Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Sideswipe

Whangarei caters for goth kids, too. (From the local council's Whangarei District Guide 2005-2006.)

By Ana Samways

Trade Me founder Sam Morgan flipped the bird at Telecom's Christmas gift - a King Kong gift pack and tickets to the premiere - by promptly putting it up for auction (proceeds will be doubled and go to the Wellington City Mission). "Unfortunately, Trade Me is having its own Christmas event that also includes a screening of King Kong and I wouldn't like to know the ending before everyone else and potentially ruin it," says the auction king. "No responsibility will be taken in the event that you need to sit through any speeches. Any free popcorn, lollies or Telecom badges are also part of the deal. Peter Jackson is not expected to be in attendance." So, it appears Telecom can't buy its way out of the dogbox for its network-hogging or suggestions that its online shopping mall, Ferrit, has been purpose-built to have a go at Trade Me. (Note to Morgan's family: don't send him any Christmas presents ... you know where they'll turn up).

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A reader writes: "Only in Auckland: I was walking home one evening, near Gould Reserve (that beachside park) in Takapuna. Two young blondes crossed the road in front of me, chattering away. I noticed they were carrying takeaways, and I overhead one say to the other: 'This is fun - it's like we're going camping!' I couldn't help but comment, 'Sorry girls, but eating takeaways at the beach is NOT the same as camping.' They had the grace to giggle in a slightly embarrassed way, and one even joked: 'Yeah, and I'm even in high heels!'

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An alarming typo on the website of a church in the town of Denmark, West Australia: "We are having a Combined Service at St Leonard's in Denmark at 9.30am, followed by a shared lunch and the Annual eating of Parishioners."

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Reality television losing touch with namesake: Britain's Channel Four has a new way-out concept called Space Cadets: "The nine contestants - plus three actors planted to help the action along - are undergoing training in Russia (in reality a disused airbase in Suffolk), competing for four places on a space shuttle (a prop from Clint Eastwood's Space Cowboys film, which will be bombarded with special effects to simulate the flight)."

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Radio Live's Marcus Lush is mourning the loss of his second-favourite mode of transport (after trains, of course). His bike was nicked while he was buying a book on the flu pandemic at Unity Books, in Auckland's High St, yesterday. It's a pink, single-speed Surly model and Lush is offering a $400 reward. If you have any info, email him at mlush@radiolive.co.nz.

Editorial: Interview that ought to be seen

Lawyers, like most people, can take their profession a little too seriously. That is not to deny the extreme importance in any society of its standards of justice. But no judge would claim justice is infallible, and courts should be careful when they are asked to impose forensic definitions of fact on what can be said and seen by the public.

At the weekend a judge in the High Court at Auckland granted an interim injunction against TVNZ to prevent the screening of a criminal confession that could not be used in a trial that has concluded. The case concerned the murder of Katherine Sheffield, aged 23, at Mangonui 11 years ago. A man spent seven years in prison convicted of her manslaughter before police were convinced the crime had been committed by someone else. Police obtained a confession from their new suspect, Noel Rogers, but the Court of Appeal ruled that the confession was procedurally unsound and could not be put before a jury. Rogers was acquitted in the High Court on Friday night.

His lawyer, Michael Corry, moved to stop TVNZ putting to air a tape of the disputed confession. It would, he argued, undermine the judicial process, particularly the jury system, and breach Rogers' civil rights. The effect of the Appeal Court ruling, Mr Corry said, was "as if the tape never existed". He succeeded in obtaining an interim injunction from Justice Helen Winkelmann, at least until Thursday when the case for a permanent order will be heard. But it is all too likely that his argument will persuade the court to suppress the dubious confession permanently.

Courts are concerned with admissible evidence and as far as the courts are concerned, it is indeed as though "the tape never existed". But it does exist, of course, and people have an interest in seeing it.

The television programme obviously would explain the reasons the Court of Appeal did not think it fair to play the tape to the jury who decided Rogers' fate. The police had taken the confession when allegedly he was in a vulnerable state in custody and it is said his rights to silence and to a lawyer were not properly met.

Those are perfectly valid grounds for the courts to exclude a confession from proceedings in which a person's freedom is at stake. But the public has an equally valid interest in more general questions of law enforcement and justice.

