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New Zealand science book prize – 2015 Short list

The Royal Society of NZ has announced the shortlist of titles for 2015 Science Book Prize (see 2015 Royal Society of New Zealand Science Book Prize).

Here they are – together with the judges comments:

Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History by Atholl Anderson FRSNZ, Judith Binney, Aroha Harris (Bridget Williams Books)

“Tangata Whenua is a beautifully produced, well illustrated and comprehensive record of the tangata whenua. Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney and Aroha Harris present archaeological and genetic evidence alongside history, traditional narratives and oral sources to produce this powerful story – both scholarly and readable – of Maori people and the land they live in.”


The Wandering Mind by Michael Corballis FRSNZ (Auckland University Press)

“Neuroscience, psychology and evolutionary biology are helping scientists to learn more about our brains. In this scientifically rigorous and quietly humorous book, Michael Corballis, one of the leaders in this field, explores what happens in our brains and to our minds when we are not paying attention. He takes us on a meandering and enlightening exploration of our wandering minds.”


Gathering Evidence by Caoilinn Hughes (Victoria University Press)

“From Johannes Kepler to Marie Curie, and from genetics to nuclear physics: in this book, which is rich with scientific themes, scientific words and phrases become poetry. Caoilinn Hughes gives readers new and unexpected perspectives on science in her lively and powerful poems that explore and communicate science with an emotional intensity that makes for a memorable read.”


Dolphins of Aotearoa: Living with New Zealand Dolphins by Raewyn Peart (Craig Potton Publishing)

“New Zealand’s five resident dolphin species are among the most-loved and cherished of our native fauna. In this beautifully produced book, Raewyn Peart goes beyond the traditional illustrated natural history book to tell a scientifically-grounded, moving and engaging story of the relationship between humans and dolphins in New Zealand.”

Manuka: the Biography of an Extraordinary Honey by Cliff Van Eaton (Exisle Publishing)

“Manuka honey is a uniquely New Zealand product, valued here and internationally for its rich taste and therapeutic properties. In this delightful and surprising book Cliff Van Eaton tells the captivating story of the science behind the discovery of the antibiotic effects of manuka honey, with a focus on the scientists and beekeepers who have brought this product to the world.”



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Dirty tactics by anti-fluoride activists in Taupo

Fly fishing in Lake Taupo. Image credit: Great lake Taupo

Local body councils have had a gutsful of the fluoridation issue. Most councillors don’t have the skills to objectively judge submissions – and the field is so controversial they get plenty of these. It’s also an area where extremists and people with obsessions are very active.

So it is no wonder that local body councils are asking for this whole issue to be taken off their plate. For it to be handed to central government, the Ministry of Health and District Health Boards.

Abuse and libel of councillors

A few days ago a Taupo District councillor, Dave Cozens, gave examples of the personal abuse he was receiving from an anti-fluoride extremist (see Councillors abused and libelled by anti-fluoride activists). He is one councillor who has done his own research on the topic:

“I was elected to office in 2013 and in my time in that position I have endeavoured to understand the finer details of what is the very controversial Fluoride Debate.

I approached the issue with an open mind in hope that whatever evidence I came across would steer me toward a well-informed path and that this would then encourage some solid proper decision making to occur.

What I found was a vast weight of material that supported the retention of Fluoride in our public water supplies and little substantiated proof that existed to support the contrary. There was however a wealth of alarmist articles ranging from fluoride’s use in the death camps of World War II to the decalcification of bones in children of third world nations. All of these articles appeared to be written by lay people with questionable, if any, notable qualifications.

Admittedly it can be proven that there can be some ‘mottling’ occurring on the teeth of a few scattered members of the community however the benefits displayed to the larger population appear immeasurable. It should be noted that this particular evidence was actually provided by the World Health Organisation.

I have spoken to doctors, dentists, orthodontists and scientists – all of whom support the continued use of Fluoride.

Not one single professional has contacted me to argue its removal from supplies.”

