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Speaker: Seeking Better Science

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  • Steve Barnes,

    hard-earned taxpayer bikkies.

    Dog whistle alert there. Those paying the most tax are not the hardest workers, just the highest paid and that what most of those people do amounts to little in terms of creating wealth, ie. they are normally found in the finance sector, law or, god forbid, property development or real estate.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report

  • Paul Robeson,

    Caveat emptor- only a school scientist.

    The other thing here is presumably most of our science is focused on biology to assist our primary industries.

    Our scientists are hardly going to be working on designs or innovations for mass production.

    Interesting overview from Colin James here about Korea, which I believe started it's current manufacturing direction by government order under a military regime in the '70s.


    There can't be much point researching technology that would be a part of this kind of economy.

    In other words, I guess I'm saying industries and economic direction may have to have a top down approach in such an isolated economy. All they seem to be suggesting is mining gold. No value added there.

    Since Feb 2008 • 87 posts Report

  • Steve Barnes,

    We should be pouring money into Ag-research and bio-tech, we should be aiming for World leader in food production and processing. We could be using our "Hard Earned Taxpayer Dollars" to develop this goal. All we need its a PM who is "Ambisshuss" to do something other than fossick for presshusss stuff.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report

  • Paul Campbell,

    There's no reason why we can't be doing R&D on designs for mass production - that's what I do day to day - what we probably wont be doing is doing that mass production ourselves here - we're still a relatively high wage economy, and even when China and India go all middle class on us there will still be low wage economies around to do that stuff.

    But designing stuff to be built in China (or Vietnam or wherever) is something we can do - there are giant 'factories' in China waiting for us to use them, really empty buildings where you rent the space by the week, they bring in the rented manufacturing machines, skilled labour to run them, source the parts, fill a bunch of containers for you and send them off while they tear your temporary factory down and move onto the next company .... get your sales volumes up enough and your factory becomes semi permanent and your costs go down ...

    Anyone can do this from the small entrepreneur to a large company wanting to outsource .... there's no reason why we can't have bright ideas design them here, build them in China and sell the world wide just like everyone else - in fact if we don't we're missing out.

    Of course 50 years from now it's all going to change, shipping will be a thing of the past and there will be a fabber in a store downtown that will make whatever we want, including one for home .....

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2623 posts Report

  • Bart Janssen,

    Bruce we are just going to disagree on a bunch of things I think. I think your numbers for overheads are way too low, either there is something you are not counting or our accountants have it completely wrong as do those in the universities.

    As for the other countries the history of funding and development in the US is pretty well covered. Your reading of it obviously differs from mine.

    This point I will address

    Perhaps this is offensive, but the message I got from your post was that only certain classes of scientists can lead a major recovery, and money should go to them. I disagree.

    I'm sorry that was not the intent of my post. What I wanted to say is that in New Zealand we now have so little discovery science funding that we no longer generate sufficient novel ideas to progress fast enough. Over the past 20 years most of the government funding has been shifted to product development much of it dictated by the industries. Even so called basic funding from FRST required a path to market for the product.

    Good R&D investment has a balance of discovery and development. In New Zealand we have pretty much abandoned discovery and committed everything to development of products.

    That hasn't worked well. I believe we desperately need to shift the balance back to discovery and fund more projects based solely on the quality of science. Marsden's are a good model and a good example of the value of that kind of research.

    That does not mean the product development isn't important or that those people doing product development are not valuable. If I led you to believe that I am sorry that was not my intent.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4461 posts Report

  • Kumara Republic,

    All we need its a PM who is "Ambisshuss" to do something other than fossick for presshusss stuff.

    And for that matter, trying to be a "bland plastic replica of suburban America".

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5446 posts Report

  • recordari,

    Peter Gluckman said;

    Younger sexual maturation, slow brain development and complex social networks are creating a "powder keg" likely to cause an explosion of unsafe sex, drugs and crime, warns the Government's chief science adviser.


    Sexual maturation had sped up because of better child health and nutrition, and was a sign of a physically healthy population.

    BS. You don't think the 80,000+ new chemicals introduced in the past 100 years had anything to do with it? These people do. And this panel from the EPA including other multi-disciplinary 'experts' also found that;

    The weight-of-the-evidence evaluation of human and animal studies suggest that endocrine-disrupting chemicals, particularly the estrogen mimics and antiandrogens, and body fat are important factors associated in altered puberty timing.

    But hey, Gluckman knows best.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report

  • George Darroch,

    BS. You don't think the 80,000+ new chemicals introduced in the past 100 years had anything to do with it?

    My knowledge of the subject is that it's still poorly understood. There's evidence of relationships and it would be wrong to discount these, but drawing strong inferences is premature.

