Newsletter Digest: Suicide, superbugs, skepticism and salutations

Suicide coverage – does it hurt?

Suicide reporting laws were under scrutiny again this week as Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean called for more debate about suicide reporting after releasing new suicide statistics.

Numerous media editorials have echoed his call for debate with several commentators arguing the restrictions on reporting on suicides is leading to an ignorance in society of the extent of the problem.

What does the science say about media reports of suicide and its impact on the rate of suicide? The so-called ‘Werther Effect‘ (copycat suicide) has been studied in great depth with numerous studies from around the world pointing to a relationship between media coverage of suicides and an increase in the rate of suicides.

Professor Jane Pirkis, Director of Centre for Health Policy, Programs and Economics at the University of Melbourne has published extensively on the issue. A review she and her colleagues have completed looking at international studies examining the Werther Effect is available for registered journalists to download in the SMC Resource Library.

Medical tourism and superbugs

A gene that confers resistance to nearly all existing antibiotics has been found in bacteria in India, Pakistan and the UK, and appears to be spreading internationally as patients travel abroad to seek elective surgery, according to research published this week.

The authors of the study say that the spread of the NDM-1 drug resistance gene is potentially a serious global public health problem. This is because bacteria with the gene are resistant to the class of antibiotics (known as carbapenems) reserved for emergency use against superbugs, and there are few new antibiotics in development that are likely to be effective against this type of resistance. They warn that the world may be entering a new era where antibiotics can no longer be relied upon to treat infections.

Our colleagues at the UK Science Media Centre wrapped up reaction to the paper from scientists. Locally, the University of Otago’s Professor Kurt Krause added some context. He told TVNZ:

“I think we’re all just one plane ride away from having this organism visit our shores.”

A weekend of Skepticism

The annual Skeptics Society conference kicks off tomorrow with the programme again jam-packed with sessions on everything from vaccination and catasthrophism to sofware scams and obesity.

Auckland University’s Professor Linda Bryder will speak about the response to her controversial book ‘A History of the “Unfortunate Experiment” at National Women’s Hospital’.

The Science Media Centre will be recording the sessions and will post them to the SMC website over the weekend. Also look out for coverage on and Twitter @smcnz.

Media enquiries should be directed to Skeptics chair Vicki Hyde (03 384 5137).

New board for the SMC

The Science Media Centre has a new governance board in place which will assist the centre in its transition to becoming an independent trust in 2012.

Veteran businessman, company director and science sector adviser Rick Christie is the chair of the new Establishment Board and is joined by media researcher and consultant and former Herald editor-in-chief Gavin Ellis and magazine publisher Vincent Heeringa, who chaired the previous advisory board. Biographies of the new board members are available here.

The SMC would like to thank outgoing board members Clive Lind, Anthony Scott, Hon Margaret Austin and Professor Jean Fleming for their invaluable guidance and assistance in the first two years of the SMC’s operation.