The fact he did his own research appears to have been enough reason for targeting by a Facebook page affiliated* to Fluoride Free NZ:

” I have been made their ‘poster boy’ for what they call the ‘poisoning of children’ in the area. I have received emails threats of legal action, accusations of committing murder, supposed land theft, instigating the dumbing down Māori as a race and now this negative rant has made its way to Facebook courtesy of aTurangi Anti-fluoride page. They have also linked that page to my professional work websites. “

He has repeatedly asked this group to come to him with peer-reviewed material or published documentation supporting their cause:

“But it seems that no amount of reasoning nor gentle coaxing will encourage them to meet me with a round-table discussion and the hope of finding some middle ground.

The hate and anger that has been delivered to me on this topic is beyond anything I have experienced before. It is both slanderous and distasteful but moreover it takes us to a dark place as a community because we as a population in the Southern Lake area are not like this – we simply don’t treat each other this way – it’s not our culture. I have now involved the Police, lawyers, Council and of course Facebook in hope that they will bring an end to this distasteful episode.”

It reminds me a bit of the clamour around the Hamilton City Council over the fluoride issue. When the Council mistakenly decided to stop fluoridation in 2013 suddenly council members (well, all except one who opposed the decision) could do no wrong. They were being quoted by Fluoride Free activists as experts on the issue.

After the Hamilton City Council decided to accept the wishes of the voters and return fluoridation last year they were ridiculed and attacked by the very same Fluoride Free activists. Well, one of the councillors (the only one to vote against the decision) is not attacked. Suddenly he became the darling of the local Fluoride Free activists.

Politics attracts some funny people. But there seem to be none so weird as the anti-fluoride activists involved in local body politics.


* Of course this affiliation is informal – FFNZ doesn’t have a formal membership as such. But the use of the FFNZ link in the Facebook page “about” section (see screenshot below) certainly implies an affiliation.

Of course FFNZ could formally dissociate their organisation from the Facebook page and from the abusive and libellous content. I suspect they might prefer to claim it is not their page but not to do this formally – a sort of deniability – because the attitudes expressed.certianly represernt many of the people active in their movement.

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October ’14 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

This post was accidentally deleted and this is a retrieved version.

There are now over 300 blogs on the list, although I am weeding out those which are no longer active or have removed public access to sitemeters. (Let me know if I weed out yours by mistake, or get your stats wrong).

Every month I get queries from people wanting their own blog included. I encourage and am happy to respond to queries but have prepared a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) people can check out. Have a look at NZ Blog Rankings FAQ. This is particularly helpful to those wondering how to set up sitemeters.

Please note, the system is automatic and relies on blogs having sitemeters which allow public access to the stats.

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for October 2014. Ranking is by visit numbers. I have listed the blogs in the table below, together with monthly visits and page view numbers.

Meanwhile I am still keen to hear of any other blogs with publicly available sitemeter or visitor stats that I have missed. Contact me if you know of any or wish help adding publicly available stats to your bog.

You can see data for previous months at Blog Ranks

Subscribe to NZ Blog Rankings

Subscribe to NZ blog rankings by Email

Find out how to get Subscription & email updates

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Down-under Christmas

It’s that time of the year again.

Tim Minchin describes the joys of Christmas down under.

The inverted ethics of doxxing?

Came across this word “doxxing” lately. According to Wikipedia it refers to “the Internet-based practice of researching and broadcasting personally identifiable information about an individual.” My introduction to this new word was in a discussion of the ethics of identifying people who troll on social media sites.


Credit: Curiosmatic

I can understand why some people must protect their identity when commenting on social media. Whistle blowers, etc., are obvious – but even seemingly mundane topics may need some anonymity because of jobs, etc.

But, apart from jobs, I can never understand those people who insist on anonymity when discussing scientific knowledge. Surely that immediately undermines their credibility – especially when they confront, or abuse, other commenters who have no trouble identifying themselves.

In my experience it is the anonymous commenter who tends to be the most abusive. So, why should ethical concerns about doxxing give free rein to the internet bully? I find myself sympathising with PZ Myers comment on this topic in his recent post The inverted ethics of the internet.

