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Despite improvements in stroke prevention and management, the number of strokes in New Zealand will increase by 40 per cent over the next 10 years, a researcher has predicted.

This increase will come as a result due to our ageing and growing population and bring a need for more hospital beds and staff resources, writes Associate Professor Anna Ranta in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

Head of the Department of Medicine at the University of Otago, Wellington, Dr Ranta’s projections suggest strokes could increase to 12,000 per year by 2028. “We knew it would go up but didn’t expect the increase to be quite this high,” she said.

“The total number of strokes will increase because the population will increase, and the disproportionate increase in people over 65 with 75 per cent of strokes occurring in that age group,” she told Radio NZ.

“Because these figures are growing due to our population growing, it is imperative that the health sector plans ahead and implements effective and appropriate prevention and post-stroke intervention strategies to manage the rise in stroke burden.”

The publication was covered by local media, including:

Radio NZ: ‘Wake-up call’: NZ stroke rates predicted to rise 40 percent
NZ Herald: Number of stroke sufferers could skyrocket in next decade
Stuff.co.nz: ‘Wake-up call’ study shows strokes could increase 40 per cent by 2028
Radio NZ: Numbers of people suffering strokes to rise – report

The post Strokes expected to increase – In the News appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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The Government’s proposed Zero Carbon Bill lays out how they plan to transition New Zealand to a low-emission economy by 2050.

The public consultation process on the Bill opened on June 7th, with the discussion document asking citizens what they think the 2050 emissions targets should be. Each target has different implications for New Zealand’s climate and economy; the options are:

  • net-zero carbon dioxide only
  • net-zero long-lived gases (e.g. carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide) and stabilised short-lived gases like methane
  • or net-zero emissions for all greenhouse gases.

The Science Media Centre gathered expert reaction on the proposed 2050 emissions targets, please feel free to use these comments in your reporting.

Associate Professor Ivan Diaz-Rainey, Co-Director, Otago Energy Research Centre, University of Otago, comments:

“The Zero Carbon Bill will be an important stepping stone (see my previous comments) and provides context which should allow for the enactment of new climate policies or alterations of existing policy instruments (such as the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)).

“It does not, however, guarantee the policies we need will be enacted. It also comes a decade after the UK enacted a similar piece of legislation and two decades since the Kyoto protocol was signed. We are still talking about how New Zealand should respond to climate change, whereas many countries have had strong policies in place for well over a decade.

“The options in the consultation for the Zero Carbon Bill underline this. They are consulting on whether to replace the ‘current target of 50 per cent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050’ by either:

  • Net zero carbon dioxide: reducing net carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2050
  • net zero long-lived gases and stabilised short-lived gases: reduce emissions of long-lived gases to net zero by 2050, while also stabilising emissions of short-lived gases
  • net zero emissions: net zero emissions across all greenhouse gases.

“These are fundamentally very different options and at the heart of these differences are how ‘short lived’ agricultural emissions will be treated. There is no question that agricultural emissions are challenging, both in terms of measurement (as highlighted by Professor David Frame’s recent paper) and in terms of mitigation.

“But, surely, option 1, where agricultural methane or nitrous oxide emission are effectively excluded, is not a realistic or equitable option? Professor Frame suggests an approach somewhere between option 2 and 3 which does leave some emphasis on reducing methane, but places greater emphasis on CO2.

“This is probably the right answer and it will require major changes to the ETS (so more policy uncertainty). But overall, it feels like we are still standing at the starting line asking where and how far we should run to shed some kilos, while many others have been running, and some running hard, for quite some time.

“Could we not at least jog (have policies that start to reduce CO2, e.g. strong incentives for electric vehicles and domestic energy efficiency) whilst we continue to figure out exactly what we are going to do with agriculture?”

No conflict of interest.

Distinguished Professor Robert McLachlan, Applied Mathematics, Massey University, comments:

“Short-lived gases – such as methane from cows and sheep, but also generated to a lesser extent in rubbish dumps and by the oil and gas industry – are a flow pollutant. Emitting them at a steady rate leads to steady levels in the atmosphere.

“Long-lived gases – such as carbon dioxide emitted by burning coal, oil, and gas, and nitrous oxide emitted by animal manure and chemical fertilisers – are a stock pollutant. Emitting them at a steady rate leads to steadily increasing levels in the atmosphere.

“Current international rules include all these gases. New Zealand has a particular interest in separating short- and long-lived gases because we make a lot of money from activities that emit the short-lived gas methane.

“The first proposed target (net zero carbon dioxide by 2050) could be viewed as weaker than our current target (“50 by 50”, a 50% reduction of all greenhouse gases on 1990 levels by 2050) adopted in 2011, because it would allow unlimited increases in agricultural emissions.

“The second proposed target (net zero long-lived and stable short-lived gases), is roughly similar in ambition to “50 by 50”. The third, a true net zero target, is significantly more ambitious.

