Scientists are cautioned against including personal attacks in debates

Scientists have been advised to conduct their debates according to the science , not the personalities, in a letter sent by the Association of Scientists.

The letter to members reminded them of the Royal Society’s Code of Professional Standards and Ethics that say members must try to obtain and present facts and interpretations in an objective and open manner.

Your editor could  find no mention of the letter on the association’s website this morning (although the search was a quick one).

According to a Radio New Zealand report (HERE) the reminder of the rules followed Jacqueline Rowarth from the Environmental Protection Agency and soil scientist Doug Edmeades taking part in a radio discussion about whether prominent freshwater ecologist Mike Joy should be labelled an extremist.

RNZ said Dr Rowarth and Dr Edmeades appeared on Jamie Mackay’s radio show The Country last month as part of a panel discussion entitled: ‘Is Dr Mike Joy an extremist or does he have a point?

It also mentioned Dr Edmeades’ opinion piece titled ‘Is Mike Joy a biased scientist?

According to RNZ, the president of the Association of Scientists, Craig Stevens said there had been a lot of concern from members about scientists being attacked and not the science.

“In this particular area we’re talking about freshwater and land use.

“It’s an issue that’s incredibly important for New Zealand from a number of perspectives.

“We were concerned that some of this was proceeding in the media in a way that was not helpful for getting the facts across.”

The RNZ report includes comments on the association’s letter from Dr Joy and Dr Edmeades.

Jacqueline Rowarth declined to comment.

 

DOC critic says loss of science quality in NZ is having dire consequences

The scientific justifications for the use of 1080 poison have been challenged in an article posted online (HERE) by Dr Jo Pollard, whose CV includes 18 years conducting research on animal management with AgResearch.

Back in the 1990s, she recalls, any hint of a prejudicial bias seriously undermined a scientist’s credibility but nowadays (she says) it seemed a scientist’s selling ability mattered most.

She contends:

“Gaining funding and successfully delivering results that generate more funding is vital to career development. And since the NZ government controls the money (grants to universities, NGOs and its own departments) the government gets and selects what it wants.”

The Government wants and since the 1960s has been getting widespread aerial poisoning with 1080, Dr Pollard says.

“The government has argued it needs to kill introduced mammals claimed to spread bovine tuberculosis (Tb) and threaten native wildlife, and widespread poisoning is the best way.

“Respected scientists are expected to sit tight while the media, government departments and high ranking officials misuse data to suit pre-ordained agendas.”

One example cited by Dr Pollard is the claim by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, that 1080 poison is “moderately humane”.

But her focus is on the kea, which she claims is a victim of “New Zealand’s degraded science culture” which

“…has spawned the rise of some disease-busting and biodiversity-conserving specialists whose claims go unchallenged, have a very strong following and who are supporting ever-increasing poisoning campaigns”.

Dr Pollard challenges claims that 1080 is needed to kill stoats.

She refers readers to http://1080science.co.nz/scientific-reviews-of-1080/

The use of 1080 by DOC was the subject of Dr Pollard’s criticism in 2011 HERE and HERE

The DOC response (HERE) was written by Paul Livingstone, manager of TB eradication and research at the Animal Health Board, and Mike Slater, Conservator for DOC on the West Coast.

They said:

Although birds, invertebrates and other animals are certainly not immune to the poison, the risks are greatly mitigated by the lethal doses they need to consume. There is no evidence that the toxin has a cumulative effect, or persists in the food chain. In fact, one of the most remarkable properties of the toxin is how quickly a sub-lethal dose is metabolised and expelled from the body. The risks to non-target species are further alleviated by the extremely strict regulations around how the toxin is used. For example, decades of extensive research and operational experience have enabled us to improve the efficiency and minimise the risks of aerial 1080 operations through:

• A reduction in the average quantity of poison bait used per hectare from 30kg/ha in the 1970s to just 2kg/ha today
• Research into more efficient dispersal methods, such as cluster sowing, that may further reduce the quantity of bait used by up to 75 per cent
• The use of GPS technology to make the deployment of baits accurate to within a couple of metres
• The routine use of cinnamon lure to attract possums and repel birds
• The routine use of carefully-screened cereal baits

The response also noted the Environmental Risk Management Authority, in a reassessment of 1080, had concluded the benefits of using 1080 to control introduced species that are destroying our endemic wildlife and spreading bovine TB outweigh the adverse effects.

Dr Pollard is qualified at Honours level in ecology (Limnology, Ecology and Applied Ecology) and animal behaviour and has particular interests in animal welfare, NZ’s ecology, and scientific integrity.

Another rejoinder from DOC seems inevitable.

Manuka honey exports under threat after myrtle rust is identified in Kerikeri nursery

Biosecurity teams are scouring Kerikeri nurseries after the detection of myrtle rust, a significant disease which threatens plant varieties important to the honey industry, such as manuka and kanuka, and $300 million of annual honey exports.

Feijoa, gum and bottlebrush trees are also threatened along with some treasured indigenous species such as pohutakawa and rata.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said authorities were notified on Tuesday evening of a nursery in Kerikeri where pohutakawa seedlings had suspected myrtle rust.