“It seems to me that there is a significant difference between maintaining internet anonymity to prevent being harassed, vs. anonymity used to enable harassment. But this distinction is routinely ignored, especially by the harassers, who just lump violating either into the category of the most sacrilegious of all internet violations, the total desecration of the holiest principle of all communication, doxxing. I suspect the only reason that “doxxing” has been elevated to such a sacred level of knee-jerk abhorrence is not out of some virtuous desire to protect the innocent, but entirely to protect the guilty.”

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Criminal investigation of MH17 tragedy – where is it at?

I thought this der Spiegel interview with Fred Westerbeke about the ongoing criminal investigation of the MH17 tragedy could be of interest. Especially as I have been accused of ignoring the “official version” of the incident.

At least this investigator is relatively open-minded – although I am concerned at the time the investigation is taking and the fact that even now they are only “preparing a request for assistance” from the Russian Federation about their radar records, and “remain in contact with the United States to get satellite images.” I would have thought these would be acted on much earlier.

Fred Westerbeke, born in 1962, directs the Dutch public prosecutor, the Department for investigations of terrorism and organized crime at home and abroad. He is coordinating the criminal processing in the MH17 case. As part of a joint investigation Commission (JIT) Malaysia, Australia and the Ukraine are also involved in it.

I have relied on Google Translate so please excuse the inevitable quaintness of the result.

Fred Westerbeke

 Der Spiegel interviews Fred Westerbeke from the Dutch Department for investigations of terrorism and organized crime at home and abroad.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Westerbeke, your job as chief prosecutor sounds hardly solvable: MH17 flight was shot down over a civil war zone, even now, three months later, your crime scene investigator for is not available. What gives you hope someday to be able to bring someone to court?

Westerbeke: The Netherlands does not determine in the case so alone. There is a very good cooperation with police and prosecutors, especially in Malaysia, Australia and the Ukraine. BTW, we can gain a lot of experience with similar cases, in connection with the genocide in Rwanda, for example, or with war crimes in Afghanistan. Also there you will find hardly any witnesses, no written documents that could be used as evidence. So As to your question: It is not easy. But we can do it.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In what period of time?

Westerbeke: Look at Lockerbie …

SPIEGEL ONLINE: … the bombing of a Pan Am jumbo in December 1988 with 270 deaths.

Westerbeke: At that time, it took three years before you could name those responsible. I do not mean that it will take a long time just as in MH17 flight, but it takes a long breath. We will certainly need the whole next year for our work, and perhaps even longer.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Federal Intelligence Service BND assumes that pro-Russian separatists have shot down the machine with a surface to air missile. Recently some German parliamentarians corresponding satellite images were presented. Do you know these recordings?

Westerbeke: Unfortunately, we do not know to what images it involved concrete. The problem is that there are very many different satellite images: Some of them can be found on the Internet, others come from foreign intelligence agencies.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: High-resolution images, for example from US spy satellites could play a crucial role in the investigation of the case. Did you get those shots of the Americans?

Westerbeke: We are not sure if we already have everything, or whether there are more – material that may be even more specific. What we present is certainly not enough to draw any conclusions. We remain in contact with the United States to get satellite images.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The shooting down of flight MH17 is the biggest criminal case in the history of your country, it says. How many investigators are currently working?

Westerbeke: In the Netherlands alone there are ten prosecutors. Three of them coordinate the investigation, two work at the international level. Two more are responsible for the care of relatives. In addition, forensic experts, also around 80 policemen. There are regular meetings with colleagues from Malaysia, Australia and the Ukraine, to divide the work.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Because being fought at the crash site again and again, was so far none of your investigators on site, about to collect debris. But that would be important only to determine the weapon system used. On which tracks you rely instead?

Westerbeke: There are metal fragments that were found in the bodies of the dead and in pieces of luggage. This could be shrapnel from a rocket-Buk, possibly also parts of the aircraft itself. We analyze this, so far there are no results. We also have some witnesses who were on the spot immediately after the crash. In the Internet we spot an immense amount of information, we also various recordings of telephone conversations before, which has recorded the Ukrainian police. Some of it is already available online, but we did get richer material.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So far, there is no indisputable evidence?