“Nevertheless, modelling commissioned by the Productivity Commission indicates that it can be achieved. Not only that, they found that net zero was not any harder for New Zealand than for other countries.

“There are good reasons for including flow pollutants in the target. New forests, which we expect a lot of in all scenarios, are analogous to flows, because the carbon stored by the forest does not build up indefinitely. Methane is responsible for a significant part, about a quarter, of current warming.

“Cutting methane emissions provide an immediate decrease in temperature; cutting carbon dioxide emissions does not. This may be significant as climate change impacts increase nonlinearly and we approach tipping points. Some ways of cutting agricultural and waste emissions are known already we need an incentive to adopt them.”

No conflict of interest.

Professor Ralph Sims, Director, Centre for Energy Research, Massey University, comments:

“The latest science projections are that we are currently on track to exceed 1.5oC warming in around only 20 years’ time. Therefore public consultation on the proposed Zero Carbon Bill, together with the need for an independent Climate Change Commission, is timely – but in many ways is long overdue.

“There is no question that long-lived CO2 has to be reduced by urgently weaning ourselves off fossil fuels. Recent reports from the Royal SocietyVivid Economicsand the Productivity Commission have shown how this can be achieved.

“Planting more forests on to marginal pasture land will buy some time to phase out coal, oil and gas but can only be a temporary option.

“Nitrous oxide arising mainly from nitrogen fertilisers and animal urine is also a long-lived gas so it will have to be reduced, but having a much smaller total warming impact than annual CO2 emissions, it can be given a lower priority for now.

“Reducing methane emissions from sheep, deer and cattle (as well as wetlands, forest burning and paddy rice production elsewhere) is more debatable.

“Consultation on the Bill includes discussion around methane (CH4) being treated differently as it is a relatively short-lived gas in the atmosphere compared with CO2 for which each molecule emitted can last for hundreds of years.

“A simple analogy for cumulating long-lived CO2 emissions is a bath of water slowly filling up as the tap keeps dripping till it eventually overflows – (which is where CO2 emissions are now at, being around 410 parts per million – highest level for 800,000 years – and rising). However, for the methane bath, the plug is poorly fitted so some water continually leaks out as the dripping tap continues. If the leakage is at the same rate as the tap is dripping, then the water level in the bath remains stable. If the tap is turned on a little further (i.e. the flow of methane emissions increases due to farming more ruminant animals for example), then the water level will slowly rise a little and the global warming impact will be greater. So the argument is being made that stabilising the current stocks of methane in the atmosphere would be sufficient, at least in the short term.

“This would take the pressure off the farming sector having to reduce its emissions as in spite of much research, identified solutions to date give only small reductions, mostly taking some time to initiate (such as breeding animals that produce lower levels of emissions or modifying gut bacteria).

“However, the very same methane gas also enters the atmosphere from leakage at coal mines, natural gas fields and pipelines. Indeed NASA has recently confirmed this is the main source of the concentrations of methane that had mysteriously increased in the atmosphere over the past decade or so – especially from fracking.

“As methane molecules break down in the atmosphere over a decade or two, it produces CO2. If the methane is bio-based, it can be argued that the resulting CO2 is recycled back through the growing pasture or rice plants. However, if it is fossil-based methane, then the resulting CO2 is no different from that released from fossil fuel combustion.

“Therefore any mitigation policy that is less stringent on agricultural methane emissions has to consider its impact on fossil methane emissions that cause greater warming. In New Zealand, agricultural methane dominates but elsewhere fossil methane does.

“Under our nationally determined contribution — where countries have stated under the Paris agreement what their emissions reduction will be by 2030 (NZ target is 11.2% below 1990 level or 30% below 2005 level which is same thing) — we can use any means to reduce emissions as deemed most appropriate. But the international debate about whether methane can be treated differently to CO2 will be more challenging.

“Overall, the opportunity provided for businesses, organisations and individuals to consult on the Zero Carbon Bill is commendable – and much credit must go to Generation Zero for pushing hard for the government to support their initiative over the past year or more. The aim of Government to have the Zero Carbon Act and Climate Change Commission in place at some time around the end of this year should be supported. It is encouraging that the National opposition is showing some support as there has to be cross-party agreement to give long-term certainty. In this regard, the UK model has proved to be highly successful over the past 10 years.

“Given the continuing annual increases in NZ’s net greenhouse gas emissions, and the failure of the Emissions Trading Scheme to curb them, stopping offshore oil/gas exploration was a brave start. Further leadership from Government through implementing strong policies is now essential and the Zero Carbon Act will hopefully provide this before it becomes too late.”

No conflict of interest.

Barry Barton, Professor, Director of the Centre for Environmental, Resources and Energy Law, University of Waikato, comments:

“The government proposals will bring welcome regularity, rationality, and openness to the process of setting targets and then delivering on targets, which in truth is the hard part.

‘The process of carbon budgeting is essential.

