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The swine flu pandemic and climate change were the two biggest science-related issues covered in the New Zealand media in 2009, according to the Science Media Centre’s Media Tracker report published today.

The top 10 list of science-related stories picked up in the New Zealand media covers everything from October’s devastating tsunamis in Samoa to the debut of Chief Science Advisor Professor Sir Peter Gluckman to debate over aerial drops of 1080 poison.

Using data from Meltwater News and its own media logs, the SMC was able to take a snapshot of science coverage in the media in 2009. The SMC has also rated the quality of media coverage on these issues, with results ranging from poor to excellent.

“The media did a pretty good job covering the science angles during the swine flu pandemic and on news events like the tsunamis in Samoa and Auckland’s toxic beach issue,” says SMC manager Peter Griffin.

“But when it comes to climate change, the media really needs to up its game. Often the good work of environment reporters in the news section is undone by columnists working for the same publication, who at best gloss over the science and at worst misinform their readers,” he adds.

The SMC noted that in controversial science-related stories during the year, such as the plan to fortify bread with folic acid, scientists were often marginalised in favour of activists and lobby groups.

“Scientists need to get better at stepping forward when issues they are expert on are under the media spotlight. Too often the talking heads chosen by the media have an agenda to push and are willing to twist the science for their own ends.”

The SMC worked with hundreds of scientists during the year, quoting them in round-ups of expert comment and in briefings for the media. In October it also established Sciblogs.co.nz – the largest science blogging network in Australasia, featuring scientists writing on their areas of expertise.

Top 10 NZ science-related stories of 2009

1. Swine flu media frenzy

2. Poles apart on climate change

3. Folic acid debate

4. Pseudoephedrine ban

5. Low immunisation rates

6. Auckland’s toxic beaches

7. Chief Science Advisor’s debut

8. Devastating tsunamis

9. GM breaches

10. Anti-1080 campaign

Click here to download the report.

You can also download the Science Media Centre Annual Review for 2009 here.

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