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SMC Heads-Up: Fracking, PM Science Prizes, freshwater

Column – Science Media Centre

Fracking; Science Reporting; Science Awards; SMC internship; 100% Freshwater; New from the SMC; Sciblogs highlights; Research highlights; Policy News; Sci-tech eventsSMC Heads-Up: Fracking, PM Science Prizes, freshwater science focus

Issue 209 30 November – 6 December

Fracking report well-received

The first independent and science-based look at the practice of hydraulic fracturing in New Zealand has been welcomed by scientists, politicians and the petrochemical industry alike.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, this week released her interim report on fracking, finding that oversight of the industry is fragmented and that the industry had yet to gain the trust of the public. But she said that fracking hadn’t yet raised any issues of “high and urgent” concern.

Dr Wright didn’t recommend a moratorium on fracking, but a second report, to be released by her office next year, will make recommendations for regulation of the industry.

The report examined key concerns around fracking, including the possible contamination of groundwater sources and the risk of the practice triggering earthquakes.

The SMC gathered reaction from scientists. GNS Science’s Dr Rosemary Quinn, said the report “rightly focusses on the need for effective regulation and enforcement in order to ensure the safe operation of hydraulic fracturing in New Zealand”.

However, Dr Sally Gaw, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Chemistry at the University of Canterbury, said serious risks from fracking remained, even if operational best practices were implemented.

“The consequences of a contamination incident have been understated in the report, as there are limited to no options for remediating groundwater and soil once contamination has occurred.”

You can listen back to an audio-visual presentation from the PCE’s media briefing here and read some of the extensive media coverage here.

Leveson report looks at science

The year-long inquiry into press standards in the UK sparked by the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World has reported back – and included mention of improving science coverage.

Lord Justice Leveson, who led the inquiry, has called for more robust self-regulation of the media, backed up with legislation to make processes and decisions legally binding.

The findings have been generally well-received, and have broad implications for the media in the UK and, as a result of the large quantity of newswire copy sourced from Britain, New Zealand too.

The Inquiry was used as an opportunity to look at a wide range of issues – including coverage of science, with UK Science Media Centre founder Fiona Fox presenting oral and written submissions to the Inquiry.

Part of those submissions included a 10-point checklist for science and health reporters, which has gained Leveson’s endorsement in the final report.

He said the recommendations were “commendable for their utility as well as their succinctness” and that any new regulator should “bear them closely in mind”.

Fox said the self-regulatory aspects of what Leveson recommends, including the science guidelines, may encourage take up of the standards in newsrooms.

“The kind of science reporting that Leveson extols can only be done by newspapers with the resources to keep their existing specialist reporters, and right now the declining sales of newspapers is as much of a threat to good science coverage as sloppy standards or editorial hysteria,” writes Fox in the Guardian.

“No one has come up with a good avoidance strategy for this collision course, and journalistic quality will be an indisputable casualty”.

The science and health reporting checklist the UK SMC submitted to the Leveson Inquiry can be accessed here.

Scientists rack up accolades

It has been a busy couple of weeks for science awards ceremonies with the PM’s Science Prizes capping off a busy awards season.

The Science Media Centre would like to congratulate all of the scientists, teachers and students who have been honoured in these awards and particularly those who have been recognised for their contribution to science media communication.

PM’s Science Prize winners

Royal Society Research Honours

Association of Scientists award winners

Quoted: Dominion Post

“The Government cannot abdicate its responsibilities. It must set the conditions under which fracking can be employed and it must ensure they are met”.

Editorial on fracking

SMC summer internship on offer


The Science Media Centre is looking for a summer intern / volunteer to lend a hand with day-to-day operations of the centre.

The successful candidate will join a fast-paced, savvy editorial team finding unexpected angles on science stories for the media and tracking down experts who can offer an evidence-based steer on breaking news and controversial topics.

You’ll need to be:

• a confident, skilled and snappy writer

• interested in science, environment, health, tech, ag and other research-driven topics

• solidly-skilled in website content management; reliable and highly self-motivated

• available to help out in our central Wellington office for a minimum of 15 hours a week in Jan-Feb 2013.

For more information, contact Dacia Herbulock at the Science Media Centre on 04 499 5476. To apply, please send an expression of interest and CV with “SMC summer internship” in the subject line, no later than 3 Dec 2013.

More information about this opportunity can be found here.

On the science radar…

Liquid repelling shoes, DNA Lego®, musical mind synch, lightening death decrease, big black holes.

Focus on freshwater science

Water quality in New Zealand’s lakes and rivers – a high profile issue of late – will be 100% in the spotlight at a conference in Dunedin next week.

The 2012 Annual Conference of the New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society is running all next week at the University of Otago.

The conference theme, ‘Beyond the Limits‘, aims to “provoke debate and discussion about the capacity of freshwater ecosystems in New Zealand and elsewhere to cope with current and future intensification of land use.”