‘We should also look for legal requirements for policy action to implement the targets. We should look for action across a wide range of sectors (transport, housing, process heat, etc).

“What each sector will contribute, in kilotonnes of reduction, needs to be clear for each budget period.

“We need rules for an information base that guides our choices of different policies and pathways in behaviour and technology.

“We should look for clear relationships between these processes and the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme. (For example, the role of targets in the NZETS needs to be clarified.)

“Good law of this kind can make it easier to produce better climate change policy. It could have a lasting quasi-constitutional role.”

No conflict of interest declared. 

The post Zero Carbon Bill – Expert Reaction appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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Video game ‘loot boxes’ – boxes with randomised rewards inside that players can purchase – can meet the structural and psychological criteria for gambling, according to New Zealand and Australian researchers.

In a comment piece published today in Nature Human Behaviour, Massey University’s Dr Aaron Drummond and University of Tasmania’s Dr Jim Sauer wrote about their work examining 22 loot box-containing video games released in 2016 and 2017. The games all allowed players to purchase loot boxes with real money; ten met all the criteria for gambling and five allowed players to cash out their winnings.

Considering six of the ten games that meet the gambling criteria – and all of the games that allowed converting winnings into cash – were rated as appropriate for players aged 13-years-old or younger, Dr Drummond said “parents need to be aware that some games contain gambling-like mechanisms”.

“Understanding the psychological risks of mechanics such as loot boxes is essential to ensuring that the New Zealand game industry remains at the forefront of ethical and sustainable video game development.”

The publication has been covered by local and international media, including:

Radio NZ: Are video games introducing teenagers to gambling?
NZ Herald: Are video game ‘loot boxes’ making our teens gamblers?
The New Yorker: The rise of the video-game gambler
Kotaku: Psychologists Argue Loot Boxes In Some Games Are ‘Akin To Gambling’

The post Gaming loot boxes meet gambling criteria – In the News appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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Climate change is not a partisan issue, and the need to take big steps to reduce emissions is urgent. So the opposition support for a Climate Change Commission is very welcome, writes climate scientist James Renwick on The Spinoff.

An excerpt (read in full):

In climate policy-land, things are all go here in New Zealand. The coalition government has got its Zero Carbon Bill out for public consultation, no new offshore oil exploration permits will be issued, and the Climate Change Commission is being set up. And now the leader of the opposition National Party, Simon Bridges, has come out in support of the Climate Change Commission and is looking for cross-party agreement on climate policy.

Wow. What a difference a year (and an election) makes. Not too long ago, the National government was unsupportive of the idea of a commission, was disinclined to shift climate change policy much, and then prime minister Bill English seemed pretty lukewarm about the whole climate change thing in general. Wherever Simon Bridges’ new passion for climate change action has come from, it is very welcome. Climate change is not a partisan issue, and the need to take significant action to reduce emissions is urgent. If all parties in parliament can agree on a way forward, there is a lot of hope that we’ll see meaningful and long-lasting policies implemented that genuinely reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

So, this is a big deal.

Keep reading…

The post Why National’s climate U-turn is such a big deal — James Renwick appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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Antarctica has lost about 3 trillion tonnes of ice since 1992, which corresponds to a sea-level rise of around 8 millimetres.

Unusual iceberg at Rothera Research Station, Antarctic Peninsula. Credit: Andrew Shepherd, University of Leeds.

An analysis published in Nature shows warm oceans have driven a tripling of ice-loss in Western Antarctica between 1992 and 2017. A collection of international researchers, known as the Ice sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE) team, used 24 different satellite-based estimates to pull together this huge analysis on what impact warming is having on the coldest continent, and what we should do about it.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the research, which has been covered by national media, including NZ Herald, RNZ, Stuff and Newshub

Professor Tim Naish, Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, comments:

“The perspective paper, Choosing the future of Antarctica, makes the point that human impacts on Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are well underway as a consequence of climate change, pollution of our oceans, resource extraction and tourism. It’s incorrect to think of Antarctica as this pristine unspoiled environment. Microplastics have made their way across the polar front and are now in the Southern Ocean. Tourism is having more and more impact as visitor numbers swell, two non-native invasive species of plant have colonised the warming Antarctic Peninsula, and warming oceans around the edge of the West Antarctic ice sheet are causing it to melt at an accelerating rate, contributing to rising sea-levels.

“The paper presents an assessment of two potential futures for Antarctica from the perspective of an observer 50 years in the future looking back. There is bad news and good news. The good news is that there is still time to prevent major meltdown of the ice sheets, and other far-reaching dangerous impacts, if nations collectively reduce their emissions in line with the Paris Climate Agreement target of 2C warming above pre-industrial levels. The bad news is that time is short and emissions need to peak in the next decade and reduce to zero before the end of the century. Urgent action is needed. Put simply if we cannot collectively tackle climate change, then it’s unlikely we will maintain Antarctica as a place for peace, nature and science.