    But Gluckman does have research on his side. Where I think he's wrong is overstating the degree of early maturation. It isn't as large (.34 years in 30 years in the US) as he would imply.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report

  • Bart Janssen,

    Gluckman knows best

    Hmm unlikely. However at the risk of seeming to be a defender of Gluckman it's worth actually going to his actual speech rather than the hash made of it by the media.

    Historically, the age of sexual maturation has fallen dramatically from about 16 to 17 years of age 200 years ago to between 11½ and 12½ years on average now.

    The increased rate of sexual maturation has its origins in better maternal and child health and nutrition, and is a sign of a physically healthy population.

    recent neural
    imaging studies suggest that the human brain is not fully mature until sometime between 20 and 30 years of age.

    Not only has an ever-widening gap emerged between sexual maturation and maturation of the brain, but society is also much more complex than it was even 100 years ago. At the end of the 19th century, for example, individuals had relatively small social networks; contact with others was largely by personal communication or by letter or telegram. Now, radio, television, internet, cellphones, texting and Twitter all provide young people with the ability to form and maintain much more complex social networks. Although this increased use of technology obviously has some advantages, there are also risks as immature brains attempt to process and manage all of this information and the consequences inherent in these social networks.

    The money quote is only one reported

    These three aspects of development—increased rate of sexual maturation, a slow rate of neural maturation, and an increasingly complex social milieu – have the potential to produce a powder keg during adolescence. As a result, acting out behaviours in a number of domains, such as binge drinking, illicit drug use, unsafe sexual activity and criminal offending, are increasingly likely to occur.

    Personally I think it's not an unreasonable connection to make and it doesn't exclude the influence of other factors such as novel chemical exposure etc etc.

    He also points out that

    On the bright side, however, many individuals are extremely resilient to these pressures and their passage through adolescence is untroubled; an important research question is to understand what makes some children resilient and others not.

    Seems to me the message of his speech was that our laws and habits of child rearing have not adapted to changes in both age of puberty and more importantly for me, the fairly recent understanding that brains do not fully mature until the 20s, which is something you cannot possibly convince an 18 year old is true.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4461 posts Report

  • Sacha,

    and is a sign of a physically healthy population


    doesn't exclude the influence of other factors such as novel chemical exposure etc

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

  • Kyle Matthews,

    It's not possible to be physically healthy while being exposed to new chemicals?

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report

  • Sacha,

    It's not possible to be physically healthy while being exposed to new chemicals?

    Most people would not see persistent exposure to toxic environmental substances as compatible with good health, no. And it's not exactly hidden science for someone of Gluckman's resources.

    A more neutral expression could have been used, rather than cheerleading the progress of our industrialised agrichemical society.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

  • recordari,

    And it's not exactly hidden science for someone of Gluckman's resources.

    That was sort of my beef. The statements were so categorical, it seemed to leave little room for broader discussion and understanding of the issues. Poor reporting seems likely, but when in 2 minutes I found 20+ references on BPA, endocrine disruptors, oestrogen receptors etc etc, I sort of would expect my Chief Scientist to stand up to more scrutiny. And therefore, as Sacha mentioned, it starts to reek of cheerleading.

    According to the scientist in the office next to me (long story) the 'healthy' bit could account for reducing the maturation age from 14 to 12 in certain circumstances, but chemicals could bring it down to 8, or even younger.

    I also think the last thing that is needed in response to a tragedy (or several tragedies) is media hyperbole. This undoubtedly isn't Gluckman's fault, but still.

    Sorry, it's been a bad day, and I'm ranting.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report

  • Russell Brown,

    Sorry, it's been a bad day, and I'm ranting.

    Happens to us all.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report

  • Rich of Observationz,

    That whole speech sounds very dodgy to me. Even if you accept the scientific premise, it's the kind of science, like studying racial attributes, that has to be approached very carefully.

    I get the impression that cracking down on the Wayward Yoof is the Key government's Big Idea. Drug scares, booze scares, driving scares, closing shops, raiding afterparties - now that Key has no be careful about offending Maori, kids are the new n*****s. So when the government's leading scientist starts coming up with a new reason why young people need to be controlled, a not-very hidden agenda can't be far behind.

    Possibly what they're really worried about is that young people are perfectly able to think straight and are losing tolerance for the way the old are fucking up the planet and peoples lives with uncontrolled corporate capitalism.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report

  • Kyle Matthews,

    <quote.Most people would not see persistent exposure to toxic environmental substances as compatible with good health, no.</quote>

    You didn't say toxic chemicals, just said new chemicals. But anyway.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report

  • Peter Ashby,

    The attempted furore over endocrine disruptor 'chemicals' ignores the fact that there are potential endocrine 'disruptors' in just about everything we eat. You do not have to eat hormone riddled beef to get a hit from a diet high in beef. Neither do you have to eat unprocessed soy to get a hit from the phytoestrogens in your tofu.

