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Science Deadline: This week in Sci-tech Issue 471, 11 May 20

Press Release – Science Media Centre

Science Deadline: Cochrane vaccine review, call for harm-reduced tobacco products, and curtailing farm nutrient run-offScience Deadline: Cochrane vaccine review, call for harm-reduced tobacco products, and curtailing farm nutrient run-off

HPV vaccine safe, effective

A Cochrane review of 26 studies across 73,000 women has found the HPV vaccine effectively protects young women against cervical lesions.

Pap smear, Ed Uthman, Flickr CC.

The vaccine is particularly effective when given between the ages of 15 and 26, but the review noted it appeared less effective in older women. The review also found the vaccine did not appear to increase the risk of serious side effects.

Associate Professor Nikki Turner, director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre, said there were no surprises from the review, “as we have seen now from countless studies the vaccine is highly effective against the precursors of cervical cancer when used in adolescents or younger women”.

“It is interesting that this year the international science community is actually talking about the possibility of eradicating cervical cancer – it is incredible to even consider this is feasible and a strong testament to the effectiveness of these vaccines.”

“This is an incredible modern vaccine with a huge potential to make an international difference,” Dr Turner said.

“The WHO is strongly recommending every country introduce it. Sadly the inverse care law has applied to date, where high income and many middle-income countries have introduced the vaccine, but many lower-income countries are still struggling to. Young women internationally deserve to have access to this vaccine.”

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the review.

Quoted: Wanganui Chronicle

“If you do drink alkaline water … it may well change the pH of your urine because your body will flush out the excess, but you can’t actually change your tissue pH from drinking it.”
University of Waikato’s Dr Alison Campbell
on claims a product can produce alkaline water for health benefits.

Call to allow tobacco alternatives

A new report from the New Zealand Initiative think tank argues that quitting cold turkey doesn’t work for all smokers and less harmful alternatives should be encouraged.

Rather than continuing to raise taxes on cigarettes, they recommend encouraging smokers to switch to harm-reduced alternatives like e-cigarettes and snus.

ASPIRE 2025 co-directors and Professors of Public Health, Richard Edwards and Janet Hoek from the University of Otago Wellington said focusing solely on promoting greater availability of alternative tobacco products dismisses the evidence-based public health measures that have reduced smoking prevalence in New Zealand and globally.

Because such products had been promoted internationally as ‘premium products’, any effects on supporting quitting would likely have minimal impact on disadvantaged smokers, Hoek and Edwards said.

Massey University senior lecturer Dr Penelope Truman, who is a member of the Ministry of Health’s Electronic Cigarette Technical Expert Advisory Group, said New Zealand had been at the forefront of tobacco control initiatives, including restricting where people can smoke, point-of-sale displays and, most recently, plain packaging.

“However, decreases in smoking rates in New Zealand have slowed, particularly for some groups (including Māori). Further, tax increases have reached the stage of encouraging illegal activity, such as the much-publicised dairy robberies.”

The Ministry of Health announced on Wednesday that regulation for vaping and heated tobacco products would be further considered, following a recent District Court decision.

The case, Philip Morris v Ministry of Health, found all tobacco products – except chewing and dissolving types – could be lawfully sold under the Smoke-free Environments Act.

Australian media has reported that the decision could give hope to the legalisation of vaping products across the Tasman.

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the NZI report.

Policy news & developments
Another M. Bovis farm: Biosecurity NZ confirmed a farm has tested positive for Mycoplasma bovis in the North Canterbury region on Wednesday – a first for the region.

New zoo rules: The EPA has signed off on new zoo standards to prevent animals from escaping into the wider environment, or posing a risk to people.

Science Board: The Research, Science and Innovation Minister has appointed two members to the Science Board – Dr Liz Wedderburn as a new member to the Board and Professor Parry Guilford who will return for his second term.

Drugs funded: PHARMAC has announced funding for new drugs: one to treat a degenerative eye condition and another for stroke prevention.

Shellfish biotoxin in Hawke’s Bay: MPI has issued a warning against collecting shellfish from Cape Kidnappers to the north end of Māhanga Beach.

Hemp seed consultation: MPI has opened consultation on law changes to allow hemp seeds in food products in New Zealand.

Ants threaten Kāpiti Island: DOC is responding to the discovery of Argentine ants at the mainland visitor departure point for the Kapiti Island Nature Reserve.

Bushwalk closed: DOC is temporarily closing the walkway through Okura Bush Scenic Reserve, on Auckland’s North Shore, to limit spread of Kauri Dieback.

Willowherb in Canterbury: The invasive weed, great willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum), has been found growing in several areas in Canterbury.

Dairy review: The Government has released the terms of reference for a review of the 17-year-old Dairy Industry Restructuring Act which regulates Fonterra.
This week on the NZ Conversation.

Children living in green neighbourhoods are less likely to develop asthma
Jeroen Douwes, Massey University; Geoffrey H. Donovan, United States Forest Service

Ancient ancestors of modern baleen whales were toothy not-so-gentle giant
Felix Georg Marx, Monash University; Robert Ewan Fordyce, University of Otago

See more NZ-authored Conversation articles.
Curbing farm nutrient run-off

Environment Minister David Parker told TVNZ’s Q&A last weekend that tough measures to curb nutrient run-off from farms could stall further dairy intensification.

Though he said there would not be a direct cap on the number of cattle, “cow numbers have already peaked and are going down, but yet, in some areas, the number of cows per hectare is higher than the environment can sustain”.

