By Sarah-Jane O'Connor 23/07/2018

The Aotearoa New Zealand Science Journalism Fund is now in its third round, with applications closing this week, which seems like a good time to celebrate some of the great journalism that’s been enabled by the fund.

It’s the first independent journalism fund dedicated to furthering coverage of the science-related issues that impact New Zealanders. Dr Rebecca Priestley, winner of the 2016 Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize, set up the fund in 2017 to support journalism that highlights the science that underpins, or informs, major issues facing our society.

While Rebecca provided the seed money to get the fund started, several institutes have come on board to fund specific topics within rounds – more info about becoming a supporter is available on the fund’s website. But even if you’re an individual who wants to support the fund, you can do so via PressPatron.

Round 3 topics

The third round of the science journalism fund closes for applications on Friday, 27 July. This time around, applications are invited across four categories:

But without any further ado, here are the stories that were funded from the first round of the fund. Stories from the second round are in progress and are expected to be published over the next few months – we’ll be back to share them again then.

Controversial Technologies: Should We Even Go There? – Funded By Te Pūnaha Matatini

The robots will see you now
Naomi Arnold, New Zealand Geographic

Adrian Malloch, NZ Geographic.

In this feature article, science writer Naomi Arnold examines the role robots like Paro – a fluffy Canadian harp seal – will play in our future healthcare.

An excerpt (read in full):

Lillian Neilson loves those old songs, the waiata from her youth in Gisborne. The staff and therapists of Selwyn Village in Point Chevalier, Auckland, sometimes sing or hum along with her, turning to their phones to dig out words she’s forgotten.

“I used to be a singer,” she says. “I used to sing in our church choir. You’ve heard of Daphne Walker? I was the young Daphne Walker.”

But Neilson, 84, a mother of four and a former maternity nurse, doesn’t know any other Māori residents in the rest home, and few add their voices to hers.

“I do feel lonely, so I generally come in my room and I sing my songs. I put the telly on and sing the music that comes over.”

So when it’s her turn to have Paro, a fluffy robotic Canadian harp seal with large, fathomless eyes, she’ll sing a song to him.

CRISPR: growing and eating gene-edited foods
Simon Morton, This Way Up, Radio NZ

Founder and host of This Way Up for 13 years, Simon Morton tackled the gene-editing tool CRISPR for this episode of the show.

An excerpt (read in full or listen to the show):

Before having a go at explaining what gene editing is (great explainer from The Royal Society), I thought I’d lay my genetic credentials on the table.

I’ve been discussing genes and genetics for over 10 years now as a journalist – everything from sequencing the genes of beer yeast to gene therapies that restore hearing.

I love biology and genetics seemed a good way to explain the physical world around me…but I realised I knew nothing about how DNA actually worked – how does this invisible molecule that’s in nearly every living cell make me me, you you, a cat a cat, and a poodle a dog?

But how could 4 letters, the chemicals sequences of  A C T G really be the foundation of all life on this planet…

What do we do? Agriculture in the age of synthetic food
William Ray, Our Changing World, Radio NZ

Meatless meats and milkless milks seem to be just over the horizon, podcaster and radio producer William Ray writes in the intro to this story, which ran on long-running science show Our Changing World.

An excerpt (read in full or listen to the show):

For now, these plant-based proteins and alternative milk products are significantly more expensive than the real stuff. But that may not be the case for much longer.

“Their goal is to come in and compete on price, and come in and undercut those commodity prices,” says food technology futurist Rosie Bosworth.

“It’s just a matter of when, not if.”

Of course, not everyone agrees. Responding to PM’s Science Advisor Peter Gluckman’s warnings about the “existential risk” of future food technologies to New Zealand dairy, Fonterra released a statement:

“Milk from cows provides a natural and complex mixture of proteins, fats, minerals and other nutrients, which will be almost impossible to manufacture, so there will always be a global, growing market for dairy.”

But with billionaire investors like Bill Gates and Richard Branson pouring tens of millions into lab-grown and plant-based protein start-ups, it is worth considering what New Zealand should do if Fonterra is proven wrong.

Climate Change: Impacts And Implications For New Zealand – Funded By The Deep South National Science Challenge

Drowning dreams: Billions at stake as Govt mulls sea level rules
Eloise Gibson and Cass Mason, Newsroom

Experienced science journalist Eloise Gibson used the fund to help write a special inquiry for Newsroom, focused on the advice to councils about sea level rise and delays in providing updates to this guidance.

An excerpt (read in full):

There’s an empty lot at the end of Richmond Street, Thames, at the watery junction where the Firth of Thames meets the Kauaeranga River.

From the bare corner section, you can see the ocean flickering between gaps in the mangroves, offering a glimpse of the sea views residents will have from a soon-to-be-built apartment block.

The ocean feels close here, and it’s about to get closer. If seas rise 50cm, which is roughly the minimum that scientists say we’re likely to see, an intense storm could flood the nearby roads and playing field, sending thin ribbons of water along the edges of the property.

After 1m of sea level rise, which is reasonably likely by the end of the century, the same kind of storm could turn the property into an island, separated from Thames by three blocks of flooded residential streets.

After 2m, which is plausible this century, a storm surge could submerge part of the land and, possibly, the bottom of the three-storey apartment block.

Climate change series
Yvonne O’Hara, Otago Daily Times

Otago Daily Times reporter Yvonne O’Hara wrote a series of nine stories focused on climate change impacts around Otago and Southland, including changing weather patterns, shifts in which wine varieties can grow in the region and impacts on physical and mental health.

Election 2017: Where Science And Policy Meet – Funded By The Aotearoa New Zealand Science Journalism Fund

Election Policy Series
Damian Christie and Jamie Morton, NZ Herald

In the lead-up to the 2017 general election, science journalist Jamie Morton and SciFilm’s Damian Christie created a series of three videos talking to post-graduate students about environmental policies. Each episode had three students evaluating policies and trying to pick which party they belonged to.

The three episodes are available below:

The NZ Herald series comparing political parties’ conservation and environment policies

Featured image: Nattu, Flickr CC.