Laboratory testing has since confirmed the disease.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has initiated a Restricted Place notice to restrict the movement of any plants and people at the site, and is treating nursery stock with fungicide spray as a precaution, Guy said.

Work was also under way to trace any stock that had left the nursery and all other nurseries in Kerikeri were being inspected today.

According to the Northern Advocate (HERE), the disease is prevalent in eastern Australia and Tasmania, and was discovered on Raoul Island in late March this year.

Officials believe wind is the likely pathway of incursion into Raoul Island, and it is likely that wind has carried spores to mainland New Zealand from Australia.

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry acknowledged the incursion could have serious consequences for some native species.

“Myrtle rust generally attacks soft new leaf growth, and severe infestations can kill affected plants,” Barry said.

“This could include native species like the pohutakawa and the rata.”

In Australia, the fungus has caused the extinction of several treasured plant species of significance to Aboriginal Australians.

“Myrtle rust has long been expected to arrive in New Zealand, and since the Australian outbreak began in 2010, the Government has worked on a range of measures to help manage and adapt to the fungus in the long term if necessary,” Barry said.

“This includes accelerating work already underway to collect and store germplasm from affected species, searching for signs of resistant myrtle strains which could be incorporated into a breeding programme and monitoring at 800 locations across the country.”

The Department of Conservation would also be conducting inspections of myrtle species on public conservation land in Northland for any early signs of the fungus.

There is no known method of controlling the disease in the wild, apart from applications of fungicide in very small areas as a last resort.

Even if eradication is achieved, there was an ongoing risk of reinfection from Australia.

Anyone believing they have seen myrtle rust on plants in New Zealand were asked to call MPI on 0800 80 99 66.

Paris soil carbon sequestration goals are regarded as ‘unrealistic’

Targets for storing more carbon in the soil, set at the 2015 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, are unrealistic according to scientists writing in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The goal aims to offset rises in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations by increasing soil carbon storage by 4 per mille (0.4%) a year.

The soils of the world contain approximately three times the amount of carbon in organic matter as currently held in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Increasing this soil organic matter stock at a rate of 4 per mille per year – in theory – could fully compensate the rise in atmospheric CO2. Such an increase could come about – for example – by changes in land management or by using different crop rotations.

“In principle, the 4P1000 goal is great,” says Jan Willem van Groenigen, Professor at Wageningen University & Research and lead author of the opinion paper written by scientists from The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“Generally speaking, more carbon is good for almost any soil. If we could combine that with slowing climate change, that would be a double win. The problem is that the numbers don’t add up.”

To store additional carbon in the soil, you need other nutrients, such as nitrogen.

“You cannot build a house with only a pile of bricks but no mortar. Similarly, you cannot produce soil organic matter with only carbon,” explains Kees Jan van Groenigen, co-author of the paper and senior lecturer at the University of Exeter.

“You need enormous amounts of nitrogen, and it is unclear where that nitrogen would come from. For example, to store the quantity of carbon mentioned in the 4p1000 goals, you would need extra nitrogen equivalent to 75% of current nitrogen fertilizer production, and for it to be in the right places. Practically speaking, that is just impossible.”

Does that mean the 4p1000 goals should be abandoned?

“Absolutely not”, says Jan Willem van Groenigen.

“Let’s not throw away the baby with the bathwater. The 4p1000 goals are a great inspiration to do everything we can as farmers, soil scientists, agronomists and policy makers to help fight global warming and at the same time improve our soils.” Instead, the authors appeal to the scientific community to think about the role of nutrients in reaching the 4p1000 goals. “For instance, this could mean that additional soil carbon should be stored in areas where nutrients are also available”, van Groenigen explains. “In other soils the best approach might be to focus on minimizing emissions of other greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide and methane.”

The opinion piece was written with colleagues from the University of California at Davis, Northern Arizona University (USA) and Rothamsted Research (UK) and can be read in Environmental Science and Technology.

The quest for a slower-growing chicken with much more flavour

The chickens in a barn on the Delmarva Peninsula in the USA are part of an experiment that could help change the way Americans eat, and think about, poultry.

Perdue Farms, one of the USA’s largest chicken producers, has been raising what are known as slow-growth chickens side by side with the breeds that have made the company successful.

The New York Times (HERE) says  the new birds, a variety known as Redbro, take 25 per cent longer, on average, to mature than their conventional cousins.  Hence they are more expensive to raise.

A strong incentive as Perdue tries to find  the right slow-growth breed is that a fast-growing cohort of companies that buy vast quantities of poultry are demanding meat from slow-growth chickens. They say giving  birds more time to grow before slaughter will give them a healthier, happier life — and produce better-tasting meat.

“We want to get back to a place where people don’t have to put a marinade on their chicken to make it taste like something,” said Theo Weening, who oversees meat purchasing for Whole Foods and recalls how his mother bought chicken by breed in the Netherlands, where he grew up.