AgResearch science impact leader Robyn Dynes said requirements or targets for reducing nutrient losses on farms were “nothing new in many areas of the country, and in our experience, most farmers are already moving in that direction”.

“While reducing stock numbers is one approach to reducing nutrient loss, there is no one size fits all. Whatever restrictions are put in place, it is important to recognise that every farm is different and has a different capacity to adapt and change.

“This is where research plays a crucial role in helping the transition by farmers – including providing better guidance on land use suitability and future technologies, such as in the digital agriculture space.”

University of Waikato’s Professor Troy Baisden, Chair in Lake and Freshwater Sciences, said nitrogen and phosphorus were examples where human development has shot well beyond the ‘safe space’ required to keep ecosystems functioning to support us.

“How we reverse course is another issue, particularly because few nations have. We already have examples, in areas like Taupō and Rotorua, where there’s been real commitment and investment to protect iconic lakes,” he said.

“That’s resulted in action by regional council legislation that has at least held the line and prevented irreversible eutrophication.”

Prof Baisden said the Minister’s comments could send signals that lead to the rapid development of tools to help farmers become more profitable but with less stock.

“That signal is needed to accelerate the science, innovation, and discussions that will help us find a path there. That will take time, but management changes under existing farming system could help us move faster than the land-use change to forestry that has dominated progress so far.”

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the Minister’s statements.

Last chance to apply for Wellington SAVVY

Applications close next week for the June Science Media SAVVY workshop in Wellington.

The Science Media Centre’s two-day media training workshop will be held in Wellington on June 14-15.

These highly-acclaimed workshops offer researchers first-hand insight into the workings of news and social media, as well as hands-on, practical exercises to improve communication.

Our experienced facilitators provide a supportive environment for researchers to consider their work from different perspectives and find new ways to describe the value of their research to the public.

Ideally suited for researchers with previous media experience seeking further development of their skills, as well as beginners anticipating media interest in their work.

Applications for the Wellington workshop close 14 May. Apply now.

More information about our Science Media SAVVY workshops is available on our website and via Curious Minds.

Callaghan documentary premiere

Wellington’s Embassy Theatre will host the world premiere of a documentary about the life of the late Sir Paul Callaghan

Dancing with Atoms, made by Shirley Horrocks, will screen in Wellington with all proceeds to the Cancer Society of NZ.

Sunday May 20, 3.30pmmore information.

StoryCollider returns to Wellington

The live science storytelling show StoryCollider returns to New Zealand in May.

Following a successful inaugural show last year, the American initiative StoryCollider is now expandingusing local producers and storytellers. Each storyteller will perform live for ten minutes with no note, no props and definitely no powerpoint presentation.

Speakers include University of Canterbury volcanologist Ben Kennedy, Auckland Council’s Ben Paris – aka New Zealand’s ‘Batman’, and science journalist Veronika Meduna.

Tuesday, 22 May 8pm – Meow, Wellington. Tickets here.

New from Sciblogs – NZ’s science blog network
Some of the highlights from this week’s Sciblogs posts:
Does good grammar really matter?

The emphasis placed on formal written grammar in schools obscures the fact that English has many kinds of grammar – and they’re all equally valid, writes Andreea Calude.
The Lippy Linguist
Magic water nonsense

Thinking about buying a water ‘deionising’ system? Put the $4,000 back in your bank account, and just drink a nice glass of chilled tap water, advises Alison Campbell.

The current eruption of Kīlauea: could it happen in Auckland

The ongoing eruption in Hawai’i this week allows us the chance to think about a similar event here in New Zealand, say geologist Brad Scott.
Guest Work
Personalised supplements

Despite claiming to be perfectly healthy, Mark Hanna is told by online quizzes that he should be on a schedule of ‘personalised vitamins’ (which would cost $57 per month).
Honest Universe

Upcoming events
Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.

Looking South to the future: A dark sky vision for Otago: 11 May, Dunedin. John Barentin makes a case for the community of Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula to seek status as an International Dark Sky Community.

Lifebox – making surgery and anaesthesia safer globally one patient, one provider at a time. 14 May, Auckland. Kris Torgeson, Global CEO of Lifebox, talks about her work to improve the safety of surgery and anaesthesia in low resource settings.

STEMinism – Women in Engineering and Technology Evening: 15 May, Christchurch. Event for young women to find out more about studying engineering, computer science, or product design and their career paths.

Getting There: The Psychology of Everyday Driving: 15 May, Hamilton. Inaugural professorial lecture from Samuel Charlton.

Heart Attacks and Stroke: Getting the Blood Flowing Again: 15 May, Auckland. Three of New Zealand’s pre-eminent experts in this area will describe how these diseases develop and how they contribute to ill-health.

From natural products to zombie drugs – chemicals with biological effects: 16 May, Auckland. Brent Copp talks about his research focused on the discovery of novel biologically active natural products.

The JOIDES Resolution – Exploring the Ocean Floor: 16 May, Wellington. In this lunchtime, talk staff from the International Ocean Drilling Program discuss what their work reveals about tectonics, earthquakes, climate change, and undersea volcanoes.

To swim or not to swim? That is the question…: 17 May, Christchurch. Public lecture on the state of our rivers from Jenny Webster-Brown, director of the Waterways Centre for Freshwater Management.

Will robotic vision ever fully replace human vision? 17 May, Auckland. As part of the Gibbons Lecture series, Patrice Delmas eyes up at the future of robotic vision.

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