Nothing the public might learn from watching a fair report of the case will change the outcome for Rogers. His civil rights have been protected by judicial decisions. The jury that acquitted him would not have been told even that he had made a confession that a higher court had ruled to be improperly taken. That is how far our judicial process goes to ensure a fair trial and it is right to do so.

But when a trial is over, other considerations come into play. The courts are adjudicators of the truth of conflicting claims of individuals and law enforcement agencies but they are not, and should not try to be, adjudicators of all truth. The courts may decide that the tape of Rogers' disputed confession does not exist as forensic evidence but it certainly exists.

The fact of its existence was able to be reported after the jury had given its verdict. The issue to be decided now is whether the pictures may be seen. The videotape might give viewers a picture of a confession extracted under duress or it might not. It might damage confidence in the Judiciary or it might not. The courts ought not prevent the public seeing material needed to form a view.

To insist that the tape be treated "as though it never existed" would enlarge a fair forensic ruling into an enforced lie. It would be a step in an oppressive direction.

Brian Fallow: Nations still split on climate change

From the jaws of defeat negotiators at the Montreal climate change summit have snatched not victory but at least a ceasefire.

Had the meeting ended, as seemed likely until the 11th hour, in acrimonious failure it would have been a chilling signal that the issue of global warming is just too hard for multilateral agreement.

Inasmuch as it averted that, the meeting was a success.

But the agreements reached, like the meeting itself, display the chasm of Grand Canyon proportions which divides nations on this issue.

The countries that have undertaken obligations under the Kyoto Protocol - which is every developed country except the United States and Australia - agreed to begin a process of considering further commitments beyond the end of 2012, when Kyoto's first commitment period ends.

So the risk that Kyoto will fizzle out without a successor agreement has receded somewhat.

There is no commitment to a deadline for completing that process, however, only that the resulting agreement should be reached as soon as possible and in time to ensure there is no gap between the first and second commitment periods.

So New Zealand businesses and policymakers will have to wait some indeterminate time before knowing what the rules of the international game will be in 2013 and beyond.

And the Kyoto countries only represent about a third of global emissions of greenhouse gases.

The largest emitter, the United States, remains adamantly opposed to accepting any binding target for emissions reductions.

Yet that is the key to putting a financial value on the right to emit greenhouse gases, which in turn - Kyoto countries believe - is the key to creating an environment in which cleaner technologies make commercial sense. Those technologies inevitably involve some cost and it is hard to compete with free.

Kyoto does not impose any obligations on developing countries either, including China, which is already the second largest emitter.

What has been agreed by the wider world at Montreal is to engage in a dialogue, "an open and non-binding exchange of views on co-operative action to address climate change".

The Bush Administration has attempt to define the disagreement as between Kyoto's approach, which emphasises emission reduction targets, and theirs, which emphasises technology.

It is a bogus distinction. Neither is any use without the other.

Peter Nowak: Santa techs time to check list twice

As the festive season is upon us, we are probably thinking about spending time with the family and worrying about what to get who.

But here in the Connect section, we never take a holiday (except for the next few weeks, when most of the Herald's special sections shut down).

After all, Christmas doesn't bypass our tech firms just because most people aren't thinking about them.

In fact, we have it on good authority that Santa sets aside a little time each year to check his list of New Zealand technology companies, to see who's been naughty or nice.

We've managed to acquire that list and now present to you, gentle reader, an exclusive look at what our top tech newsmakers of 2005 will be getting for Christmas.

Trade Me

Nice. By most measures, the auction site has become the country's most popular website and has cemented itself as a beloved Kiwi institution. It's going to be nigh impossible for anyone, whether it's Telecom or global rival eBay, to knock Trade Me from its perch for precisely that reason. Santa is giving Trade Me a solid monopoly in the online auction business - hopefully the company won't abuse it and end up in the naughty books next year.

CallPlus

Nice. Along with a handful of other telcos and internet service providers, CallPlus has somehow managed to build up a decent business despite functioning under a regulatory nightmare. Santa is giving the company a successful WiMax trial so that it can circumvent Telecom's network and offer customers fast and cheap broadband internet.

TelstraClear

Naughty. Nobody can blame TelstraClear for its new focus on profitability, and thus abandoning some customers, but it can be blamed for a serious identity crisis. The company has sent mixed signals this year - new chief executive Allan Freeth said it won't be a competitive "stalking horse", but has continued to make the loudest noises on regulatory issues.

