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SMC Bulletin - Overseer: fit for regulation?

Overseer: fit for regulation?
The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment recommends the farm management software Overseer is reviewed and upgraded before it can be used to regulate nitrogen pollution from farms.

Originally designed to help farmers manage how much fertiliser they need to maximise growth, the model is also being used to control nitrogen pollution, with eight of the 16 regional councils currently using Overseer to regulate farm runoff.

However, the model has been mired in controversy, with many soil scientists expressing concern over the accuracy of the software. Dr Julie Everett-Hincks, legal and scientific researcher at the University of Otago, told Stuff: "In its current form and governance structure, Overseer is not fit to be a regulatory tool."

Commissioner Simon Upton recommends an independent review of the software so both farmers and regional councils can be confident in the numbers Overseer spits out. He told Newsroom: "If the Government wants to see the model being used as a regulatory tool then a large measure of transparency is needed."

He said that because the model is jointly owned by the Ministry for Primary Industries, AgResearch, and two fertiliser companies (Ballance and Ravensdown), the source code is secret, which means those outside the company don't know how it works.

Freshwater scientist Professor Troy Baisden told the NZ Herald he supported the call to make the model open source so the science community could have the opportunity to check and improve it. He said the model has a monopoly on regulatory use, with Overseer being "the best model we have, because it is the only model we have".

Federated Farmers backed the call for making Overseer more accurate and transparent. Spokesperson Chris Allen told Stuff that Overseer results can be 25-30 per cent wrong in either direction.

"The significant inherent inaccuracies in the Overseer model means that it is very unfair when the model is used to regulate farming activity central to farmers' livelihoods, and even more importantly to mount prosecutions."

Upton also recommended the Government provide official guidance for how councils use Overseer, which was backed up by Professor Richard McDowell who has contributed to the model's development. McDowell told the NZ Herald that without guidance, councils can choose different nutrient limits, resulting in "significant variation in quality between the 16 regional councils".

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the PCE's report.

Quoted: Stuff
"Past emissions will
warm the Earth for centuries -
but there's still a choice."

Deputy director of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre Dr Andy Reisinger who wrote 19 haiku to summarise the latest IPCC report.

Discretion over drug use
The Government has signalled a range of changes to drug policy in response to increased synthetic drug-related deaths.

Plant material containing the synthetic cannabinoid AMB-FUBINACA, Credit: ESR.

Health Minister Dr David Clark and Police Minister Stuart Nash announced the changes on Thursday morning, which aim to crack down on suppliers of synthetic drugs while making it easier for those with addiction problems to get treatment.

Two main synthetic drugs have been linked to recent deaths - 5F-ADB and AMB-FUBINACA. Both will be classified as Class A drugs, allowing police search and seizure powers, with suppliers and manufacturers facing up to life imprisonment.

The changes also include a temporary drug classification category, C1, to allow new drugs to be dealt with under the Misuse of Drugs Act. The Act will also be amended to specify that police should use discretion and not prosecute for possession and personal use, but instead treat drugs as a health issue. The changes come with a $16.6 million boost for addiction treatment services.

Emergency medicine specialist Dr Paul Quigley said the announcement was a "significant step forward towards reducing risk for those New Zealanders with substance use disorders".

"The cases we have seen have come from some of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised sectors of New Zealand society, their personal stories filled with tragedy and poverty. It has also affected those already isolated by existing mental health conditions or substance abuse issues.

"None of the cases I have reviewed have ever been ‘criminal’ by nature but simply victims of circumstance using drugs to escape the horror of their lives."

Victoria University of Wellington criminologist Dr Fiona Hutton cautioned that 'getting tough', even with a focus on suppliers, "is not the way forward".

"We have been ‘getting tough’ on drugs and those who supply them since the 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act came into force 43 years ago. Since then drugs have become purer, cheaper and more available than ever before, with the latest world drug report noting that drug markets are ‘thriving’."

She warned that advising police to use discretion was of concern. "Certain groups in society come to the attention of police more often, are prosecuted more often and more severely within the criminal justice system."

"Embedding ‘discretion’ further into the New Zealand justice system will serve to deepen the existing inequalities in our justice system and should be avoided.

"Why not decriminalise the personal possession and use of drugs as recommended by the New Zealand Drug Foundation in 2017? This removes the issue of discretion and would work towards lessening the inequalities apparent in prosecutions for drug offences."

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the changes.

Family violence: every 4 mins
A new report from the Justice sector’s chief science advisor outlines the scale of family violence in New Zealand.
Released through the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Dr Ian Lambie’s report is the third in a series examining New Zealand’s criminal justice system.

The report's title, Every Four Minutes, is drawn from the number of care and protection notifications received in 2016/17. Dr Lambie said family violence and child maltreatment caused enduring physical and mental harm.

"It is also linked to criminal offending, with most young offenders (80 per cent) having experienced family violence in their childhoods."

"Talking about the wellbeing of babies seems a long way from arguments about the prison muster, but that is where the evidence says we must begin," he said.

Health Research Council Foxley Fellow Dr Melanie Woodfield applauded the "consistent theme of support for children, parents and parenting".

"Effective, early, and culturally appropriate parenting programmes indeed have the potential to disrupt the intergenerational cycle of family violence."

