Press Release – Science Media Centre
GM Wheat; HPV Vaccine; IgNobel Prizes; New from the SMC; Sciblogs highlights; Research highlights; Policy News; Sci-tech eventsSMC Heads-Up: GM-Cancer link questioned, vaccine ‘psuedoscience’ challenged and the IgNobel goes to….
Issue 199 21 – 27 September
GM Maize cancer link questioned
New research on the long term effects of herbicide-resistant GM maize fed to rats generated sensational headlines this week — e.g. ‘GM corn causes cancer‘ — but international scrutiny has shown that the study falls far short of proving such claims.
The French research, published this week in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, was underwritten in part by the Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering, a group known for it’s staunch anti-GM stance.
The authors claim that females rats fed the GM maize were 2-3 times more likely to die during the 2 year study, mostly due to mammary tumours. They also noted the males in some GM-fed groups had an increased incidence of other types of cancer.
Independent researchers around the globe have criticised the study, citing poor methodology and lack of statistical analysis.
Prof David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding Of Risk, University of Cambridge, told the UK SMC:
“In my opinion, the methods, stats and reporting of results are all well below the standard I would expect in a rigorous study – to be honest I am surprised it was accepted for publication.”
New Zealand experts contacted by the NZ SMC expressed similar concerns:
Dr Mark Vickers, Senior Research Fellow, Liggins Institute, University of Auckland, said:
“The data is not as robust as the authors have stated and experimental power is quite low. Key data as regarding fluid and fluid intakes and body growth all appear to be missing (although were measured). It is surprising that the paper was accepted for publication without such data.”
Assoc Prof Peter Dearden, Director of Genetics Otago, Biochemistry Department, University of Otago, said:
“In my opinion this is interesting work, but with major flaws, with an outcome that needs to be followed up with robust, well described experiments.”
Extensive expert commentary, collected the international network of Science Media Centres, is available here.
On the science radar…
HPV Vaccine claims scrutinised
The Immunisation Advisory Centre is calling into question testimony given in a high profile coroner’s inquest, following concerns over the validity of the evidence provided.
The recent coronial inquiry into the death of teenager Jasmine Renata generated much interest, notably for live video links with overseas expert witnesses who challenged the safety of the HPV vaccine Gardasil.
A document released by the Immunisation Advisory Centre in Auckland addresses some obvious inconsistencies in the inquest’s expert witness testimony. In addition to drawing on international research to back the safety of the Gardasil vaccine, the document also highlights several conflicts of interest arising from the experts’ funding and investments.
Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, Director of Research at the Immunisation Advisory Centre at The University of Auckland said to the SMC:
“I was deeply disappointed to see conjecture and pseudoscience used in that forum in an attempt to bring a vaccine with such an excellent safety profile into question. Thinking through their assertions in a logical and sequential manner, it is apparent how far from reality the ‘evidence’ has strayed”.
A full copy of the document is available here.
IgNobel Awards honour the quirky
The 22nd First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, a celebration of the odd, weird and quirky side of science, took place this morning (NZT).
The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative – and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.
This years winners included the authors of the study “Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller“, who received the Nobel prize in Psychology and a Russian company using old military munitions to create diamonds who took home the peace prize.
Past Kiwi IgNobel Laureates include Lianne Parkin, Sheila Williams, and Patricia Priest of the University of Otago, for demonstrating with a randomised controlled trial that people slip and fall less often on icy footpaths in wintertime if they wear socks on the outside of their shoes, and James Watson of Massey University, New Zealand, for his scholarly study, “The Significance of Mr. Richard Buckley’s Exploding Trousers.”
You can watch highlights from the surreal and willfully absurd ceremony here (when available).
“From a short term economic point of view it’s a very, very good thing,
“But if everyone does this in the world then the consequences for the climate in the long term are bad, and that’s bad for our economy and for our environment as well.”
Rick Boven, economic and environmental strategist, on oil and petroleum development in NZ.
New from the SMC
GM Corn: New research suggests that GM Corn and herbicide causes cancer in rat feeding studies, but independent experts from around the globe are not convinced.
Drugs ‘on-the-Cob’: A treatment for a rare disease, which could previously only be manufactured by expensive cell culture techniques, may now be produced by greenhouse-grown maize. Experts respond.
Reflections on Science:
Climate in the courtroom: An editorial in the New Zealand Herald reflects on last week’s courtroom drama featuring NIWA v. Climate skeptics.
Some of the highlights from this week’s posts:
Vitamin D: ‘Silver bullet or fool’s gold’ – John Pickering looks at the question of causality when considering vitamin D levels and ill health.
Letting a good story get in the way of a few facts? – Research linking eye colour and agreeableness gets gets a looking over by Alison Campbell.
Separating the chaff from the grain in the debate on GM wheat – Guest blogger Prof Jack Heinemann elaborates on his recent analysis of GM wheat and potential health effects in humans.
Please note: hyperlinks point, where possible, to the relevant abstract or paper.
Crows catch on to causal agents: Researchers from the University of Auckland have shown that crows can make inferences about events they cannot see, a cognitive ability previously only observed in humans. Studying this cognitive ability in non-human animals could help researchers understand how it evolved, the authors suggest.
Read/write quantum bits: In a new study, Australian researchers describe how they were able to both read and write information using the spin, or magnetic orientation, of an electron bound to a single phosphorus atom embedded in a silicon chip.The combination of good ‘qubit’ performance and practical fabrication approach (most computer chips are already based on silicon) opens the door to building scalable quantum computing circuits. Check out the video.
Giving, not greed, gut reaction: A new study indicates that our intuitive response is to cooperate; humans tend to be generous when making snap decisions, but act more selfishly when given time to reflect. Across a series of experimental games, researchers found that players were most cooperative with others when forced to make decisions quickly, but became more selfish if given more time to make choices. behaviour.
Pre-historic dentistry: Researchers may have uncovered new evidence of ancient dentistry in the form of a 6,500-year-old human jaw bone with a tooth showing traces of beeswax filling. The authors suggest that it was likely intended to reduce pain and sensitivity from a vertical crack in the enamel and dentin layers of the tooth. This finding is perhaps the most ancient evidence of pre-historic dentistry in Europe.
Chronic fatigue virus link ruled out: Contrary to previous findings, new research finds no link between chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and the mouse viruses XMRV (xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus) and pMLV (polytropic murine leukemia virus). There has been debate and controversy over the possibility that these viruses cause CFS in humans, and the current study should end such speculation, according to the authors. In New Zealand it is estimated that there are around 20,000 CFS sufferers.
Some of the policy highlights from this week:
Conservation win: Record numbers of threatened species are now being actively managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC), thanks in part to the newly completed Natural Heritage Management System (NHMS).
Improving healthcare quality: Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew today announced the development of new Quality and Safety Markers for healthcare and a national patient safety campaign to launch early next year.
Taking NZ science to the States: This weekend Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce will travel to Washington DC and San Francisco as part of a delegation to raise the profile of the New Zealand science, trade and education sectors.
Upcoming sci-tech events
• Chemeca 2012 – Chemical engineering conference – 23-26 September, Wellington.
• Trade, TPP and Health workshop – mini symposium with Dr Deborah Gleeson (La Trobe University) and Professor Jane Kelsey (UoA, Faculty of Law) – 25 September, Auckland.
For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC’s Events Calendar.