The Science Media Centre will be holding an online media briefing for journalists Monday morning, featuring several conference speakers discussing core freshwater issues and research presented at the meeting.

The briefing will feature Dr Mike Joy (Massey University), Prof David Hamilton (University of Waikato), and visiting Professor David Dudgeon (University of Hong Kong).

SMC registered journalists should look for an invite in their inboxes or contact the Science Media Centre for more details.

New from the SMC

Reflections on Science:

Climate Commitments: Climate scientist Prof Jim Salinger calls on NZ to walk the climate talk in the NZ Herald.

Food security and NZ: Prof Jacqueline Rowarth writes about NZ’s role to play in a food-scarce world.

PM’s Awards: The Prime Minster’s Science Prizes were awarded in Wellington this week.


PCE Fracking report: Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright released her interim report on fracking. Watch the media briefing and read independent reaction here.

In the news:

Fracking media: Read a round up of media coverage of the Commissioner’s fracking report.

Experts respond:

WMO climate statement: Scientists comment on the latest statement from the World Meteorological Organisation, highlighting high temperatures and ice loss.

Sciblogs highlights

Some of the highlights from this week’s posts:

Sciblogger trifecta – Congratulations to Scibloggers Prof Shaun Hendy and Dr Siouxsie Wiles who between them took out three of the top 2012 Science Communication awards. Read more here.

A Measure of Science

& Infectious Thoughts

Sasquatch DNA!!! not so fast, pardner – A little incredulity can go along way according to Alison Campbell, who is dubious of claims Bigfoot DNA was found on bagel in Michigan.

Bio Blog

Undiscovery in physics – A disappearing island gets Marcus Wilson thinking about the ‘undiscoveries‘ and the history of physics.

Physics Stop

A fictional timeline of the future – Robert Hickson highlights the way we see the future through fiction and how it has changed over time.


Mike Joy isn’t a lone voice – just a loud one – Ecologist Mike Joy’s views on the environment are backed by other scientists, writes Peter Griffin.

Griffins Gadgets

Research highlights

Please note: hyperlinks point, where possible, to the relevant abstract or paper.

Autism-pollution link suggested: Exposure to traffic pollution during the first year of a child’s life has been suggested to be associated with an increased risk of autism, according to US researchers. The study found kids living in high level pollutant areas were three times more likely to have autism than those in areas of low exposure. However, experts contacted by the UK SMC treated the findings with caution.

Archives of General Psychiatry

Bouncy castles caution: A new study has found that from 1995 to 2010 there was a 15-fold increase in the number of children with inflatable ‘bouncer’-related injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments. “The medical and public health community has yet to provide recommendations on the safe use of inflatable bouncers,” say the authors, who note that there are national safety guidelines for other entertainment devices such as trampolines.


Gripping spinal injury improvement: By stimulating nerves in the wrist and motor control centre of the brain simultaneously, researcher have shown that functional connections between the two in spinal injury patients can be improved, at least temporarily. After the noninvasive treatment, the majority of the participants in the study could exert more force with their hand muscles and displayed greater manual dexterity.

Current Biology

Whales rolling in the deep: Researchers have for the first time documented blue whales performing 360-degree rolling manoeuvres during lunges to capture mouthfuls of krill. Such an ambush predatory strategy may help whales target the densest portion of a krill patch and increase energy gain during foraging. Images and video available.

Biology Letters

Cracking croc scales: Many reptile scales grow from genetically-controlled processes, but the crocodile’s head scales don’t follow this nearly universal rule. New research shows that crocodile face and jaw scales seem to emerge from the physical cracking of skin during growth, which creates distinct, random, non-overlapping polygonal shapes.


Policy updates

Some of the policy highlights from this week:

DOC Boards: Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson is seeking proud New Zealanders to stand for their local conservation boards and make a difference in their community. Nominations to all thirteen conservation boards are being sought.

Library renewed: The National Library building on Molesworth Street was officially reopened by Prime Minister John Key early this morning.The $65 million refurbishment has taken three years to complete and has involved extensive remodelling of the interior as well as a new roof.

Antarctic Board: Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully announced three appointments to Antarctica New Zealand’s management board. Carolyn Burns, Tony O’Brien and Rob Fyfe will serve three-year terms on the board responsible for managing New Zealand’s programme in Antarctica.

Synthetic cannabis: Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne today announced a Temporary Class Drug Notice banning EAM-2201, a substance found in tested samples of the ‘K2’ synthetic cannabis product.

Upcoming sci-tech events

Beyond the limits – The 2012 Annual Conference of the New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society – 3-7 December, Dunedin.

12th International Conference on Frontiers of Polymers and Advanced Materials (12th ICFPAM) – 8-13 December, Auckland.

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

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