Westerbeke: Yes. If you look in the newspapers, however, it always looks as if quite clear what happened to the aircraft and who is to blame. But if we really want to bring the perpetrators to justice or, we need evidence and more than a recorded phone call from the internet or photos of the crash site. That’s why we not only attract a scenario into consideration, but several.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What are the scenarios?

Westerbeke: first we have drawn four possible explanations considered for the crash of Flight MH17: An accident, a terrorist attack, the shooting down by a surface to air missile or an attack by another aircraft. After the publication of the interim report by the Dutch Security OVV …

SPIEGEL ONLINE: … where the crash is attributed to a variety of fast flying objects that have riddled the outside of the machine …

Westerbeke: … fall off the accident and the terror scenario. The other two remain.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Moscow circulated for some time, the version, the passenger plane had been shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet. Do you think it possible?

Westerbeke: Based on the available information, the launch is by a ground-to-air missile in my eyes is still the most likely scenario. But we do not close our eyes to the possibility that it might have been different.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In the OVV report states that there were no military jets in the vicinity have been.

Westerbeke: Right. But this statement is based on information that was available at the time the OVV. The question is: Do the Russians possibly more?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your Prime Minister Mark Rutte has recently criticized Vladimir Putin because of his lack of support in the MH17 case. What is the role of Russia in the investigation?

Westerbeke: At the moment, no large, since it is not part of the investigation team. We are preparing a request for assistance, in which we ask Moscow to information that could be important for us. Among other things, those radar data with which the Russians wanted to prove the presence of a Ukrainian military jet near MH17 after the crash.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: If you actually draw the participation of the Ukrainian Air Force on firing of flight MH17 into consideration – is it not absurd that Ukraine is involved in the investigation?

Westerbeke: Of course that’s a problem. But we can not determine without them. I want a way to make it clear: We have no evidence that Kiev would not handle completely open with us. You give us all the information we want.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In the eastern Ukraine, the winter is coming. Is there any chance that it still create your investigators this year at the crash site?

Westerbeke: At the moment I do not think the right thing. It is there still very dangerous. Therefore, we work with the OVV on a plan B – if we can not get to the crash site itself, we need the debris just brought here by other means.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Suppose there is actually one day to the process – where would the place?

Westerbeke: With a possible process we now deal not us. We first want to spend all resources to find those responsible for this crime. If you however ask the Netherlands, we would certainly ready to make those suspected of committing the process here.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Unknown have been entered in the case MH17 about a German private investigator $ 30 million bounty. Will you also, launch a reward?

Westerbeke: So something is done more often in complicated cases. But currently we have no intention and it will certainly never go to 30 million. Incidentally, I caution anyone from making transactions with these people: No one knows who they are and what intentions they pursue.

See also:
MH17 prosecutor open to theory another plane shot down airliner: Der Spiegel
MH17 might have been shot down from air – chief Dutch investigator — RT News

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Accidental Renaissance – or intuition?


Saw this photo on the Guardian – see Accidental Renaissance: the photos that look like Italian paintings. The author says:

“Currently doing the rounds on Twitter is the image below, taken from Facebook by artist James Harvey, whose tweet has been shared thousands of times. It depicts one of the fairly frequent brawls in Ukrainian parliament which, while undoubtedly ugly to fans of democracy and national stability, is beautiful on a purely aesthetic level.”

I can appreciate the good composition in the photo even without the description of it’s adherence to the Fibonacci spiral. But I am happy with the description if this sort of photo as a happy accident:

“A court photographer obviously didn’t have the kind of time Michelangelo did to compose his image, but its serendipity makes it even more magical. The hands that swarm in at the edges of the photograph give it a weirdly Renaissance quality too: in those paintings, hands do so much of the emotional heavy lifting – they supplicate, pray, and constantly reach for the divine.”

I think that composition comes naturally to an experienced and good photographer. They might not be consciously thinking about Fionacci spirals or the golden ratio but years of practice helps them recognise good composition and the “right moment” to push the shutter.