    There may be issues of longer persistence from the 'artificial' compounds, but that is cancelled out by the higher dosage from our food, eaten 3 times a day, 7 days a week.

    In addition I fail to see the epidemiological data that indicates that we are actually suffering a lowered longevity from being exposed to them. More people for eg get cancer now than in the past both simply because they are not dying from other things so are living long enough and because we are much better at diagnosis. More people are surviving cancer too.

    Put against the problems caused by the holy terror combination that is obesity, inactivity and alcohol abuse environmental toxins fade into insignificance. The reality is that tackling those involves hard choices about lifestyle that many are not prepared to make or even to listen to. Environmental toxins push easier buttons, they feed into the organic nutribollocks natural purity thing many have these days and they are bogey 'chemicals' that are easy to point a finger at. That is not enough however. Show me the bodies and prove that is what killed them, and not the obesity, heart disease, metabolic disorder and dodgy liver.

    Here in Scotland obese poor kids are growth stunted because they are eating truly empty calories, I have no reason not to expect that situation to be different in anything other than degree in NZ.

    It's like people obsessing about the truly miniscule residues from pesticides remaining on our fruit and veg. The only reason we know they are still there is because science's ability to detect them is several orders of magnitude better than it was. Parts per trillion? easy as pie. If you gave some modern 'non-organic' produce for analysis back when Rachael Carson was writing Silent Spring they would pass it as 'organic' (assuming they had such a concept back then).

    We are living in a time that is no longer able to tolerate even the tiniest risk, regardless of the potential benefit. We are totally risk averse and so we created this thing called Organic Food which is just agriculture from the 1930's set in aspic. Why then? because they had developed a number of useful tools, like copper sulphate and spraying BT. It's a magnificent marketing success, but that does not mean 'organic' has any actual meaning in terms of human health and wellbeing or environmental for that matter since it is also an environmental state set in aspic.

    Dundee, Scotland • Since May 2007 • 425 posts Report

  • Islander,

    Peter Ashby - a lot of my family/friend (whanau) group grow most of our veg/fruit/nuts; catch our own fish, and shoot or harvest our own meat: we're also quite happy, occaisionally, to go eat out (even-gasp! at a commercial takeaway.) We're lucky: we're privileged. I'd suggest that a huge number of our peers (we encompass people aged from from 85 to under 1) dont have our choices - or our knowledge.
    And we live *here* (or in selected places in Australia.)

    The luck & knowledge factor...

    which also applies to researchers/scientists of every stripe-

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report

  • Peter Ashby,


    There is nothing wrong with takeaways, eaten occasionally. Everything in moderation, including moderation. My wife and I occasionally eat haddock and chips from the takeaway down the hill. We sit and watch the birds in the bay either from the car or the benches outside while eating them, the food being only part of the enjoyment. A life without joy is not worth living.

    But many have forgotten that joys taken too often not only lose their lustre but they may be bad for you too. We eat takeaways about once every six weeks on average, as main meals, never as snacks. And we enjoy them very much.

    We are not the sort of people for whom every meal must have all the food groups in the mandated proportions or it is inherently unhealthy.

    I am gluten intolerant and at the moment I am an engaged in working out how to make a passable GF water pastry for the simple reason that I seriously miss pork pies. So at the moment I will be imbibing rather too much saturated fat (though the running will deal with that). When I reach the best result possible within the constraints (needs some gram flour I think, how much will be the next question). Once I have solved the problem (and my initial attempt was promising (no egg wash, it made the top rock hard) I will eat a small one at most once a fortnight, pulled out of the freezer. A nodule of joy returned to my life. Unhealthy, yes but tolerable within and because of the rest of my lifestyle.

    So the good life can be lead including things that are not good for us. They are paid for by how we live in between enjoying them. They are not banned outright, or shouldn't be.

    I am regularly accused in here of lecturing or setting myself up as some sort of superman, but I am just a man, with Gilbert's syndrome, flat feet, short sightedness and various other strikes against. Where I am rich is in knowledge, understanding and hard won experience. All I am doing is trying to spread that and say if it is possible for me there is no reason it can't be possible for others.

    After all, what use is knowledge kept to oneself?

    Dundee, Scotland • Since May 2007 • 425 posts Report

  • Islander,

    Wow - glutenfree water-based pastry; as a foodie, i am now seriously challenged- Peter, as you know ANY pastry must have a fat/oil component:

    ok, are you going to be using lean pork? Or pork with good pork fat component?

    Because, if the latter, I think you've solved your pastry problem-

    incidentally, I've never found you hectoring/lecturing but, then again, I remember you from way way back on archae.sys (and the errrm, debates with kuchkhinsy - or whatever it's name was) and I am a really high myope too -

    pick a grain/flour - oatmeal; buckwheat;quinoa; other(gram etc.)
    ditto-oil/fat: EVO, rendered porkfat, coconut oil; other
    are you yeast tolerant? Baking soda/and or baking powder tolerant?