Saint Nick is bringing the company a clarified focus for the new year.

Commerce Commission

Too nice. It hasn't been a good year for Douglas Webb and company. Their big attempt at lowering mobile phone costs through cutting termination rates was shot down by the Communications Minister, and Telecom recently thumbed its nose at the commission by going ahead with its purchase of WiMax spectrum without permission. Add in some renewed furore over the local loop unbundling fiasco and the commission is looking like a lame duck. On the way from Santa is a fresh set of teeth so the commission can finally bite as hard as it barks.

Neuren Pharmaceuticals

Nice. New Zealand's biotech industry is set for a breakthrough, with Neuren leading the way. The company's success could have a Lord of the Rings effect, attracting much international attention to the industry as a whole. Santa is bringing Neuren successful tests for its brain injury drug Glypromate.

Communications Minister

Nice, with shades of naughty. If the commission needs teeth, David Cunliffe is going to need fangs to implement its recommendations and pass his own proposed changes. So far, Cunliffe has made the right noises and created the sense that change is finally imminent, but some recent comments have fostered worries that we may be in for more of the same old, same old. Under the tree for young David this year will be an unimpeachable resolve and heaps of transparency to go with it.

Woosh Wireless

Nice and naughty. In launching its voice service a few months ago, Woosh has emerged as perhaps the only real, honest-to-goodness phone and internet alternative to Telecom. But if the Commerce Commission opens up Telecom's network and thus allows rivals to offer significantly faster internet access, Woosh will be in trouble if it can't match those speeds. Woosh is probably hoping it gets further delayed regulations for Christmas, although the big guy in the red suit still isn't sure if he's going to cough this one up.

Vodafone

Naughty. Vodafone has continued to lose mobile market share to Telecom for four consecutive quarters. How can the world's biggest mobile company, with huge resources to back it up, stand for this? It's a matter open for debate, but with both providers sitting near 50 per cent market share, it sure looks like there's competition in the market place, doesn't it? Santa would like to bring Vodafone a real desire to compete, but he can't seem to find it in his warehouse and will likely give the company nothing instead.

Telecom

Naughty. Santa Claus, like much of New Zealand - not to mention OECD officials watching from abroad - is well aware of Telecom's misdeeds and has told me in confidence that the company can expect a big lump of coal in its stocking. However, it wouldn't be a surprise if he changes his mind, given that chief executive Theresa Gattung is right now writing him a secret letter laced with threats.

Brendan Roberts: Room for us all and then some

Are humans cancerous to the earth? Do we really pose a mortal threat? Are we sucking the very life from this planet? Should we stop reproducing?

This month in these pages, Gregory Dicum reported the belief of Les Knight, founder of the Voluntary Human Extinction movement, that humans should stop bearing more children.

In fact he claimed that only 1-2 billion people could live happily on earth. But what qualifies happiness?

Do not reports of poor children continually playing with the most basic toys or games for weeks, months or years leave us in the West ashamed when we see children bored with sophisticated games?

If we were to quantify happiness with the amount of food available for our world population, we are led to another scenario than that to which Dicum alludes.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation reveals that significantly higher crop yields have resulted in feeding twice as many people than in the 1950s with the same land area.

And food supply initiatives in developing countries have been so effective that the proportion of the population in chronic undernourishment has been cut in half.

The World Food Outlook document produced by two World Bank senior economists states that crop yields are continuing to increase faster than population.

Paul Waggoner of the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station revealed in 1994 that 10 billion people could be fed using less crop land and producing less silt and pesticide runoff, thus resulting in nature having more land.

Is the world population projection of nine billion people really so stark as claimed?

The people of the earth could fit into a super city in the land mass of Texas, and this super city would have the same population density as inner London.

We should not discount the fact outlined by the UN Population Division that 44 per cent of the world's people live in nations below the replacement level (excluding immigration) for population growth.

To drastically reduce or control our populations would result in widescale economic problems with higher taxes and less prosperity, and even more nations would be impoverished.

The facts surrounding population decline facing Europe and Japan are startling. If current trends continue (excluding immigration), the UN Population Division expects 100 million people fewer people in Europe and 21 million fewer in Japan within 50 years.

Les Knight claims that "the intentional creation of another human being by anyone anywhere can't be justified today". While this extreme view is absurd, we must be more responsible caretakers of our planet.