“The authors of this paper have been recipients of the prestigious Tinker Muse Prize in Antarctic Science and Policy worth USD$100,000. Their expertise spans climate change, marine and terrestrial ecology, oceanography, glaciology, and the implications for policy.”

Conflict of interest statement: I am a contributor on the perspective paper Choosing the Future of Antarctica. 

Dr Craig Stevens, Principal Scientist, Marine Physics, NIWA and Associate Professor of Physics, University of Auckland, comments:

“This set of studies represents a landmark, both in terms of Antarctic, and climate, science. It brings together a huge team of researchers looking at one of the major challenges facing humanity – how much of the Antarctic ice sheet is melting and raising sea level.

“It makes use of a remarkable set of tools – mainly made possible by satellite observations over the past few decades. I think we sometimes take for granted the understanding made possible by these remarkable instruments orbiting the planet.

“The papers also makes clear how vital the role of the ocean, in particular the massive Antarctic Circumpolar Current, is in controlling present and future ice melting. In a similar vein to satellite science, the ever-increasing data set from ARGO, robotic ocean drifters, is dramatically changing what we know about the oceans.

“The combined studies give us a solid grounding in the wide range of impacts these changes will have, on a time frame that is in the lifetime of a significant portion of readers, and certainly in the lifetimes of their children and grandchildren. It lays out a clear pair of end-members based on how seriously we, as a species, take the impending impacts on our global climate system.

“Because the changes for our planet are unprecedented and wide-ranging, the 2070 narratives are especially useful and point to the stark differences in our near-future depending on how we address greenhouse gas emissions. I think the authors could have gone even further to consider the socio-economic impacts on coastal cities of this rising sea level.

“The synthesis also motivates where science needs to make more direct observations of ice and oceans. This study synthesis largely combines remotely sensed data and identifies hot-spots as well as areas and mechanics that are uncertain. Science at the poles is never cheap, but the importance of better understanding our future world means this investment is vital.”

No conflicts of interest.

Associate Professor Nick Golledge, Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, and senior research fellow, GNS Science, comments:

“The new IMBIE study provides startling confirmation that the worlds largest ice sheet – and the largest potential contributor to sea level rise – is losing ice at an accelerating rate.”

What does this rising rate of ice loss tell us about global warming? 
“The acceleration in Antarctic ice sheet loss indicates not just that warmer ocean temperatures are melting the base of the ice shelves, but also that the grounded ice that feeds the ice shelves is thinning, accelerating, and retreating. These three signals are consistent with theoretical predictions of a ‘runaway retreat’ of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which may be irreversible over human timescales.”

What do we need to be doing more of? 
“As individuals, we need to acknowledge the impact that our lifestyle choices have on the environment. As a society we need to rapidly transition to a low-carbon footprint, and the easiest way to do that is to adopt an entirely plant-based diet.”

What needs to change in the short, medium and long-term?
“In the short term we need to stop pretending that this is someone else’s problem. We all need to take responsibility. Over the medium and long-term we need government policy to support the transition to an environmentally responsible and low-carbon economy, with commitments from all industry sectors to invest in ecologically sound practices.”

No conflicts of interest.

Professor Christina Hulbe, Dean of the School of Surveying, University of Otago, comments:

“The new collection of research and review papers paint a clear and coherent picture about the things that keep Antarctic scientists up at night.

“Antarctic glaciers and ice sheets are, collectively, losing mass at an increasing rate. Sea ice both causes and responds to changes in the atmosphere, ocean, and land-based ice and it’s changing in ways that are not completely understood. What happens in Antarctica does not stay there: ice cores reveal tight global connections as well as the unprecedented nature of the anthropogenic CO2 emission.

“We should prioritise monitoring in as many parts of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean system as we can, we should be multidisciplinary in our approach, and we should have a multi-decade to century scale plan.

“It’s clear that massive change is now underway in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean but I think it would be a mistake to read these new articles as all doom and gloom. While some amount of change is already locked in, there are always choices to be made and it’s still possible to avert the worst of the climate projections.

“Certainly, there is more we need to learn and the farther forward we go in time, the less certain the projections become. But I’ve never been at an Antarctic or climate conference where people said ‘that happened slower than I thought it would’. The system always seems to surprise us in the opposite direction. There is nothing here to be complacent about.”

No conflicts of interest.

Associate Professor Rob McKay, Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington comments:

“The latest mass balance findings indicate loss of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is continuing to accelerate. While the 3mm of sea level rise seen over the past 5 years seems relatively small when taken at face value, it is the acceleration that is of greatest concern. This has the potential to continue accelerating, with geological evidence and computer models both indicating the rates of sea level rise relating to ice sheet melt can be more than ten times this rate in a warming climate.”

No conflicts declared.

The post Antarctic ice loss – Expert Reaction appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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Applications are open and eligibility criteria have been updated for the third round of the Aotearoa New Zealand Science Journalism Fund.