    I totally agree: I have a lot of knowledge & I love to share it, and I'm just about to go check out Gilbert's syndrome....as someone who is an atheistic asexual, and awkward with social transactions to boot, may I say greeting to you & family? And, I'd sooner die than run a marathon (I lack some adrenalin factors not to mention much oxcytocin.) cheers Keri

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report

  • Rich Lock,

    I get the impression that cracking down on the Wayward Yoof is the Key government's Big Idea.

    What with the seemingly endless stories about dead drunk kids and after-ball parties, May does appear to be 'won't somebody think of the children' month at the herald.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report

  • Bart Janssen,


    and is a sign of a physically healthy population
    doesn't exclude the influence of other factors such as novel chemical exposure etc

    I don’t think so. Both things could be true at the same time.

    Most people would not see persistent exposure to toxic environmental substances as compatible with good health

    So here’s the problem you said toxic and I said novel. If you've never eaten a banana then it is full of novel chemicals, none of which are toxic at the levels you find them in the banana.

    I know most folks see the word chemical and read the word toxic. But since everything we eat and are is chemical that isn’t really reasonable.

    Your comments about the industrialized agrichemical society are another issue. One close to my heart. Suffice to say that while exposure to many of the chemicals used to produce modern crops is not a great idea neither are starvation or death by afflotoxin. Like anything taken to extreme, overuse and poor controls on some of those chemicals can be very bad but they have also done tremendous good.

    I don’t mind the rant. As I said the idea that nutrition has reduced the age of puberty doesn’t exclude the influence of some of the things you are talking about. Since it’s really difficult to sort out the respective contributions and in many cases it’s really difficult to identify all the possible hormone like compounds (many of them natural in source) I don’t think it’s a profitable argument.

    The point he was really making is that kids are reaching puberty at a younger age (true whatever you believe the major cause to be) and that our idea that people are mature by the time they reach 18 is wrong. That means there is a gap where we probably need to re-examine how we help kids reach adulthood (whatever that is).

    I also don’t think that necessarily means a “clamp down” on teenagers, but it does mean that maybe some of our assumptions about maturity ought to be looked at. Can that be a bad thing?

    Note it is not my intent or desire to be a cheerleader for Professor Gluckman and I know it sounds a bit like that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4461 posts Report

  • recordari,

    Not really Bart, as you are presenting rational arguments without emotive taglines. Peter also.

    My personal wish is that the notions of 'obesity', 'premature maturation', 'diabetes', and a number of other conditions too extensive to list, are not looked at without due consideration of environmental factors. This of course includes diet, but also should acknowledge the role of toxins, and the effects they have on, for example, the Thyroid, or the glucose/insulin pathways (explaining diabetes at the end of a sentence is beyond my capabilities).

    To extend this example, there is some ground breaking work going on at Auckland Uni on the effects of excess Copper (with corresponding low Zinc) in diabetes, with fairly extraordinary results.

    It is likely Gluckman does know about all this. It is also likely he chooses his words for a reason, but I'm not going to compound any conspiracy.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report

  • Russell Brown,

    I am regularly accused in here of lecturing or setting myself up as some sort of superman ...

    Peter I think "teased" would be a more appropriate word than "accused". It is affectionate, really.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report

  • Bart Janssen,

    due consideration of environmental factors

    I can explain why there really is only limited study of environmental factors in health, particularly human health.

    There are a couple of major problems.
    The biggest is that genotype dramatically affects the response to environment. So it becomes really hard to identify an environmental effect when only 1% of the population respond that way. The other 99% of the people obscure the effect.

    Then you have the combinatorial problem which escalates as soon as you get any synergy between compounds. If genotype A responds to compound 1 only the the presence of compound 7 then my head explodes.

    Science works most efficiently when you can limit variables but in the real world variables often cannot be limited.

    Statistical analysis (epidemiology) can help but its power is limited by the sample size and the strength of the effect. If you have lots of people affected or the environmental effect is very strong then stats can help a lot. But for subtle effects or things that only affect a few people, stats struggles.

    It isn't that scientists ignore the effect of environment it is just that for the most part to actually study those effects costs vastly more in time and money than we have available. When you get to talk the researchers you often hear things like "yeah we know there is an environmental component to [your favorite disease] but we don't have the funding to pursue it".

    BTW one of my personal gripes is with the use of copper in organic farming. It really does build up in the soil. Because organic farmers don't use modern fungicides they rely too much on copper and the result is a progressive build up of copper which isn't all that great. And yes I know some organic farmers are aware of the issue and do work to avoid it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4461 posts Report

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