Dr Woodfield runs a programme that gives parents real-time advice through an earpiece as they interact with their child, but told Radio NZ such programmes weren't a "silver bullet" to solving family violence.

"Parenting programmes teach skills, which is great, but the report really makes the point that parenting well means being supported."

University of Auckland's Associate Professor Janet Fanslow said the report "clearly reinforces urgent calls for building a prevention workforce".

"I hope the call to action is taken seriously this time. Family violence is a preventable problem."

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the report.

Upcoming SAVVY workshops
Our flagship media training course returns in 2019 - with the first two-day workshop of the year in Christchurch.
Further 2019 workshops will be confirmed at a later date, but we're taking applications for Christchurch now, and it would be a good idea to apply before Christmas:
7-8 February

Our experienced facilitators provide a supportive environment for researchers to consider their work from different perspectives and find new ways to describe the value of their research to the public.

Ideally suited for researchers with previous media experience seeking further development of their skills, as well as beginners anticipating media interest in their work.

Applications close 10 January

Policy news & developments

24/7 geohazards monitoring: The round-the-clock centre went live at GNS in Lower Hutt on Wednesday.

Suspected Māui dolphin death: The dead, juvenile dolphin was reported to DOC on Wednesday by a member of the public at Karioitahi Beach in Auckland.

Medicinal cannabis rule changes: The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill passed its third reading and will soon become law, allowing NZ companies to manufacture medicinal cannabis and creating compassionate rules for those using illicit cannabis in palliative care.
ACC levies cut: Average work levies paid by employers and self-employed people will decrease from 72 cents to 67 cents per $100 of liable earnings from April 2019.

Little blue penguin death: DOC reiterated the message about dog control on beaches after a little blue penguin was killed by two dogs.

ETS changes: Cabinet has approved the first set of improvements, which means permanent forests will be added to the Emissions Trading Scheme.

More tracks close: Three tracks on Great Barrier Island (Aotea Island) will be closed as of 31 January due to kauri dieback.

1080 drop inquiry: The Environmental Protection Agency announced an inquiry into an aerial 1080 operation in September, at Mapara near Te Kuiti, where eight cattle died.

Letting fees gone: The new legislation banning letting fees on rental properties came into effect this week.

West Coast trawl: NIWA completed an inshore trawl which will inform any changes that need to be made for catch limits to snapper, tarakihi, red gurnard and John Dory.

This week on the NZ Conversation.

How to narrow the gap between Ardern’s foreign policy aspirations and domestic debate
Nina Hall, Johns Hopkins University; Max Harris, University of Oxford

See more NZ-authored Conversation articles.

What we've been reading
With an abundance of news stories to possibly read, watch and listen to, it can be hard to find the gems. Here we highlight some of the stories that caught our attention this week.
The edge of the cliff: inside the major NZ media companies in 2018
In a week-long series, The Spinoff's Duncan Greive has explored what's happened in NZ media over the past year. So far, he's covered TVNZ, Stuff, Sky, MediaWorks and NZME. Recaps of RNZ and Spark + Bauer + Māori Television to come.

Who Cares? When kids are taken by the state
Michelle Duff's latest interactive for Stuff tells the story of two children in the state's care.

'We speak out at our peril': Science on water quality has been ignored, scientist says
Prof Russell Death's told fellow scientists at the New Zealand Freshwater Science Society conference in Nelson that "we really need to take some responsibility that this has happened on our watch", reports Charlie Mitchell for Stuff.

Here’s what was surprising about Kilauea’s 3-month-long eruption
After an explosive summer, Kīlauea, the world’s longest continuously erupting volcano, finally seems to have taken a break, reports Jennifer Leman for ScienceNews.

$30.5 million hit planned for ‘mega mast’
Poison drops over a million hectares are planned to counter a 'mega mast' predicted to spark a plague of predators in native forests reports David Williams for Newsroom.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

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

Go voyage the great beyond

Grant Jacobs salutes the Voyager missions, as Voyager 2 heads out into interstellar space.
Code for Life

How does epigenetics fit in?

Epigenetics could be a key tool to transform genomic information into useful health outcomes, but what is it?
Genomics Aotearoa

Colour vision

One of Marcus Wilson's children is red-green colour blind, and sometimes dad and son see the same colours differently.
Physics Stop

From Restoration to Reconciliation: Why sustaining NZ’s biodiversity means moving forward, not backward

Jamie Steer kicks off a two-week series of blogs examining some of the assumptions around conservation in New Zealand.
So Shoot Me

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
Medical marvels: 14 December - 15 March, 2019, Dunedin. This 3-month exhibition highlights treasures from the famed Monro Collection, featuring some 450 manuscripts from the 18th, 19th and 20th century, on pharmacy and phrenology, to dentistry and disease.

Imitation and innovation: 17 December, Dunedin. Robert Goldstone will talk about research exploring group patterns when people try to solve problems using their social network for solutions.

Terracotta warriors: 18 December, Wellington. See Te Papa's new Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality exhibition after dark, with dumplings and a drink.

Brain rhythms: 20 December, Auckland. Li-Huei Tsai will talk about leveraging brain rhythms as a therapeutic intervention for Alzheimer's disease.

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