Grants ranging in value from $500 to $5000 are available to fund reporting on new topics including Māori perspectives on predator control and diversity in science, with preference given to projects that would otherwise be unlikely to attract resourcing.

The opportunity is now open to more applicants under new criteria for the fund.

“We’ve heard from people with great ideas, but who didn’t quite meet the narrow eligibility criteria for the fund,” says Dr Rebecca Priestley, the Fund’s founder and winner of the 2016 Prime Minister’s Science Communicator’s Prize.

“We’ve taken this feedback on board and have widened its scope. We’re hoping we’ll get applications from more freelance writers, early career journalists, and potentially people who think of themselves more as science communicators rather than journalists.”

She says the fund is also keen to hear from a more culturally diverse group of applicants, including Māori media, and hopes that this round’s themes will have broader appeal.

Funding is available under the themes:

Māori and pest control – $5000
Aotearoa now has an ambitious goal to become predator-free by 2050.  What does this mean for Māori communities? How does this goal fit with a Māori worldview? Preference will be given to stories focusing on efforts to control mammalian predators. Funded by New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge.

Whose science? – $5000
Efforts to broaden participation in science and smash outdated stereotypes about “what a scientist looks like” have gained momentum in recent years. We invite projects that focus on diverse communities involved in creating science. Funded by the Science Communicators Association of New Zealand.

Agricultural greenhouse gases and options to reduce agricultural emissions – $3700
In New Zealand, emissions from agriculture account for about half of all our greenhouse gases.  We’re looking for ideas that explore the topic and reduction opportunities, and particularly encourage applications that include use of innovative media such as video and infographics.  Funded by the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre.

Science on Ice – $3600
Antarctica’s past can tell us about the future. Its biology provides an early warning system for environmental change. The icy continent drives the global climate system. There Is $3,600 available in this theme to fund a story or stories that feature New Zealand research in Antarctica. Funded by Antarctica New Zealand.

Applications will close 27 July. 

This announcement follows on from two successful previous rounds since the fund’s launch in 2017. Topics covered range from sea level rise to privacy of data, to robots in healthcare and gene editing.

You can read more about completed projects here and here. Additional funded projects are underway and due to be completed by 31 August this year.

“It’s been exciting seeing how enthusiastic New Zealand science organisations are to support journalists and science communicators in their work,” says Dr Priestley.

Any organisations wanting to support the fund, please contact: sciencejournalismfund@gmail.com.

News consumers now also have the opportunity to support the Aotearoa-New Zealand Science Journalism Fund through PressPatron, a crowdfunding platform allowing readers to make contributions towards the type of content they love consuming.

About the Aotearoa New Zealand Science Journalism Fund   

The Aotearoa New Zealand Science Journalism Fund is the first independent journalism fund dedicated to furthering coverage of the science-related issues that impact New Zealanders. The fund was set up by Rebecca Priestley, winner of the 2016 Prime Minister’s Science Communicator’s Prize, in association with the Science Media Centre, to support journalism that highlights the science that underpins, or informs, major issues facing our society.

CONTACT: 

Dr Rebecca Priestley
sciencejournalismfund@gmail.com

Visit www.sciencejournalismfund.nz to find out more about the Aotearoa-New Zealand Science Journalism Fund

Visit www.presspatron.com/science-journalism-fund.html to make a contribution to the Fund.

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This morning, Jacinda Ardern announced Profesor Juliet Gerrard will replace Sir Peter Gluckman as the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor on July 1, serving a three-year term. 

A biochemist, Prof Gerrard is the Associate Dean of Research at the University of Auckland and previously served as chair of the Marsden Fund Council.

Sir Peter Gluckman has held the role since it was established in 2009 and his influence will have a lasting legacy. Dr Andrew Cleland, Chief Executive of the Royal Society Te Apārangi told the SMC: “As the recent response from the Government to Sir Peter Gluckman’s methamphetamine contamination report shows, the role of Chief Science Advisor is a critical one for New Zealand to ensure that policy is backed by evidence.”

In the press conference, Prof Gerrard said: “he and I look very different and sound very different, and we’re going to have very different approaches to this role. But we absolutely share a common way of thinking and a belief that… careful assessment of scientific evidence informs good decisions.”

The latest report to come from the Office was released this morning on youth offending. Produced by the Science Advisor to the Justice sector – Associate Profesor Ian Lambie – the report calls on the Government to adopt a ‘developmental crime prevention’ model to prevent kids entering the ‘prison pipeline’. This follows an earlier report from Dr Lambie stating that ‘tough on crime’ policies don’t help our prison system. Dr Lambie told Newshub “the most effective and cost-effective way to reduce prison costs is to prevent kids getting into crime at the earliest opportunity.”

