SMC Heads-Up:E-cigarettes risks highlighted, SMCs gather in NZ, science advice in times of crisis
Issue 294 29 August - 4 September 2014
WHO Report criticises e-cigarettes
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommendedrestrictions be placed on the marketing of e-cigarettes, their sale to minors and indoor use.
In addition, WHO points out that there is evidence showing that e-cigarette aerosol is not "merely water vapour" and - although less toxic than tobacco smoke - the vapour may harm adolescents and the foetuses of pregnant women who use them. The report also says that e-cigarettes increase the exposure of non-smokers and
bystanders to nicotine and a number of toxicants.
E-cigarettes work by heating flavoured nicotine liquid into a vapour that is inhaled in a similar way to traditional cigarettes but without the smoke.
Currently, they have not been approved for sale in New Zealand by the Ministry of Health because it says there is not enough evidence to be able to recommend e-cigarettes as an aid to quit smoking.
Our colleagues at the Australian and UK SMC contacted international experts for comment.
Professor Mike Daube, President of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health and Professor of Health Policy at Curtin University, comments:
"The WHO position paper is thorough, comprehensive and important.
"The clear conclusion is that we should be very cautious about any developments around e-cigarettes. The reality is that these products are still new; the potential benefits are still in doubt; and there are significant concerns about possible short and long-term harms."
Professor Simon Chapman, from the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney, comments:
"There has been monumental hype circulating about the promises of e-cigarettes as a massive breakthrough in helping smokers quit. The best and largest study so far shows that 80 per cent of smokers who tried to quit using e-cigarettes in the past 12 months did not succeed. This was only marginally better than the success rate of smokers quitting cold turkey."
You can read more expert commentary on the Science Media Centre website.
On the science radar this week...
Bird-brained gamblers, eternally sunny(?)spotless minds, wolves can't stop yawningeither, your nose can save your knees, and how 'photography' sheds light on a quantum mystery.
SMCs from five nations gather in Auckland
World Science Week New Zealand saw around 2000 scientists descend on Auckland this week for various science-themed conferences.
It also proved an invaluable opportunity for directors of Science Media Centres in New Zealand, the UK, Australia, Japan, Canada and representatives of prospective SMCs in China and the US to also meet to discuss the future of the network focussed on improving science in the media.
New Zealand joined the SMC network in 2008 and the centres, while operating according to the needs of their local media and science systems, share information and content on a weekly basis. When major international science-related stories break, such as the Fukushima nuclear incident or the swine flu pandemic, the SMCs are in their element, gathering and sharing expert commentary from across the world.
We hope the network will soon grow. Curtis Brainard, blogs editor at Scientific American and a member of the exploratory committee for the US Science Media Centre, told the SMC Summit that while funding for SMC-type organisations in the US is tight, the need for an SMC is easy to see.
Zhao Lixin, of the China Research Institute for Science Popularization, said CRISP had been running science media briefings for the last three years in China and was keen to explore ways to work with the SMCs.
Other proposals for SMCs were also considered during the meeting, which also saw the Science Media Centres host a luncheon for some of the world's top science advisors, including Sir Mark Walport, Sir Peter Gluckman, Professor Ian Chubb and Professor Anne Glover.
The SMCs will now consider ways to coordinate efforts across the growing group so that we can share resources most effectively.
Science advice in situations of crisis
Food safety, floods, earthquakes and volcanoes - theScience Advice to Government's conference in Auckland has drawn attention to the role of science in informing policy on some of the biggest issues faced by the global community.
Science Advisors from the highest levels of government have been sharing their knowledge and comparing and contrasting their roles at the meeting in Auckland. Sessions have featured a who's who of government science experts from around the world. Representatives from the UK, US, Japan and European Union (to name just a few) have been discussing their work at the conference hosted by New Zealand's Chief Science Advisor, Prof Sir Peter Gluckman.
One of the most interesting conversations took place on Thursdayin the panel discussion 'Science Advice in Situations of Crisis', where a number of advisors shared their experiences and highlighted the critical role of clear communication in times of crisis.
Anne Glover, Chief Science Advisor to the president of the European Commission, related her experience in the wake of theeruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull where she provided scientific advice to EU governments regarding volcanic ash clouds and their danger to aeroplane jet engines.
Andreas Hensel President, Federal Institute for Risk Assessment explained his organisation's role in food safety, covering mad cow disease, GMOs, and the 2011 German E. Coli outbreakCommunication is in an integral part of crisis management, he said, and organisations must acknowledge sociocultural aspects of science related crises. "People don't get numbers... they think with their hearts".
Yuko Harayama from Japan's Council for Science Technology and Innovation, reflecting on issues arising from Fukushima, noted that in times of crisis, preparation, training and simulation were key when it came to explaining critically important science to politicians and the public.
