Archive May 2011

New fish species discovered on our doorstep Peter Griffin May 31

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A team of Australasian scientists have returned from an expedition to the remote Kermedec Islands having discovered at least three new species of fish.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

The team, which included scientists from Auckland Museum, Te Papa, Department of Conservation, Australian Museum and NIWA spent three weeks observing and collecting specimens to create a record of species diversity in the Kermadecs.

My old Herald colleague Richard Robinson, an excellent photographer who has become a specialist in underwater photography, was also onboard, as was Radio New Zealand science reporter Alison Ballance. So you can expect some great photos of the expedition to pop up in the media and a few specials on the expedition on the Our Changing World show on Radio New Zealand.

Auckland Museum has been running great coverage of the expedition on its blog, with video, photos and blog commentary. It will be a year before the scientists write up their findings from the trip, but already it seems clear they have added to our knowledge of the fish species that inhabit New Zealand waters.

Three new additions

Initial reports from the scientists suggest three fish species “new to science” were discovered on the voyage with 12 species of fish spotted that have never been recorded anywhere in New Zealand before. They also collected a further five species that are new records for the Kermadec Islands.

Bright orange Lotella cod:

Said marine researcher and expedition member Carl Struthers from Te Papa:

’I knew as soon as I saw it in the collecting net that it was something different — it really stood out. I’ve been doing a lot of work on that group of fishes, and I’ve never seen any other Morids from New Zealand that are such a brilliant reddy-orange.’

Orange Lotella cod is among the three new species finds for the Kermadecs expedition CREDIT: Carl Struther

Orange Lotella cod is among the three new species finds for the Kermadecs expedition CREDIT: Carl Struther

Other possible new species include a small pipefish:


a pipefish found by the Kermadecs expedition team could be a new record for science but until it’s official it has been nicknamed the ’orange-spot pipefish’. CREDIT: C. Struthers

Also discovered – a small left-eyed flounder.

Samples of the fish have been sent to international experts for identification. The fish will also be x-rayed so that bone structure can be examined in detail.

The expedition photo gallery has some great images.

How many species are there?

In an age where we hear a lot about species moving closer to extinction, it is great to hear reports of new species being discovered. So far, scientists have described around 1.7 million species of plants and animals (5490 of which are mammals).That alsoincludes around 31,000 species of fish.

How many more there are on Earth is very difficult to tell but one thing is for sure – many of the new additions to the list will be found in the oceans, particularly in hard to reach places and around hydrothermal vents on the sea floor.

Source: Current Results. Table does not include domestic animals or single-cell organisms

Source: Current Results. Table does not include domestic animals like sheep and goats or single-cell organisms

Another freaky medical case Peter Griffin May 06

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A while ago the New Zealand Medical Journal explained why it is unwise to run around with a toothbrush in your mouth.

Now British medical journal The Lancet delivers sound advice against playing soccer – or any kind of sport, with your keys on a chain around your neck. The journal reports that the 15 year old boy shown in the pictures below (slightly graphic) was rushed to an eye clinic in Munich with a key embedded in his left orbit – the socket that holds your eye.

How did the key get there? Well, the boy was playing soccer with a key chain around his neck. As Dr Christian Mayer explains in The Lancet:

When our patient went to head the ball, his key flew upwards against gravity, got in the way of the flight path of the approaching football, and penetrated his left eye socket.

Luckily, the key didn’t stab the boy directly in the eye, which could have resulted in the loss of sight in that eye. Instead, doctors managed to loosen the key and remove it from his eye socket. They fed him a dose of antibiotics to stave off infection and sent him on his way. A lucky escape.

And in true German style, Dr Mayer points out the error of the boy’s ways:

He was in violation of Federation Internationale de Football Association (International Federation of Association Football [FIFA]) rules by wearing a necklace with a key during the game.

I bet he won’t do it again…

Source: The Lancet

Source: The Lancet

Pepsigate revisited Peter Griffin May 03

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Have you ever been to a conference where more than half the attendees are tapping away on smart phones, laptops or tablet computers while the main keynotes and panel discussions are underway?

Welcome to the world of social media conferences, where attendees practice what they preach – firing off tweets, microblogs, status updates and audio podcasts as they process information being presented by the speakers in front of them.

That was the scene at Media140 in Brisbane last week, a conference that examined the pros and cons of using social media platforms for discussion of and dissemination of information about science.

I spoke in my capacity as manager of the New Zealand Science Media Centre on the Pepsigate scandal of July 2010. Just to refresh your memory, that was the blogging debacle that resulted when respected US science blog network, the home of hugely popular blogger PZ Myers, launched a blog featuring content from food giant Pepsi. While the blog was sponsored by Pepsi and was to feature blog posts from Pepsi scientists it lasted barely 24 hours, by which stage a number of popular bloggers had deserted Scienceblogs.

The network has recovered reasonably well from the Pepsigate incident, though there are less bloggers than there were before and science blogging networks have proliferated since then.

Not long before the panel discussion started, (listen to the podcast here), news came through that National Geographic had taken control of Scienceblogs, which is owned and will continue to be majority owned by Seed Media.

Pepsigate panel, from left - Darren Osborne (ABC), bEC cREW (COSMOS) Matt Levinson (freelance) Peter Griffin (NZ SMC), Wilson da Silva (COSMOS)

Pepsigate panel, from left - Darren Osborne (ABC), bEC cREW (COSMOS) Matt Levinson (freelance) Peter Griffin (NZ SMC), Wilson da Silva (COSMOS)

The move suggests National Geographic, already a sponsor and part owner of  Scienceblogs has come to the rescue with some badly needed capital for Seed and Scienceblogs. You see, Seed is yet another traditional publisher trying to make a go of things online and as founder Adam Bly explained in a letter to his bloggers in the wake of Pepsigate, display advertising on science blog networks doesn’t pay the bills for a commercially run operation.

The panel discussion reflected on Pepsigate and what lessions we can take away from it about the fragility of trust on the internet. The issue of trust was central to the conference itself which government officials and journalists attending I spoke to seemed most concerned about the trustworthiness of sources of science-related information and and about maintaining their own integrity and credibility.

Anyway, we went off track a bit on the panel veering into a discussion about the merits of embargos and journalist disclosure, but it was a good discussion. Bottom line, for me Pepsigate can be summed up like this:

- An ill-conceived attempt to bring in revenue for Scienceblogs that failed not only because of the practical difficulties of featuring paid for content from a beverages maker, but because the decision was so out of step with the ethos of Scienceblogs and its community of volunteer bloggers.

- There was already widespread dispondency within the Scienceblogs community which was the real reason for the exodus of top-notch bloggers.

- Scienceblogs has survived and the deal with National Geographic will ensure its sustainability. But will it ensure the independence of its bloggers? Will the discourse be toned down or censored to meet National Geographic’s more mainstream values?

- Science blogs have fragmented partly as a result of Pepsigate, which means there are pockets of science bloggers all over the place now. That’s not such a problem in the age of RSS aggegators, Twitter and social media, but there is still room for blog networks as a way of sampling and discovering a wide range of writing.

- No one has figured out how to make blogging pay – maybe with the exception of Ariana Huffington, who has shown that you can build a valuable business on the back of free labour, but the model is rarely equitable to all concerned.

Other highlights from Media140:

Closing keynote from futurist Kristin Alford on digital dysphorias

Opening keynote from scientist and  science communication expert Andrew Maynard

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