We must put more resources into finding ways of reducing the harmful emissions that are polluting it. Sustainable logging should be practised.

While we may be cancerous on some of the earth's resources because of mismanagement, we are not overpopulated or sucking the life out of our planet.

There are ways we can seek to be passionately and efficiently caring for our planet, but we should not stop reproducing. Human life should not be stopped; we should seek to heal the cancer, not destroy the host.

Reducing the population of the world and thus having a major proportion of elderly would be cancerous in itself.

Let's continue to seek ways of providing for more mouths and sharing the resources of our wonderful planet so that the hungry are fed. We in the West cannot ignore the plight of the hungry.

* New Zealand author Brendan Roberts' next book, Does God Really Care?, will examine whether the population explosion is a myth.

Eye on China: Banking on great American dream

It would appear to be one of the mysteries of the modern world that a developing country like China should have a vast current account surplus, while a developed country like New Zealand should have a large and increasing current account deficit.

Actually, New Zealand's current account deficit is not that strange. Any country growing strongly, as New Zealand has been doing for the past few years, tends to suck in capital to pay for that growth. In reality, it simply means that the domestic savings component is not sufficient to finance domestic investment and that foreign reinforcements are called for.

But surely China should be requiring even more capital, given its average 9 per cent growth rate over so many years and its huge infrastructure needs.

You would indeed imagine that a developing country would need all the capital it could get - but that's to underestimate the savings miracle in China. It's China's unused savings that show up in the current account surplus. No country in the world saves as much money as China. But this has nothing to do with traditional Asian values. China's savings rate has increased sharply in recent years. Why is that?

Andy Xie, the chief economist at Morgan Stanley in Hong Kong, makes the point that a communist social system works in this way: The state expropriates the population's wealth but, in return, you have cradle-to-the-grave education and medical protection.

In China, the cradle-to-the-grave protections have long been dismantled. Health and education fees are punitively high, especially for the non-urban poor.

In fact, Xie says, the Chinese Government has cancelled the welfare part of the social contract - but without handing back to the population the wealth it expropriated in 1949.

That explains the fury that fills Chinese at the sale of state assets through Hong Kong and US initial public offers.

These assets were built on the back of 50 years of great suffering by the Chinese, but they are not seeing a cent in return.

What does that make the Chinese Government then? Rather close to a criminal organisation, perhaps?

In any case, it is a well-founded fear of the future that is causing the Chinese to save as much as possible.

Yet there are gradations. Young people of my acquaintance spend in a very British way: The monthly revolving credit facility. They spend all their salary and keep an overdraft going which gets paid off once a month.

The real savings maniacs are the older generation. After making babies at a tremendous rate during the years under Chairman Mao (who promised visits to Beijing for Chinese mothers with 10 or more children), Mao's successor, Deng Xiaoping, forbade families to have more than one child.

The typical Chinese couple in their forties and above, their own education badly disrupted by the Cultural Revolution, are understandably cynical.

Not having had their chance to accumulate wealth through their working life (it went straight to the state), they will depend on their child in their twilight years.

Given the average child's obsession with online gaming and dating, and his or her natural reluctance to buckle down to the huge pressure of school life, they know that's a forlorn hope.

As a result, they save up to 70 per cent of their salaries, filling the state banks with liquidity, and encouraging the same institutions to lend it out on poorly-conceived projects - or to sit on it, since the loan-to-deposits ratio in China is low.

Restricted by the Government in their ability to make loans (quite sensibly, given their proven lack of risk management skills), the banks park a lot of the money with the central bank, which uses it to buy US bonds and equities.

That enables the US baby boomers to finance the lavish lifestyle they have become accustomed to.

What a contrast to the Chinese. If you wanted a purely materialistic exhibition of the marvellous success of the US socio-economic system, you would only have to compare the post-war generations in the US and China.

You have the ironic position of the battered and impoverished Chinese post-war generation saving up feverishly - to finance the expensive lifestyle of their American cohorts.

As is well-known, the Americans don't save. And why should they? The poor save. Rich people don't need to.

To put it in a less sensational way, the American savings rate is far lower than in China, because it's a far richer country. US babyboomers have accumulated huge assets over the past 50 years, in particular their houses. Xie estimates the US household net wealth amounts to US$50 trillion, compared with just over US$700 billion for the current account deficit.