Let’s give the photographer some credit and attribute the results to intuition based on years of experience rather than a happy accident or serendipity.

Informed parents know water fluoridation is good for their children

Paul Connett is at it again. His latest project is aimed at manipulating the natural concern parents have for their children. He is using crude fear-mongering in the hope of getting parents to come out against community water fluoridation (CWF) – a social health policy known to be both effective and safe (see Calling All Parents).


Image credit: Golisano Children’s Hospital

Sensible parents need to keep well away from this nonsense. If you have read his “statement” I offer instead the advice below as a counter to Connett’s rubbish. It is important for parents to learn the truth about this safe and effective social health policy so they can work together to counter attacks on it from ideologically motivated political activists like Connett.

1) Natural is not necessarily safe and “Nature” did not have “intentions for us.” Yes, mothers’ milk is low in fluoride, but it can also be deficient in other beneficial or essential trace elements. A brief scan of the scientific literature shows breast-fed children are prone to several microelement deficiencies. For example, Kodama (2004) and Domellöf, et al (2004) report deficient levels of zinc, selenium and iron in breast milk. Supplementation of breast-fed infants with micronutrients, including fluoride, is sometimes recommended.

2) Mild or very mild dental fluorosis is the only know negative effect of community water fluoridation. It is usually just cosmetic and often only noticed by a dental professional. Severe dental fluorosis is very uncommon in NZ, USA and most of Europe, but is usually caused by high fluoride intake from natural sources (eg in China or India), industrial pollution, consumption of fluoridated toothpaste, etc. Opponents of CWF often quote data for the common occurrence of mild dental fluorosis – but then describe it (or illustrate with photos) as if it were severe. See Dental fluorosis: badly misrepresented by FANNZ for an example of this misrepresentation.

3) CWF will not harm your child’s brain. Connett’s scare-mongering claims of CWF reducing the IQ of children are based on a selection of brief reports from areas of high natural fluoride in drinking water (Chio et al 2012). These are not relevant to CWF (Choi and Grandjean 2012). The reports are of poor scientific quality – mostly ignoring confounding factors like lead intake, breast-feeding and education which are known to influence IQ (National Fluoride Information Service 2013; Broadbent et al 2014). These reports also use data from naturally high fluoride areas in China and Iran where skeletal fluorosis and severe dental fluorosis are a problem.  More detailed studies at the lower concentrations used in CWF have not found any connections between CWF and IQ levels (Whitford et al 2009; Broadbent et al 2014).

4) There is ample evidence fluoridation is beneficial to your child’s teeth. This is not surprising because fluoride is a natural and normal constituent of the bioapatites your teeth and bones are formed from. At optimum concentrations it strengthens them and helps prevent their corrosion by acidic foods, etc. Be wary of anti-fluoridation propagandists claims of studies showing no beneficial effects of CWF. These usually refer to situations where children receive other forms of fluoride such as fluoride oral rinses, fluoridated salt or milk, or topical fluoride varnish dental applications. Some propagandist also attempt to claim that the general improvement of oral health in developed countries in recent years without CWF “proves” it is ineffective. This improvement arises from improved diet and personal dental hygiene as well as improved care by dentists. These positive effects are usually in addition to the benefits of CWF and this becomes obvious when communities with and without CWF are compared in the same country.

5) Fluoride in water and food, as well as that in toothpaste, is beneficial . Development of permanent and baby teeth occurs in the first 4 years of life. Incorporation of optimum amounts of fluoride into the tooth enamel at this stage, even before teeth erupt, helps reduce tooth decay throughout life. Even after tooth eruption the existing teeth benefit from the fluoride which transfers to saliva from food and water. This helps to maintain a concentration of fluoride in saliva which reduces the demineralisation of the tooth surface by acid derived from acid food and drink and from bacterial action on carbohydrates. It also helps the remineralisation of the tooth enamel as the acid concentration in saliva reduces with time. The beneficial role of fluoride with existing teeth is mainly due to this surface, or topical, effect. However, fluoride concentrations in saliva decrease rapidly with time so CWF is important because regular consumption helps to maintain concentrations. Consequently CWF supplements brushing teeth with fluoridated toothpaste which, by itself, cannot maintain concentrations through the day.

