Newsletter Digest: Climategate, the ETS, dietary supplements and various awards

Week from hell for climate science

It broke last weekend and has run all week – the “climategate” saga that has seen the private emails of prominent climate scientists leaked onto the web and picked over by climate change sceptics who accuse them of manipulating data to show the world’s climate is warming.

New Zealand scientist Dr Jim Salinger and Dr Kevin Trenberth, an ex-pat Kiwi heading up the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colarado were among the victims of the email leak.

Prominent Guardian columnist George Monbiot added fuel to the fire on Wednesday when he called for the resignation of Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit and the most heavily quoted of the scientists caught up in the leak. The UK Science Media Centre rounded-up comment from scientists on the impact of the email scandal.

The blogosphere erupted with the tone of discussion of climategate reversing depending on whether the blog was that of a climate change sceptic or someone who accepts the overwhelmingly convincing science.

Sceptics try to capitalise on CRU hack

A Crown Research Institute went on the front foot this week, taking the unusual step of issuing a press release yesterday to answer separate allegations from the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition that it has manipulated temperature readings to show an upward trend in local temperature over the past 100 years.

NIWA chief scientist Dr David Wratt has fronted to the media and Hot Topic’s Gareth Renowden has written a thorough analysis debunking the coalition’s claims, his article today being picked up by US-based Scienceblogs and the Drudge Report.

As New Scientist suggests, it is a time when climate scientists need to meet climate change sceptics head-on: “Researchers being paid from the public purse should not treat their detractors as enemies but make reasonable attempts to engage with them honestly, no matter how unpalatable their views.”

If there’s anything to be salvaged from climategate it is that two weeks out from the Copenhagen conference, the science underpinning the discussions that will take place is in the spotlight. It’s perhaps good timing that one of the best, up-to-date summaries of the science of climate change landed this week amidst the firestorm of climategate.

Divisive ETS legislation passed

There were barely 10 members of parliament in the house to witness the passing of the Climate Change Response (Moderated Emissions Trading) Amendment Bill by 63 votes to 58 on Wednesday night.

Here is how scientists approached by the SMC for comment responded to the news. The bill’s passing means the Government meets its objective of going to Copenhagen with an emissions trading scheme officially in place.
Across the Tasman, carbon trading legislation is in turmoil after five members of the Liberal Party, which supports the legislation, resigned their front bench positions in protest at it.

Meanwhile, it is Australia’s turn to take a savaging from The Guardian, following the influential paper’s attack last week on New Zealand’s clean, green record.

Caffeine shots and vitamin pills

Dietary supplements are an increasingly common part of our lives, but should they be?

A sophisticated, multibillion dollar industry exists in supplying dietary supplements. It is not unusual for people to take vitamin and mineral supplements every day, while some rely on caffeine drinks for a daily energy boost and nutrition bars that promise more muscle and less fat.
However, concerns have been sparked recently by the availability of ultra-high caffeine energy drinks, the proliferation of people taking (often large) doses of vitamins/minerals every day, and an industry which appears to have very little legislation to guide its behaviour.

The SMC this week held a briefing for journalists on dietary supplements, and the state of regulation of them.

You can listen to the Podcast here.

Engineering and Science awards

Two pieces of Science/Engineering awards news this week.

Firstly, nominations have opened for three of the inaugural the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes.  The Prizes are intended to reward New Zealand’s top scientific talent: the top award comes with $500,000 in prize money, and all five awards total $1 million.

For more information, visit the website, here.

Also, Charmian Smith of the Otago Daily Times won this year’s Award for Excellence in Engineering Journalism at the annual Engineering Excellence Awards.  She won the award for her article, entitled ‘The Anatomy of a City‘, which documented the vital role engineers played in developing the city of Dunedin.