The US also has a healthy demographic profile - almost uniquely so in the developed world. Japan and Europe are growing old at an alarming rate, which means in future years there won't be enough people entering the workforce to support the elderly.

But why should Chinese and other countries invest in the US? Surely it can't be simply because the US is willing to run large deficits. What about all the great opportunities in the emerging world?

The reason countries, even such economically powerful, capital-exporting (they have a current account surplus) countries as Germany, Japan, the Nordic countries, the oil countries and others, are willing to invest in the US is simple: The return on capital in the US is the highest in the world. You simply make better returns by investing in the US capital markets than you do at home.

So next time you get excited about investing in China, think about what the Chinese are doing: Taking their money out and putting it in the US. Maybe you should do the same.

YANKEE DOODLE IS JUST DANDY

* People invest in the US because the return on capital is the highest in the world.

* US household net wealth amounts to US$50 trillion.

* Its current account deficit, in comparison, is just over US$700 billion.

* The US also has a healthy demographic profile, unusual in the developed world.

* The writer remains anonymous to protect his position in China.

Jim Eagles: A gadget-filled Christmas

There surely are some amazing travel gadgets around. I've scoured the world for interesting ideas for Christmas presents for enthusiastic travellers and the most entertaining I've found is the Knee Defender (www.kneedefender.com).

This cunning little device, which sells for around $25, was invented by a lanky Yank tired of having his knees crushed when the aircraft seat in front was reclined.

It consists of two little plastic gizmos which fit on to your tray table and prevent the seat in front from coming back at you.

As you would expect, use of this gadget has already sparked a bit of air rage. Can you imagine trying to recline your seat for a nap only to find that it has been locked in place by the passenger behind?

US airlines view Knee Defenders suspiciously and some have even banned them. Air New Zealand hasn't come across this gadget "and if we did, we'd probably take the lead of US carriers and discourage use in-flight" because "the design actually presents some health and safety risks", a spokesman said.

In any case, the airline says, a little boastfully, its seats - especially the new premium economy class on its 747s - offer passengers more leg room and comfort so there's no need for such devices.

It is easy to appreciate both sides of this argument. Clearly it is not on to stop someone from reclining their seat but there have been times when I have been trapped in economy class with the seat in front fully reclined for the entire journey, that I would have loved to use a Knee Defender.

A rather less controversial way of improving in-flight comfort is the 1st Class Sleeper (www.1stclasssleeper.com), a sort of inflatable seat back, invented by an airline pilot who had difficulty sleeping in aircraft seats.

You unroll it, place it against the back of your seat, blow it up, and, says the blurb, "lie back and relax. Your neck, shoulders and spine will be kept in perfect alignment, eliminating stiffness and pain, even on the longest flights, so you will arrive at your destination perfectly rested."

The 1st Class Sleeper, which sells over the web for about $60, has received rave reviews in several US travel publications and looks like a good idea.

But if that sounds a bit boringly practical then how about the new breed of electronic language translators?

These little electronic notebooks translate into the selected language the word you have typed in, spell it phonetically and then, at the push of a button, speak it.

The one I most liked cost $75 on the web (www.goplanmetgo.uk), translated 11 languages, and also offered 705 commonly used phrases in each language.

The idea of typing in "where is the nearest toilet", holding up the translator to a passing local and pushing the speak button is quite appealing.

Unfortunately, several reviews suggested that the translators have limitations, don't always translate accurately and their words are not easily understood by native-speakers.

But, hey, they're natty little gadgets, so does that really matter?

The best gadget I've used is the EzyDry, an inflatable, torso-shaped hanger for drying clothes.

As a great believer in packing light, washing clothes in your room each evening and drying them overnight is a boon.

When I hung my freshly washed shirts over this little doozy they dried quicker and had fewer wrinkles than when I used an ordinary hanger.

Former air hostess Jill Gardner, who now runs her own online travel accessories shop (www.travelcomfortable.com), designed the EzyDry after hearing grumbles from a businessman about how hard it was to get his shirts dry when he was travelling. Gardner sells the EzyDry for $14.95.

For those who really want to look smart while on the road, she also offers a travel iron with a folding handle for $59.95 and a travel clothesline, fastened by suction cups, for $8.95.