The beneficial effects of CWF results from both ingestion (particularly during tooth development in young children) and maintenance of an effective concentration of fluoride in saliva protecting existing teeth against decay throughout life.

CWF is a proven safe and effective social health policy. It works for everyone because it doesn’t need individuals to remember to use mouth-rinses, take supplements or make applications to their teeth. Once in place we can forget about it and it still works.

For these reasons parents should support community water fluoridation. They should also be very wary of ideologically driven activists who use scare-mongering and misinformation to raise fears. Parents naturally have their child’s best interests at heart. Unscrupulous activists can take advantage of that. But informed parents can protect themselves from emotive propaganda.

Informed parents will reject Paul Connett’s latest fear-mongering campaign.


Broadbent, J. M., Thomson, W. M., Ramrakha, S., Moffitt, T. E., Zeng, J., Foster Page, L. A., & Poulton, R. (2014). Community Water Fluoridation and Intelligence: Prospective Study in New Zealand. American Journal of Public Health.

Choi AL, Grandjean LC (2012). Harvard Press Release: Statement on fluoride paper.

Choi, A. L., Sun, G., Zhang, Y., & Grandjean, P. (2012). Developmental fluoride neurotoxicity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Environmental Health Perspectives, 120(10), 1362–1368. Retrieved from

Domellöf, M., Lönnerdal, B., Dewey, K. G., Cohen, R. J., & Hernell, O. (2004). Iron, zinc, and copper concentrations in breast milk are independent of maternal mineral status. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79(1), 111–5. Retrieved from

Kodama, H. (2004). Trace Element Deficiency in Infants and Children — Clinical practice —. Journal of the Japan Medical Association, 47(8), 376–381.

National Fluoride Information Service. (2013). NFIS Advisory A review of recent literature on potential effects of CWF programmes on neurological development and IQ attainment.

Whitford, G. M., Whitford, J. L., & Hobbs, S. H. (2009). Appetitive-based learning in rats: lack of effect of chronic exposure to fluoride. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 31(4), 210–5.

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Putting vaccination risks into context

Picked this graphic up on Facebook last night.

Some people seem hesitant to discuss vaccination in the comments so hopefully this gives them the excuse they need.

Really drives the message home, doesn’t it?

Fluoride – friend or foe: a lecture

A quick announcement for Waikato readers.

The Hamilton fluoride referendum deadline is next weekend. If you are still trying to decide how to vote, or just want to get more information on fluoride, this would be a great lecture for you.

It is next Tuesday evening, at Waikato University. One of the Current Issues lecture series organised by the Waikato Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Everyone is welcome.  Here are the details:

Fluoride – friend or foe

Dr Graham Saunders, Senior Lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry, Waikato University.

Room L.G.01, Gate 1, Waikato University

Tuesday October 8, 2013, at 7.30 pm.

Fluoride is the small ion that is grabbing attention at the moment. For the synthetic chemist it is plagued by contradiction: Aggressive when naked, but docile when wet. It is responsible for fluorosis, but also endows teeth with resistance to decay.

The talk will present:

  •  The chemistry of fluoride
  • The reasons for its harmful and beneficial properties
  • How fluoride is introduced to water
  • The misconceptions and misinformation.

Graham Saunders is a graduate of Oxford University. He has a research background in fluorine chemistry spanning over two decades. His past work has included using highly reactive fluoride compounds, fluorine gas, and making additives for water treatment. His current research interests include breaking extremely strong carbon―fluorine bonds and using the unique properties of the fluorine atom for highly water repellent surfaces.

Room L.G.01 is in L block. Entry is easiest through either Gate 1 on Knighton Rd or Gate 8 on Hillcrest Rd. A campus map is available at There is no charge for this event.

See also:

Similar articles on fluoridation
Making sense of fluoride Facebook page
Fluoridate our water Facebook page
New Zealanders for fluoridation Facebook page