Associate Professor Joe Boden from the University of Otago told Mark Sainsbury on RadioLIVE that the report outlines a series of interventions that can prevent youth offending “starting in the preschool years and working all the way up through adolescence”.

However, ‘tough on crime’ policies win a lot of support with the voter base. Emeritus Professor from Victoria University of Wellington, Tony Taylor, told Stuff.co.nz: “matters related to delinquency, crime, disorder, aggression, drug-taking, family violence and all the rest of it have been used at election times to create fear,” noting that the report confirms that “boot camps have been absolutely no good and made those on the criminal track more determined.”

As Dr Boden told RadioLIVE, “one of the main issues is how you are able to sell to the public the fact that there will need to be a significant investment early on that’s probably not going to show a payoff for 10, 15, 20 years… there’s going to need to be some general agreement among the parties that this is the way to go.”

The SMC gathered expert comments on Prof Gerrard’s appointment and the youth offending report, both of which were covered widely by local media. 

TVNZ: Prime Minister’s new Chief Science Advisor announced by Jacinda Ardern
Stuff.co.nz: PM Jacinda Ardern announces new science advisor
NBR (paywalled): Juliet Gerrard appointed Prime Minister’s chief science advisor
TVNZ: ‘I’m absolutely thrilled’ – PM announces new Chief Science Advisor

Newshub: Early prevention the key to reducing youth crime – chief science advisor’s report
NZ Herald: Forget boot camps – early intervention is the key to reducing youth offending, new study says
RadioLIVE: Early intervention the key to reduce youth crime – report
Stuff.co.nz: Office of PM’s Chief Science Advisor argues for developmental crime prevention model for young offenders
RadioNZ: Tackling youth crime: Intervening earlier is better

The post PM’s new Chief Science Advisor — In The News appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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Prof Juliet Gerrard, Associate Dean of Research at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Science, has been appointed as the new Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor.

Prof Gerrard replaces Sir Peter Gluckman who has held the post since its establishment in 2008. A biochemist, Prof Gerrard is the Associate Dean of Research at the University of Auckland and previously served as chair of the Marsden Fund Council.

She will begin in the role on July 1 for a three-year term.

The Science Media Centre gathered expert reaction on the appointment. Please feel free to use these comments in your reporting.

Professor Shaun Hendy, Director of Te Pūnaha Matatini at the University of Auckland, comments:

“The University of Auckland’s Professor Juliet Gerrard is a brilliant choice for the next Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor.

“Professor Gerrard is an internationally renowned scientist, and has worked in both the CRI and the university sector, so she brings an extensive network of relationships across the science sector. She worked closely and successfully with MBIE as Chair of the Marsden Fund for two terms, but will now need to broaden her relationships across government. The established network of Departmental Science Advisors will no doubt facilitate this greatly.

“At least in terms of policy advice, Sir Peter Gluckman has proved much more effective under the current government than the last (e.g. his hard-hitting report on meth contamination), so there is an excellent opportunity for Professor Gerrard to build on this. I have been an advocate for a Parliamentary Commission for Science because of its independence from the government of the day, but if the Prime Minister is willing to accept free, frank, and open advice from her Chief Science Advisor then Professor Gerrard has the skills, background, and ability to make a real difference in this role.”

Conflict of interest statement: I am a colleague and friend of Professor Gerrard.

Dr Andrew Cleland FRSNZ, Chief Executive, Royal Society Te Apārangi, comments:

“On behalf of Royal Society Te Apārangi, we are extremely pleased that Professor Juliet Gerrard FRSNZ has been appointed to the position of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor. Not only is Professor Gerrard a first-rate biochemist with expertise in fundamental and applied research, she has a high standing in the New Zealand research community as well as a significant international reputation.

“Through her involvement with the Marsden Fund Council, the fund which supports New Zealand’s best investigator-initiated research, she has a strong appreciation of the depth and breadth of research occurring throughout New Zealand and the needs of communities. She served on the Marsden Fund Council for 10 years and has been Marsden Fund Chair for the last six years, finishing her term at the end of last year, during which time she lead significant changes. She also has relevant governance experience with research organisations.

“As the recent response from the Government to Sir Peter Gluckman’s methamphetamine contamination report shows, the role of Chief Science Advisor is a critical one for New Zealand to ensure that policy is backed by evidence.

“During his term Sir Peter Gluckman FRS FRSNZ has not only made the case clear for why science advice is so critical but has also produced a large number of important reports on topics of great importance to New Zealand.

“Sir Peter has made a huge contribution to science advice both nationally and internationally. New Zealand is now held up as an exemplar of a good practice system of proving science advice to government.

“We have confidence that Professor Gerrard will continue and build on Sir Peter’s legacy. There will continue to be challenging policy issues where choices need to be evidence-based. We believe Professor Gerrard will pick up this challenge in a positive and influential manner.”

No conflict of interest declared.