Producing a chicken that consumers can afford is the big challenge for chicken producers. Dr. Stewart-Brown, of Perdue, said it cost about 30 per cent more to feed the Redbro birds; the expense can run even higher for other slow-growth breeds, some of which can take as much as twice as long to reach full weight as conventional birds.

The new chickens have a fuller flavor but their meat tends to be distributed differently over the body, with more generous thighs and smaller breasts than the chicken with which most Americans are familiar.

AgResearch helps with the development of pollution masks using wool filters

As air quality becomes an increasing concern for people around the world, AgResearch has announced it is doing its part in the development of innovative pollution masks .

AgResearch scientists have worked with fibre innovation company Lanaco (formerly Texus Fibre) in the development of its wool filter technology that traps harmful substances before the users breathe them in, as well as being easy to breathe through.

The technology is used in pollution masks now being marketed around the world.

The products launched to date include one mask branded the “world’s most breathable urban lifestyle air pollution mask”, and another range launched recently by Auckland firm Healthy Breath working with leading fashion designer Karen Walker.

“Basically we sat down with Lanaco and applied our specific knowledge to figure out what sort of wool would work best in the filters, which sheep we need to get the wool from and how best to source it,” says AgResearch Science Team Leader Stewart Collie.

“It’s fantastic to see New Zealand wool being a foundation for these products that will be used around the world to improve peoples’ health, and our science being a part of that too.”

“We are now entering into the next phase in our relationship with Lanaco around the research and development going into the filter technology, and we’re excited to continue to play a part in the continued growth of these products.”

Lanaco Chief Executive Nick Davenport says his company, in partnership with AgResearch, has been able to develop  a revolutionary, high-value product using local science, research and development “right here in New Zealand”.

The product will improve the health of millions of people worldwide while providing an opportunity for New Zealand farmers and economic benefit through increased demand and value of wool.

Govt report confirms rivers are facing serious challenges

New Zealand’s rivers and lakes are under increasing pressure, according to the latest national report from the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ about the state of fresh water.

Our fresh water 2017 (HERE), released today, measures the quality of our waterways; water quantity and flows; biodiversity in rivers and lakes; and the cultural health of fresh water.

Key findings from the report are:

    • nitrogen levels are getting worse at 55 per cent and getting better at 28 per cent of monitored river sites across New Zealand;
    • phosphorus levels are getting better at 42 per cent and getting worse at 25 per cent of monitored river sites across New Zealand;
    • of the 39 native fish species we report on, 72 per cent are either threatened with or at risk of extinction;
    * levels are 22 times higher in urban areas and 9.5 times higher in pastoral rivers compared with rivers in native forest areas;
    • 51 per cent of water allocated for consumptive use is for irrigation, and 65 per cent of that is allocated to Canterbury.

Government Statistician Liz MacPherson said (HERE) the regular environment reports were important in providing a national picture of the state of our environment while acknowledging regional variations.

“This helps us see where the greatest pressures are and where we are performing well,” she said. “Today’s report confirms our freshwater environment faces a number of serious challenges.”

Secretary for the Environment Vicky Robertson said land use clearly affected the state of fresh water in this country.

“This report confirms our urban waterways are the most polluted but we are seeing more declining trends in pastoral areas and it’s important we do something about it now and continue to track any progress.”

More information was still needed on fresh water biodiversity.

“It’s clear many species are under pressure. Of the 39 native fish species we report on, 72 per cent are either threatened with or at risk of extinction. About a third of native freshwater plants and invertebrates are also at risk,” Ms Robertson said.

“Recently there has been a strong focus on how swimmable our waterways are, but that is just part of the story. The implications for our freshwater species are really critical.

“Many of our species are found nowhere else in the world so it is even more crucial we don’t lose any under our watch. We need to consider the resilience of all species in any decisions we make that affect the environment.”

Other recent reports also demonstrated the significant impact from human activity on our fresh water quality and quantity and on our ecosystems, habitats and species, Ms Robertson said.

“The more studies there are, the better we understand the impact people have on fresh water. However, we can’t wait for perfect data to act. This report identifies some key issues we can focus on for actions.”

Ms MacPherson said Our fresh water 2017 used the best available data and was independently quality assured.

“Good science, data, and information have the potential to shape our choices and the impact we have on our environment at the national, regional, and community level.”

More work was needed on collecting and reporting consistent data on fresh water, including filling gaps in our knowledge, said Ms MacPherson.

“It will take time and effective collaboration to get the reliable, well-structured, and relevant statistics we need and we are continually looking at ways to improve data for future reports.”

Ms MacPherson noted that as with the other reports in the environmental reporting series, Our fresh water 2017 was focused on providing underlying evidence to help inform policy responses and the public debate.

“Past experience shows where we focus our energy, we can make a difference,” said Ms Robertson. “Over time we have become better at identifying and addressing point source pollution in water. Good fertiliser and erosion management in some areas appears to have helped decrease phosphorous in some waterways. We must explore more ways to effectively improve our most vulnerable waterways.”

The report is the second since the Environmental Reporting Act came into effect in June 2016. The next report – about atmosphere and climate – will be out in October 2017.