Lourdes Cruz, President of National Research Council of Philippines, had a similar situation in the wake of damaging typhoons ravaging the country in 2011. The need for better understanding of the weather and natural hazards spurred the government to develop project NOAH, a responsive program for disaster prevention and mitigation. While the technological aspects of the project were impressive, Cruz also noted that it was "important to translate scientific knowledge into something understandable by the public and politicians".
The conference continues today with more panel discussions on the practicalities of advising governments.
You can see the twitter highlights in Storify threads collated by the conference, and follow the action today using the hashtag #SciAdvice14.
Quoted: ABC Radio
"Science is a long haul. It's not something that can be turned on or off when we feel like it. It isn't like a tooth brush; something you can buy when you get there because you forgot to pack one."
Prof. Ian Chubb, Australia's Chief Scientist, commenting on science policy
Policy news and developments
Cancer treatment to be sped up - From 1 October, the Government will ensure that those suspected of having cancer will see a cancer specialist and receive treatment faster than before.
Joint NZ-US science meeting strengthens ties - New Zealand's science and research collaboration with the United States has been further strengthened following joint talks in Auckland as part of World Science Week.
Tongariro wetlands get conservation cash boost - The Government will provide a $208,000 Community Conservation Partnership Fund grant over three years to Project Tongariro to help restore and preserve the Te Matapuna wetlands.
The Friday video...
Land-living fish walk us through how we got limbs
New From the SMC
Audio: Science advice in situations of crisis: A panel discussion at the inaugural Science Advice to Governments conference in Auckland, 28 - 29 August, 2014.
WHO report criticises e-cigarettes - experts respond: Australian and UK experts comment on the World Health Organization's report looking at electronic cigarettes and how they should be globally regulated.
Sheepdog round up the rules for crowd control: Scientists have found two simple rules behind the mystery of how sheepdogs manage to herd sheep so efficiently.
World Science Week underway in Auckland: Auckland is abuzz with science as a number of high-level conferences kick off in the city.
A rough guide to science advice - The Guardian: An excerpt from a Guardian article published ahead of the Science Advice to Governments summit which gets underway today in Auckland as part of World Science Week.
Sir Peter Gluckman on science and policy: Sir Peter Gluckman speaks to Radio New Zealand's Morning Report about the challenges faced by those working at the intersection of policy and research.
From the SMC Network
From the UK SMC:
From the AustralianSMC:
Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
The Price of Painkillers - Mark Hanna wonders why prices are so different for the same strength painkillers with the same ingredients.
Helping autistic children to speak - Lynley Hargreaves interviews Victoria University's Professor Jeff Sigafoos on getting non-speaking children communicating.
Infrequently Asked Questions
Science is More Creative than Arts - Michael Edmonds says that science produces more imaginative ideas and the most new things.
World Science Week: Where are we in the world? - John Pickering looks at where New Zealand ranks globally when it comes to investing in science.
Science and its privilege in the policy arena - "Why should scientific evidence be privileged over other inputs into the policy-making process?" asks Shaun Hendy.
A Measure of Science
Some of the research papers making headlines this week.
Lonely Kānuka plant finds company: Like the Tuatara, the New Zealand Kānuka was thought to be the only species of its kind, but a new study - headed by Dr. Peter de Lange at the Department of Conservation - has revealed that there are in fact ten different species living across New Zealand.
Kiwi breast milk is getting healthier: New Zealand babies are getting less environmental toxins from breast milk than others worldwide, suggests a new study led by researchers at Massey University.
Moving house? Your personal bacteria are coming with you: When a family moves into a new environment it isn't long before their unique 'bacterial signature' can be detected on household surfaces such as door knobs and light switches.
Wii rebalances MS patients' brains: The Wii balance board can help people with multiple sclerosis (MS) reduce their risk of accidental falls by changing their brain structure, scientists have found.
2014 Ebola outbreak started with one animal: Geneticists have traced the 2014 Ebola outbreak to just one infected animal, suggesting that it started with a single human-animal interaction and then spread from person to person between communities.
Upcoming sci-tech events
For these and other upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.
•World Science Week New Zealand - 25 August to 3 September, Auckland. Over 2,000 leading scientists, researchers and government science advisors gather for an interrelated series of international science summits.
•The fate of the Antarctic ice sheet - 3 September. Wellington. 2014 S.T. Lee Lecture: World-leading polar scientist Robert DeConto, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, explores the Antarctic ice sheet's contribution to sea-level rise.
•Science Express: Tuatara and Climate Change - 4 September, Wellington. Hotter temperatures are tipping the sex ratio of tuatara towards males. Dr Nicky Nelson talks about a revealing study of tuatara on North Brother Island, Cook Strait.