Professor David Bilkey, Department of Psychology, University of Otago, Chair of the Marsden Fund Council, comments:

“I am very pleased to hear of Juliet’s appointment. Juliet has already achieved some tremendous outcomes for Science in New Zealand, including in her recent tenure as Chair of the Marsden Fund Council, the body that supports cutting-edge, investigator-led research in New Zealand. She managed to make great progress in this role, adopting a positive and optimistic approach.

“I am sure she will bring her approachable attitude and clear-thinking mindset to this new position, to the benefit of all New Zealanders.

“At the same time, we should all acknowledge the fine work of Professor Peter Gluckman, New Zealand’s first PM’s Science Advisor. He and his team have contributed greatly to New Zealand in facilitating an understanding of science, in opening discussion about its role in our future, and in ensuring that public sector decision-making is based on sound evidence.”

No conflict of interest declared.

Associate Professor Justin Hodgkiss, Co-Director of the MacDiarmid Institute, comments:

“Professor Juliet Gerrard is an exceptional scientist and has played an integral role within the MacDiarmid Institute since 2008.

“Her multi-disciplinary work within the Institute brings together materials engineers, biochemists, chemists and physicists to create an entirely new class of hybrid materials.

“Professor Gerrard has an exemplary track record of bringing people together in many areas, including in her successful tenure as Chair of the Marsden Fund.

“She understands the breadth and depth of New Zealand science, encompasses a big picture perspective, has worked across all areas of New Zealand science and earned respect at all levels along the way. Professor Gerrard embodies what both Alan MacDiarmid and Paul Callaghan knew; that science is about people.

“Professor Gerrard not only excels at communicating science but she has also spun out her own company – Hi-Aspect – which produces protein nanofibres for the medical and life-sciences markets.

“A key aspect of her new role will be to provide advice on science issues. Professor Gerrard has the breadth and mana to carry on the work that Sir Peter Gluckman has begun, including cultivating a network of international science advisors to develop best practice science advice.

“I congratulate Professor Juliet Gerrard and wish her all the best in her new role.”

No conflict of interest declared.

Professor Wendy Lawson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the College of Science at the University of Canterbury, comments:

“We’re delighted to hear Professor Gerrard will be the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor. A highly respected former University of Canterbury (UC) professor, she was instrumental in setting up the Biomolecular Interaction Centre (BIC) – an interdisciplinary research centre based in UC’s College of Science.

“She continues to be involved in BIC through research collaborations. As a successful woman scientist, Professor Gerard is a role model to emerging female scientists. We very much look forward to the fresh new approach that we know Juliet will bring to this role and we wish her all very best.”

No conflict of interest declared.

The post PM’s new Chief Science Advisor – Expert reaction appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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Early intervention can help keep prison numbers down and get children off the prison pipeline, according to a new report from the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor.

In the second report in a series about New Zealand’s prison population, Science Advisor to the Justice sector Assoc Prof Ian Lambie explores youth offending in New Zealand and methods to prevent unnecessary imprisonment.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the report. Please feel free to use these comments in your reporting.

Associate Professor Joe Boden, Dept of Psychological Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch comments:

“The most important finding in this report is that early identification and intervention is absolutely key, and is incredibly cost effective. The money spent and the resources invested into helping at-risk families and children who have early evidence of behavioural problems – these things are expensive to deal with and labour and time intensive, but they cost a lot less than what happens when someone ends up as a career criminal.

“Things like boot camps are basically just criminal academies. The offenders who were interviewed said that themselves – putting young offenders together in groups allows them to share ideas about offending.

“The transformation they describe in the report is going to take a long time, because we are talking about a change that will take a generation. If we say we want to start intervening with 3, 4, or 5-year-olds, which the report does state, then we are really talking about savings that are not going to reach fruition for 10, 15, 20 years.

“When we implement these things we have to evaluate them along the way to make sure they’re working in the short term, and that will give us much more confidence about carrying on through the long term.

“The report notes the system is biased against Māori and that’s one thing that needs to be tackled very urgently.

“One thing that could change the system in some way is the possibility of decriminalising drugs like cannabis, or perhaps decriminalising drugs other than cannabis. One of the common pathways into the justice system for young people is being involved with drugs, particularly for young Māori and young Māori males. I think criminalising young drug users really contributes to the problem; it does not help them stop using drugs, and it criminalises them.

“This youth offending is a mental health problem. It’s a public health problem at heart. There needs to be a realisation or understanding that a lot of social ills stem from behavioural problems. Any changes would need to be coordinated with any changes to the mental health system, because the two go hand-in-hand.

“It’s hard to see a system that will work seamlessly but we’re going to have to develop a vision on how we’re going to do this.

“The report makes interesting recommendations that kids involved in youth justice have access to substance abuse and mental health treatment, and to make sure that is rolled out as a natural consequence of coming into contact with that system.”

Conflict of interest statement: I am the Deputy Director of the Christchurch Health and Development Study, which has been mentioned (positively) in the report. I have also been peripherally involved in the Conduct Problems Working Group (assisting Professor David Fergusson), and with Early Start, a home visitation programme for at-risk families.

