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Science Deadline - This Week in Sci-Tech

In this issue: Academia's glass ceiling, coronavirus spreads - could be from snakes, and media training in 2020.

Issue 555, 24 Jan 2020

Academia's glass ceiling

Over her lifetime, an average woman scientist at a New Zealand university earns about $400,000 less than her male counterparts, reports a new study.

University of Canterbury researchers Drs Ann Brower and Alex James analysed a decade’s worth of data from research evaluations of every single university researcher in the country. Their findings, published in the journal PLOS One, reveal that less than half of the gender pay gap can be explained by differences in research performance and age.

"Taken singly, the internal logic of each hiring or promotion decision might cohere," write the authors. "But taken together, they reveal a strong pattern in which a man’s odds of being ranked associate or full professor are more than double those of a woman with equivalent recent research score and age."

“Although equity policies in hiring and promotions will narrow the gender gap over time, the ivory tower’s glass ceiling remains intact.”

The Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor, Prof Juliet Gerrard, told RNZ it was clear New Zealand had a long-standing problem.

"The results are sadly not surprising - a mountain of anecdotes have suggested this significant pay gap is not explained by a difference in research performance and age."

Commenting to the Science Media Centre, Dr Isabelle Sin from Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, agreed the findings were not a surprise.

“Large gender pay gaps and a dearth of women in senior positions are well-known issues in many occupations in New Zealand. The relatively structured nature of the promotion system in academia might be expected to disadvantage women less than more ad hoc systems, but is clearly insufficient to achieve gender equality."

You can read further expert commentary from the SMC here.


"Human beings are medicine to human beings."

GP Glenn Colquhoun on the positive impact of a health practitioner's touch and attitude..

Coronavirus spread continues

As a coronavirus strain continues to spread from China, new research suggests it may have crossed from snakes to humans.

First detected in December, the virus - temporarily named 2019-nCoV - has spread from its epicentre in China's Wuhan city.

As of Friday, there have been 25 reported deaths among 830 confirmed cases. Cases have been confirmed in the USA, Japan, South Korea and Thailand, with at least 14 suspected cases being tested in the UK.

Overnight, the World Health Organization decided not to deem the virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, a decision many experts agreed with.

Professor Martin Hibberd from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said the announcement was not surprising "as more evidence may be needed to make the case".

"WHO were criticised after announcing the pandemic strain of novel H1N1_2009, when the virus was eventually realised to have similar characteristics to seasonal influenza and is perhaps trying to avoid making the same mistake here with this novel coronavirus," he told the UK SMC.

On Thursday, research published in the Journal of Medical Virology compared the genetic information of the virus with already-available information on other viruses and found that 2019-nCoV appears to have formed from a combination of a coronavirus found in bats and another from snakes.

Writing on Sciblogs, University of Auckland Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles said that because it was winter in the northern hemisphere, "there are likely to be plenty of false alarms".

The SMC has been gathering expert comments on the virus.

Policy news & developments

M. bovis survey: A National Beef Survey will run over the next 12 months, testing 2,500 herds that have not previously been a part of any M. bovis testing programs.

Ecosanctuary opens: A new predator-proofed ecosanctuary has opened on Golden Bay's Cape Farewell, restoring a safe home for sea birds, native plants, giant snails and geckos.

Orhtopaedic implants: PHARMAC is seeking feedback on a proposal to list a range of orthopaedic implants and associated products in the Pharmaceutical Schedule.

2020 dates for SAVVY

Applications are open for all our 2020 Science Media SAVVY workshops, including our next workshop for Māori researchers.

These two-day media training workshops will be held in Auckland and Wellington next year in April, August, and November. A Christchurch workshop is planned mid-year, but dates are yet to be finalised.

2020 SAVVY dates

Auckland, 16-17 April

Christchurch, date TBC

Wellington, 27-28 August

Auckland, 12-13 November

These workshops are designed to increase confidence and enhance media skills in researchers so they can engage more effectively with the wider public through broadcast, print and social media.

Applications are open for two workshops in Auckland and one in Wellington. Use the drop-down menu to select which workshop you're applying for.


Media SAVVY for Māori researchers

In partnership with Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, our tailored workshops for Māori researchers invite guest speakers from Māori and mainstream media to share their insights, and offer opportunities for Māori researchers to discuss common issues and perspectives.

Workshop fees have been waived, thanks to support from Curious Minds - He Whenua Hihiri i te Mahara. Travel and accommodation funding support may be available - please see the application for details.

Dates: 23-24 Apr at Te Herenga Waka Marae in Wellington



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