SMC Science Deadline: Marsden under the microscope, Kermadec sanctuary & water on Mars

By Sciencemediacentre.co.nz received 3 years ago

Categories: Science
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Issue 347,  02 Oct 2015

In this issue:

Water on Mars
Marsden funding Policy updates
New from the SMC

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Top news from scimex.org  the Science Media Centre's news sharing platform.
Students discover NZ fish's secret hunting tactic

Don't bother taking calcium for bones, say experts

Social benefits drive climate change action

Man's best friend shares our gaze

New from the SMC

Expert Reaction: Marsden Fund under the microscope   Expert Reaction: Calcium and bone health   Expert Reaction: Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary   Expert Reaction: Liquid water on Mars   In the News: Microbes influence wine flavours

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New from the SMC global network

UK SMC   Expert Reaction: Genetic alterations in healthy breast tissue cells   Expert Reaction: St Albans sinkhole   Expert Reaction: Science spending review
xpert Reaction: Stem cell treatment for macular degeneration
Australian SMC
Expert Reaction: Water on Mars   Expert Reactions: Poor access to radiotherapy for cancer   Expert Reaction: MERS and the Hajj stampede   Expert Reaction: UN Sustainable Development Goals  

Martian moisture makes headlines

Salty streaks identified by an orbiting spacecraft could be the first solid evidence of liquid water – a key ingredient for life as we know it – on the Red Planet.

Evidence of salty water flows on Mars have been identified by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The findings were published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Streaks on the surface on the planet have now been found to show evidence of hydrated salt minerals that come from water, while the surrounding area does not. The findings strongly suggest a link between the transient streaks on Martian slopes and the flow of liquid briny water.
The discovery of liquid water, and it's potential to sustain Martian life has excited New Zealand scientists.
“The discovery of moving water on Mars would really add momentum to the search for life," AUT's Prof Steve Pointing told the SMC.
"When water moves there is the opportunity for weathering of minerals and creation of nutrients to sustain life.  Any Martian life would also be able to use flowing brines to disperse and colonise new areas of Mars' surface."
Prof Kathleen Campbell, from the School of Environment, University of Auckland, said Mars could be compared to the ultra-dry Atacama Desert in Chile, "where microbes living in salt crystals can survive on tiny amounts of water absorbed directly from the atmosphere.”
New Zealand-based NASA scientist Dr Duncan Steel agreed:
"There is certainly life in very salty environments on Earth... Indeed New Zealand has various extreme environments of great interest in this regard, for example hot sulphur springs.”
Read more expert commentary on the Science Media Centre website.

Policy news & developments

Cervical screening: The Ministry of Health is seeking views from the sector and the public on changing the cervical cancer screening test.
Coastal hazard: The government has indicated that coastal planning issues relating to potential sea level rises over 100 years do not need to be fast-tracked as part of Canterbury’s earthquake recovery.
Prostate guide: The Ministry of Health has launched a new guide to help primary care practitioners provide consistent and culturally appropriate information on prostate cancer testing and treatment.

Kermadec sanctuary surprise

The Kermadec Islands and surrounding ocean – one of the Pacific’s most diverse and pristine marine environments – is to be protected from all forms of fishing and mining.

The Prime Minister announced the proposed Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary this week at the United Nations in New York.

The new sanctuary will extend out to the 200 nautical mile limit of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around the Kermadec Islands– covering a total area of 620,000 square kilometres. All forms of resource extraction will be prohibited.

Marine scientists in New Zealand were delighted with the somewhat unexpected announcement.

“It is marvellous news and the government should be congratulated on it," said Assoc Prof Mark Costello, from the University of Auckland's Institute of Marine Science.
Victoria University Wellington's Prof Jonathan Gardner also congratulated the government on the "big and brave decision."
"The Kermadec region is an exceptional place and is very much in need of protection before large scale exploitation really commences," he said

However, Prof John Thompson, Wold Family Professor in Environmental Balance for Human Sustainability at Cornell University, was more circumspect. He warned that the decision runs the risk of scoring an own goal down the track by limiting the options for other economic or human activities. 
"I’m concerned that the decision to set aside such a vast area might have been made without consideration of our limited knowledge if the area and the options and choices that it offers for the future,” he commented to the SMC.

You can read more expert commentary on the Science Media Centre website.

Quoted: Rotorua Daily Post

"The world of science is a wondrous place, and it saddens me that many people revere sports and movie stars or the rich and famous more than they do scientists, educators, artists and authors, who make our lives better in so many ways."
  Editorial on the Ngati Whakaue and Te Taumata o Ngati Whakaue Trust's new science-based schools project.

'Blue skies' funding scrutinised

New Zealand’s leading ‘blue skies’ research fund boosts Kiwi science, but could be tweaked for greater efficiency, says a new study.

An evaluation conducted by researchers at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research institute has found that Marsden funding increases the scientific output of the funded researchers.

Compared to similar groups that do not receive funding, a team that is given Marsden funding shows a 6-12 percent increase in their academic publications and a 13-30 percent increase in the papers that cite their work.

Before a decision is made to fund a project, it must go through two rounds of evaluation. The new study asserts that “the significant resources devoted to the second round evaluation could be reduced without degrading the quality” of funded research.

Te Punaha Matatini Director, Professor Shaun Hendy, described the research as a "watershed study".
"Most importantly it shows that receiving a Marsden grant does lead to higher productivity and impact, at least in terms of papers published and the citations those papers receive. This does not surprise me, but it is very exciting to see the benefits of Marsden funding quantified for the first time. The study also suggests that there are no diminishing returns – if we were to double or treble the size of the Marsden fund, we would likely not see any decrease in the quantity and impact of the research carried out."
The Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, commented:
“It is clear from this report that the Marsden fund is adding real value to our scientific enterprise as judged by traditional academic criteria. Unfortunately the study design does not allow an assessment of the broader potential impacts of basic investigator led science on, for instance public policy, social or environmental health or commercial opportunities.
"Discovery research of the type the Marsden scheme funds is ultimately at the core of our ability to innovate, to make informed decisions and to advance as a society with the knowledge and knowledge products that flow from it." 

You can read more expert commentary on the Science Media Centre website.

New from Sciblogs

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
Lasers: the transformation to come - Lynley Hargreaves  talks to the Photon Factory’s Cather Simpson about putting lasers to work in the real world.
Infrequently Asked Questions
Alcohol heartbreaker – Moderate drinking increases your risk of some diseases and appears to protect against others, writes Eric Crampton.
Dismal Science
NZ Pharmacy Council wants lower their standards? Are pharmacists trying to weasel their way out of providing only evidence-based therapies? Grant Jacobs investigates.
Code for Life

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
  National Multiple Birth Conference - 2-4 October, Wellington. A line-up of renowned keynote speakers and a series of challenging, thought provoking workshops.
  Climate Change in New Zealand; Is it doom or can we hope? - 5 October, Dunedin. Public Lecture presented by Sir Geoffrey Palmer.
  How to discover a planet from your sofa - 5 October, Wellington. Royal Society of New Zealand Lecture from Chris Lintott, Professor of Astrophysics and Citizen Science at the University of Oxford.
  Going Super Heavy - 7 October, Auckland. 2015 Rutherford Lecture with Distinguished Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger.
  Tobacco taxation: How can it best be used to help achieve a Smokefree Aotearoa? 9 October, Wellington. ASPIRE2025 seminar with Professor Frank Chaloupka.
  Innovation and the Environment - 9 October, Auckland. A discussion of the Obama Administration’s clean energy strategies and ongoing efforts to address climate change impact with United States Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, Mark Gilbert

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