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Science boost in budget

Yesterday's budget included new science and innovation funding, welcomed across the research sector.

A large part of the new funding was wrapped up in the 'Innovative New Zealand' package.

“Innovative New Zealand is a series of 25 initiatives that will see $761.4 million invested over the next four years in science, skills, tertiary education and regional development initiatives," said Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce.

"These will help diversify the economy, and support more jobs and higher wages for New Zealanders in the decade ahead."

The package includes:

$410.5 million for science and innovation, taking the Government’s annual science investment to $1.6 billion by 2020, including funding increases for the Marsden Fund and the Endeavour fund (previously MBIE Contestable Fund).

$256.5 million for more tertiary education and apprenticeship programmes, particularly in the areas of science, engineering and agriculture.

$94.4 million to support regional economic development with initiatives to unlock business opportunities and benefit regional communities.

Key players across the science sector have welcomed the package.

Dr Warren Parker, chair of Science New Zealand (representing Crown Research Institutes) and CEO of Scion, welcomed the "substantial" increase in funding, saying the Government has "committed to strengthening the connection between the excellent science done in New Zealand and getting it into practical application."

Chris Whelan, Executive Director of Universities New Zealand, echoed Dr Parker's comments. “We are very pleased that Minister Joyce has listened to universities’ concerns and responded by injecting additional funds where they’re needed most," he said.

Similarly, Dr Andrew Cleland, Chief Executive of Royal Society of New Zealand, was "extremely pleased" to see the government increasing investment in scientific research and innovation.

Dr Craig Stevens, President of New Zealand Association of Scientists, welcomed the increase in Marsden funding as a "positive signal for New Zealand’s fundamental research community."

He urged the Government to stick to the National Statement of Science Investment (NSSI) and support "impact in the environment and society sectors, and not just research with direct immediate economic return."

"Science is often about the long-game."

Read more budget expert commentary on the Science Media Centre website, including commentary on bowel cancer screening and freshwater announcements.


"To toss out all of that evidence and just blatantly say 'just eat as much fat as you want' is irresponsible and not reflective of the totality of the evidence."

Auckland University's Prof Boyd Swinburn on a
UK report advocating a high-fat low-carb diet.

Diabetes under the knife

New guidelines recommend surgical treatment as a first-line treatment for obese patients with type 2 diabetes, but New Zealand is not on board.

A joint statement by international diabetes organisations endorses gastric and bariatric surgery as a standard treatment option for type 2 diabetes for patients with very severe obesity (a body-mass index (BMI) of over 40). The new guidelines also recommend that surgery be considered for patients with less severe obesity who are unable to control their blood sugar through other treatments.

Gastrointestinal surgery has been used as a weight management tool in obese patients, many of whom have diabetes, but has not been recommended as a direct treatment for diabetes until now.

The clinical guidelines, published in the journal Diabetes Care, were developed at a conference last year and have been endorsed by 45 medical and scientific societies including: the International Diabetes Federation, the American Diabetes association and Diabetes UK. However, the New Zealand Society of the Study of Diabetes was not on the list. Approached by Prof Rubino earlier this year, the society replied in a statement: "we cannot fully endorse these recommendations as they stand."

While supportive of the guidelines, the society executive said that there were "important differences in the funding structure and access to treatments including medications and surgery in New Zealand."

Read more about the research and expert commentary on the Science Media Centre website.

Science reporting rewarded

Amid industry uncertainty, the Canon awards showcased some first-class science and tech journalism.

The SMC was proud to again sponsor the science and technology news and feature categories of the Canon Media Awards and it was great to see winners who have a longstanding focus on thorough and quality reporting of science-related issues.

The New Zealand Herald’s Jamie Morton (pictured) picked up the award for best science and technology reporting, while the New Zealand Listener’s Donna Chisholm (pictured) collected the science and technology feature writing gong.

The health categories also featured journalists the SMC has had the pleasure of working with, as the Dominion Post’s Ben Heather picked up the health reporting award and the Listener’s Rebecca MacFie won the health feature category.

Rebecca MacFie also picked up the biggest prize of the night – the Wolfson Fellowship, involving 10 weeks of study at the University of Cambridge. MacFie said on the night that she intended to focus on climate change, an issue that recently featured on the front cover of the Listener in a piece penned by her.

This year also saw the awarding of health journalism scholarships sponsored by health insurance provider NIB, which were won by Jessica McAllen (junior) from The Spinoff/SundayStar Times and Donna Chisholm from North & South/New Zealand Listener.

It was great also to see Barbara Fountain, the long-serving editor of NZ Doctor, pick up the award for editorial leader of the year.

Congratulations to all the winners and finalists. It really was a great night, potentially the end of an era with a media mega merger between NZME and Fairfax New Zealand on the cards, but also the start of something new.


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