

New steps against kauri dieback: The Albany Scenic Reserve in Auckland will be closed until further notice to prevent the spread of kauri dieback.

New from Sciblogs

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

In search of glowing limpets! Siouxsie Wiles seeks out the world’s only bioluminescent freshwater limpet, which is only found on the North Island of New Zealand.

Infectious Thoughts

Turing machines, coin tosses and internet security - Lynley Hargreaves interviews Professor Rod Downey on Alan Turing, subject of the film The Imitation Game.

Infrequently Asked Questions

Effect of board quotas on female labour market outcomes in Norway - Paul Walker reveals that despite making it illegal to have less than 40 per cent of each gender on corporation boards, it hasn't seemed to improve gender balance in other areas of work.

The Dismal Science

Totten hots up, ice shelves melting: it’s grim down south - Gareth Renowden discusses how there's much news in recent weeks from Antarctica, and none of it good.

Hot Topic

How the Medical Profession Supports Alternative Medicine - Michael Edmonds discusses whether the clinical system could be driving patients towards more holistic practitioners, including those that specialise in alternative medicine.

Molecular Matters

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.

Te Papa Science Express: Alpine Fault Drilling - 2 April, Wellington. Rupert Sutherland explains how the project, although halted at 893 metres because of equipment failure, has yielded valuable information about earthquake processes.

Going public: Scientists speaking out on difficult issues - 10 April, Wellington. New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) annual conference 2015.

Life Without Limits - 16-18 April, Auckland. This neuromuscular conference brings together families affected by neuromuscular conditions with clinicians, researchers and other health professionals to share progress and ideas.

© Scoop Media

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