Newsletter Digest: $1 million Science prizes, Folic acid, and the 3 Rs

PM dishes up $1 million in prizes

The most lucrative prize for science ever offered in New Zealand has been created with the Prime minister’s Science Prize offering to a scientist or team working on groundbreaking research in New Zealand.

The suite of prizes unveiled by the Prime Minister at Plant & Food Research total $1 million and also reward an emerging scientist, a science teacher, a secondary school student and a person with a scientific background pursuing science media communication. Victoria University’s John Watt, the winner of the MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year award sees himself also become the first recipient of the MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist prize, which comes with $150,000.

Of particular interest to journalists and their editors will be the $150,000 science media communication prize which will “support the recipient to carry out a programme of activities to further their understanding of the media communication sector and to develop skills that will make them an effective science media communicator in the future”.

The prize seemed designed to upskill a scientist to become a good science communicator capable of engaging actively with the media and seems like a good opportunity for a scientist to team up with media organisations to co-develop science coverage, In that respect, it is potentially a big boost for science in the media. Full details here.

The future of the science system

The Ministry of Research, Science and Technology has called for feedback on its priorities for science and technology in New Zealand which outlines everything from the investment structure in science to the priority areas of research.

There’s a fairly tight turn-around for feedback with a November 18 deadline for submissions. According to the schedule published in the document, plans for a revised investment structure in Vote RS&T will be presented to Cabinet in January.

Folic acid research shows low risk

New Research from Britain’s Food Standards Agency has backed up claims from local experts that folic acid fortification of bread does not pose a substantial cancer risk.

The agency found: “The new evidence does not provide a substantial basis to change [the] previous recommendation for the introduction of mandatory fortification” of bread flour.”

As the Herald points out today, the paper, which follows research highlighted by the University of Otago’s Dr Murray Skeaff during the height of the folic acid debate, brings into question the Government’s decision to defer its folate fortification plan to 2012.

Australia went ahead with mandatory fortification of bread with folate last month and this month bakers here were instructed to add iodised salt to bread.

Meanwhile, John Forman, executive director of the New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders is progressing with a Broadcasting Standards Authority complaint against TVNZ for its coverage of the folate issue. TVNZ’s complaints committee has already investigate the claims. Its conclusion: “The Complaints Committee has not identified any breach of the relevant standards and accordingly declines to uphold your complaint”.

Three ‘R’s approach draws fire

Commentators have been lined up to criticise moves that will see teaching resources next year focused on reading, writing and arithmetic at the expense of science, the arts and physical education.

Writes Gordon Campbell in a Scoop column: “This is penny pinching and political rhetoric, at the expense of our children and their future. The money at stake – $10 million – is a fraction of the amount that the government is planning to spend on the Rugby World Cup.”

And Russell Brown of Publicaddress: “Here’s an irony: in the same month that it becomes clear that educational funding will be diverted from arts and sciences into the narrow curriculum embodied in the government’s national standards policy, we can read a major report that doesn’t merely criticise the British government’s adventure down that path as damn it to hell.”