The week ahead in science (to Feb 5)

Dear science reporters,

Upcoming events, new research and SMC backgrounders and a taste of what might be on the news agenda science-wise next week. Contact us at the SMC for more information.

Peter Griffin
Science Media Centre

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Climate change and the bath tub effect
It’s been a busy week in the sphere of climate change science, with the most significant news generated by a paper published in PNAS that suggests many of the impacts of climate change are already “irreversible”.

It sounds like an excuse to throw in the towel on attempts to control carbon emissions, but the reality is much more complicated. The best explanation of the research I’ve seen is from Dr John Stern of the MIT Sloan School of Management who uses the bathtub principle to illustrate the irreversibility of climate change.

Professor Martin Manning of Victoria University’s Climate Change Research Institute comments on the PNAS research on the SMC website.

Meanwhile, GNS Science paleontologist Chris Hollis has had a paper published in Geology which suggests the waters around New Zealand were a balmy 30 degrees for a period around 50 million years ago during the Eocene period. The cause is greenhouse gas-induced global warming, but how exactly is still unknown. But the evidence of such tropical sea temperatures are at odds with computer models for the period which indicated temperatures during the period didn’t exceed 20 degrees centigrade.

Listen to an SMC interview with Dr Hollis here and registered journalists can log-in to download the research.

A joint briefing of the Aussie and NZ Science Media Centres held today featured scientists from both sides of the Tasman looking at the issue of ocean acidification. The audio recording and presentations will be posted on the AusSMC website tomorrow.

Issues on the science radar: Whaling deal for Japan, Auckland Island sea lions birth rate drops 31%, Otago’s Egyptian mummy get’s a facelift, water resources, Darwin’s legacy, artificial reef a dud.

NIWA: La Nina to hang around till winter
NIWA today issued its climate outlook through to April and is predicting more warm weather, the result of “a moderate La Niña” expected to continue through autumn. Details here.

Darwin fever set to hit with 200th birthday
The international media has been cranking out stories reviewing the legacy of Charles Darwin since the start of the year, but things crank up a gear around the 12th of February – the 200th birthday of the lauded scientist.

New Zealand gets in on the action with BioEd, a major conference being held in Christchurch from Feb 12 – 15 and hosted by the Allan Wilson Centre. The international scientific talent being assembled for BioEd is impressive. For help lining up interviews with scientist or for background contact the SMC.

Auckland University will also hold a one-day Darwin Symposium to celebrate the scientist’s achievements.

Cold war on Stem cell research ends
There’s been much debate in the US on the decision by the Food and Drug Administration to okay the first clinical trials using the products of human embryonic stem cells. The decision came hot on the heels of President Obama’s inauguration, but many scientists are warning the public not to get caught up in the hype of stem cell research which scientists suggest could help aid in everything form infertility to Alzheimer’s.

Background briefings

Upcoming briefing topics: Dates to be confirmed…

Ocean acidification – Briefing earlier today featuring Otago University marine scientist Christina McGraw – recording and materials on the Aussmc website from tomorrow

Food miles and eco-labels – We look at the latest research into the contentious issues of food miles as New Zealand looks to its primary exports more than ever to get it through the global economic crisis.

Immunisation – Why is our rate of immunisation low compared to the rest of the developed world and what is the impact? We explore New Zealand’s uneasy relationship with immunisation.

Please let us know if there is a briefing topic you would like to see explored on one of our online science briefings. Contact the SMC with suggestions in science, health, agriculture, environment or information technology.

New from the SMC

Best of the SMC blogs: The fake Viagra-terrorism link and other stories, Lovelock: one billion better than nine billion, Do embargoes make journos lazy?

The state of dairy in NZ: Interesting statistics from the Dairy NZ 07-08 snap-shot of the dairy industry. Details here.

BMJ report punches holes in acupuncture: The Australian Science Media Centre rounded up scientific opinion on the British Medical Journal paper questioning the effectiveness of acupuncture based on pain trials of 3000 people. Details here.

Research highlights
Honey bees can count to four : Following last week’s revelation that bees can recognise human faces, Australian and German researchers have shown that have bees can discriminate between patterns containing two and three dots – without having to count the dots. And, with a bit of schooling, they can learn to tell the difference between three and four dots. Details here.

Too much TV creates junk food fiends: High-school kids who watch too much TV are likely to have bad eating habits five years in the future. Research published in BioMed Central‘s open access International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity followed almost 2000 high- and middle-school children and found that TV viewing times predict a poor diet in the future.

Chipping in on sheep research: NZ Scientists have today developed a genomic tool which is set to transform the future selection and breeding of sheep around the world. The Ovine SNP50 BeadChip will enable researchers to characterise the genetic variation at more than 50,000 Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNP) in the sheep genome.

This will pinpoint the small genetic differences that produce a variety of commercially important traits in sheep, fast-tracking the rate of genetic gain in the industry. Details here.

Kids on cellphones risk getting bowled: Children who talk on cell phones while crossing streets are at a higher risk for injuries or death in a pedestrian accident, said psychologists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in a new study that will appear in the February issue of Pediatrics. Details here.

Next week’s sci-tech events

International Perspectives on Digital Preservation forum: Wellington, Feb 2. National Library of New Zealand will host a one-day forum International Perspectives on Digital Preservation. Details here.

Meeting the EU 2°C climate target: regional emission and abatement costs implications: Wellington, Feb 5. The School of Government, along with the Institute of Policy Studies and the Climate Change Research Institute present a seminar by
Michel den Elzen.

Conference on Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology: Dunedin 8- 12 Feb, Nobel Prize winners in Physics and Chemistry, John Hall and Harry Kroto. will be attending AMN-4 and giving plenary talks. Details here.

Further out:

BioEd conference, Christchurch Feb 12 – 15
Allan Wilson Centre Lecture Series – Human evolution:
Feb 16 – 20 nationwide.
NZBIO Conference,
Auckland,9-11 March. Bio Solutions for a Changing World, Details here.

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