Dr Sarah Monod de Froideville, Lecturer, Institute of Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington comments:

“Developmental crime prevention is one of two strands under the ‘social crime prevention’ banner (the other strand is community crime prevention).

“In its ideal form developmental crime prevention aims to prevent the development of criminal behaviour in a person by addressing social problems such as poverty and marginalisation and therefore involves addressing social and material inequalities.

“Governments tend to shy away from it as it is expensive and the pay-off can’t be seen until some time in the future. It’s also seen as a lefty, ‘soft on crime’ approach. This report advocates a version of the developmental crime prevention approach that targets resources to those thought to be ‘at risk’ of offending.

“This is not the ideal form described above.

“Researchers have found that risk factors don’t predict crime (McDonald, 2006; Kemshall et al., 2009). Preventative policies focused on risk factors can therefore cost more money, not less, by directing resources to young people who don’t require them. They also stigmatise the young people they target (Muncie, 2015). And, they may even precipitate offending if these young people internalise the label of ‘potential criminal’.

“This version of developmental crime prevention also threatens the rights and protections that our youth justice system currently holds to. New Zealand’s youth justice system’s focus on diversion, for example, recognises that young people aren’t terribly risk savvy and may get into trouble at this transitional period in their lives.

“Funnelling them through the formal justice system is seen to be an extreme response to behaviours they are likely to mature out of, and one that is a sure fire way to make sure that they offend again.

“This developmental crime prevention approach will intervene with young people identified to have ‘risk factors’ for criminal behaviour later on in life. It will be the responsibility of the young people who are targeted for these interventions to make sure the intervention pays off. If they fail, and they offend, they will be seen as criminal and as a bad investment.”

No conflicts of interest.

Emeritus Professor Tony Taylor, School of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington comments:

“This report is essentially detailed, evidence-based research that can now be used to guide policy. In the past, matters related to delinquency, crime, disorder, aggression, drug-taking, family violence and all the rest of it have been used at election times to create fear.

“We’ve known for years boot camps have been absolutely no good and made those on the criminal track more determined.

“This report sets the foundations at long last for a sensible policy of dealing with all sorts of people who have had very difficult roads to hoe, mostly from their families or backgrounds of various kinds and gives them a chance to make the best of themselves. It feeds in the best of physical and psychiatric evidence on brain development. This is well-expressed and should advise all those who want to put millions into building bastions of concrete.

“The most useful recommendations are taking this developmental line with the focus on family, relationships, reducing poverty, increasing employment and skills training, and giving teachers support for dealing with troublesome children.”

No conflicts of interest declared.

Professor Greg Newbold, criminologist, Dept of Sociology, University of Canterbury comments:

“A developmental crime model, which aims at taking measures to block or divert the childhood pathways that lead to adult criminality, is right on the money, in my view. I’ve been calling for such an approach (fence at the top of the cliff, rather than ambulance at the bottom) for years. The big question, however, is how to implement it, and how to sell a long term solution like this to elected governments which generally only think in 3-year cycles.

“This is why they can’t even get rid of a law as ridiculous and ineffective as Three Strikes.”

No conflicts of interest.

The post Preventing youth offending – Expert reaction appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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Violence has become so commonplace in emergency departments that staff have become apathetic about reporting it, a Christchurch study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal has revealed. 

Led by ED nurse researcher Sandra Richardson, the study found there were 107 reports of violence in May 2014 in Christchurch Hospital, including 19 physical assaults, but no incident forms were submitted that same month.

Dr Richardson said staff felt reporting violence was often a waste of time as they didn’t think anything would change, Newshub reported.

She told the NZ Herald she had been struck, swung at, and vomited on by patients during her 30 years in the profession.

“You wouldn’t work in a bank or supermarket and know that people are going to come in a swear at you, spit at you, threaten to kill you or follow you home,” she said.

Dr Paul Quigley, who works in Wellington Regional Hospital ED, told RNZ’s Morning Report the verbal abuse could be difficult to deal with.

“You can hear the abuse starting in the ambulance bay and the threats and the foul language and often it’s attempts at physical violence, and it just carries on into the department.”

Hospitals said security had been beefed up in recent years, staff resilience training had increased and many had tried to make the reporting process easier.

The study was extensively covered by national media, including: 

Health Central: Alarming levels of ED violence now normalised and shrugged off, finds NZ study
RNZ: Christchurch Hospital staff spat at, pinched and slapped – survey
NZ Herald: Emergency department violence hugely under-reported as nurses don’t have time to make complaints
Newshub: Violence in emergency departments woefully under-reported – study
Stuff: Study finds emergency department violence going under-reported
RNZ Morning Report: Hospital staff reluctant to report emergency dept abuse – study

The post Violence under-reported in EDs – In the News appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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