Newsletter Digest: Kepler launch, when science stories go bad, SMC is hiring

Spacecraft’s progress tracked from NZ

The Johannes Kepler unmanned spacecraft is scheduled to dock with the International Space Station after a successful launch from French Guiana yesterday.

Progress of the automated transport vehicle which is being used to send supplies to the ISS, remove waste and to help reposition the ISS with the help of its boosters, is being tracked from the Awarua ground station built for the purpose of tracking unmanned space craft launches.

The presence of scientists from the European Space Agency gave New Zealand institutions a prime opportunity to hold a meeting to explore new opportunities for using satellite imagery and data. Applications discussed at the Royal Society meeting in Wellington this week included satellite data and imagery use for forestry, fishing, conservation, land use change, mineral exploration, and even natural disaster assessment.

How can satellites help out with all of the above? Listen back to the Science Media Centre briefing podcast in which experts from the ESA, Landcare Research, the German Aerospace Centre and Venture Southland outline the existing and future potential the technology holds.

Warning: science is on the front page!

Science stories have featured prominently on the front pages of weekend newspapers in the last couple of weeks, but with less than impressive results.

Nutritionists and dietitians contacted the Science Media Centre following the Weekend Herald’s coverage last week of research by the University of Auckland’s Liggins Institute scientists that drew a link between high consumption of fructose in pregnant women and impaired fetal growth.

The story’s intro stated: “An expectant mother could be putting her unborn child at risk by drinking as little as three glasses of juice a day or eating five apples.”

However Anna Sloan, a registered dietitian at North Shore Hospital, pointed out in a commentary on the article provided to the SMC that the piece failed to differentiate between natural fructose found in fruit, vegetables and juices and fructose contained in processed foods.

“The article would have been more balanced to clarify if it was pure fructose used in the Liggins research or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and to also mention that most fructose in the New Zealand diet comes not from fresh fruit, but from soft drinks and sweets,” she said.

The implication, said Sloan, was that mothers should cut back on eating apples and fresh juice, when the real problem was the high level of carbonated beverages New Zealanders consume (on average 230ml/day)

“This is equivalent to 0g-43.g fructose/day (or 9.5g fructose/can of soft drink). Compare this to 6.8g of fructose from one apple which also contains essential vitamins and fibre.”

On February 6th, the Sunday Star Times carried a front page lead raising heath concerns about the process of meat gassification, in which carbon dioxide and oxygen are pumped into meat packaging to significantly lengthen the meat’s shelf-life.

Again scientists voiced their concerns at the accuracy of the high-profile coverage:

“Unfortunately, Lois Cairns has got her wires a bit crossed and has failed to capture the slight nuances in the packaging of meat,” said Dr Brian Wilkinson, Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Food Nutrition and Human Health at Massey University.

“New Zealand has been exporting high carbon dioxide atmosphere packs of meat for over 25 years… and there have been no reported cases of food poisoning from the consumption of this meat.”

The SMC is available at short notice, including on weekends to track down experts to help fact-check stories and provide context.

Any journalists needing access to scientific expertise at short notice can call 021 859 365 to gain access to our expert database.

Time Team presenter joins Sciblogs

Sciblogs adds to its popular stable of science bloggers this week with the arrival of archaeologist Brigid Gallagher and her blog Digging the Dirt.

A kiwi, Brigid was most recently co-presenter alongside former Black Adder star Tony Robinson on the UK television archaeology programme, Time Team.

During this time Brigid has also been lead conservator on the Catalhoyuk site in Turkey, manager of the largest commercial archaeological conservation laboratory in the Republic of Ireland and freelance archaeologist, conservator and finds specialist. She has taught at both Cardiff and Sussex Universities, and has worked in conjunction with University College of London, Cambridge, Berkley and Stamford Universities amongst others.

We warmly welcome Brigid to Sciblogs!

Be at the heart of science communication

The Science Media Centre is recruiting a new media advisor and is looking for someone with the right balance of science and media experience to take on this challenging and incredibly varied role.

The job requires a good understanding of how the media works, the needs of journalists and the pressures of the news cycle. You’ll also need to have decent knowledge of the New Zealand science system – where to go to find pockets of expertise in everything from greenhouse gas emissions to stem cell therapies.

What we promise is that the job will be exciting, fast-paced and give you an opportunity to see science before it hits the headlines.

A job ad for the media advisor role is available on SEEK.

A full job description can be downloaded from the SMC website