Another useful product from Travelcomfortable is the Caire Hand Sanitiser. In the past when travelling overseas, especially in places where sanitation standards are low and new bugs abound, I have relied on antiseptic handwipes to keep my hands clean.

But on a recent trip through Asia I took a little tube of Caire's antiseptic gel, which costs just $4.95. After going to the loo or before eating squeeze out a bit of gel and rub it into your hands.

I found it more convenient than using the tissues and, while it may be coincidence, I was one of only a couple of people in a group of seasoned travellers who didn't pick up a tummy bug.

I loved the sound of the special VIOlight toothbrush sanitiser for travellers, which sells for $43. After brushing, you pop your brush into this special battery-operated case and the UV bulb kills off any nasty foreign germs you may have picked up (www.violight.com).

The Swish massage pen vibrates soothingly when applied to aching muscles and sore pressure points (www.wishlist.com.au). It costs about $43 and also writes in blue ink.

Safe drinking water is one of the big health problems in many parts of the world. In most places you can buy bottled water, though it's important to check the seals because some unscrupulous stall holders fill discarded bottles from the tap.

Alternatively, you can drink through the natty FilterPen which sells for $49.95 and operates like a straw, with high-quality filters to remove all the nasties (www.travelcomfortable.com).

Another option, if you're a cheapskate like me, is to boil water from the tap each night, leave it to cool overnight and top up your water bottle in the morning.

And if the place you're staying in doesn't provide a kettle? You can always buy a compact travel kettle complete with stowable drinking cups for $59.95 (www.travelcomfortable.com). Or for $20 you could take your own immersion coil and boil the water in a cup (walkabouttravelgear.com). As a tea junky I can't live without one.

And, finally, let's not forget the armchair traveller. How about a Geochron? This is a sort of world clock, an illuminated map of the world showing where the sun is shining at any time.

These are really classy - Ronald Reagan gave one to Mikhail Gorbachev - and the standard model, measuring 87cm x 57cm x 12 cm, is available for just $3995 (www.mapworld.co.nz).

Imagine sitting and watching night and day progress across the world, and dreaming of seeing the sun rise on Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, the Great Pyramid of Cheops, the Taj Mahal, Canterbury Cathedral, or the Palace of Versailles, while sitting comfortably in your armchair and sipping a cup of Earl Grey.

Not a bad Christmas gift.

Steve Taylor: Misguided on burning issue

As part of the "Slip, Slop, Slap, Wrap" message, sunscreens are an integral component of the Sun Smart campaign.

Yet consumers have never been adequately informed about the discrepancy between the expected and realised protection which these products provide - not by the Sun Smart campaign, the Cancer Society, the Ministry of Health, the Health Education Council, the Society of Dermatologists or any other official body in New Zealand.

The truth is that, by and large, sunscreens fail to deliver the UV protection they promise, often to a significant extent. And, by and large, this is not due to any deficiency in the products themselves but to the manner in which they are applied by the user.

Research has shown that 92 per cent of a sunscreen's effectiveness depends on how the user applies it - whatever the product, whatever its price, whatever its SPF.

If consumers apply sunscreen at the same rate of application at which the products are applied in the internationally adopted SPF testing system they will achieve the SPF stated on the product.

This is a large amount of product: approximately two finger lengths of product for each of 11 body areas - for example, to each arm.

It equates to about 35-40ml (one third of a standard bottle of sunscreen) for each whole body application for the average New Zealand adult.

However, for more than 25 years medical studies have shown that people apply something between one third and one tenth of that "official" quantity.

Accordingly, the SPF actually achieved on their skin may be no more than a small fraction of the protection they expected.

Is it realistic to expect the public to apply so much sunscreen? Is it not more accurate to say that people are applying the correct amount of sunscreen in that it is an amount with which they feel comfortable and that it is the labelled SPFs on sunscreens that are misleading?

The testing system is an accurate, carefully controlled and reproducible procedure in which a precise quantity of sunscreen is applied to a subject's skin and the product's SPF is then calculated following exposure to a measured quantity of UV. That SPF figure is then quoted on the label of the product.

While it is accurate in the laboratory, its real world relevance can be likened to performing a fuel consumption test on a car when the vehicle is set to run on a rolling road at 30km/h in top gear for several hours and then its fuel consumption calculated.

In such circumstances a 5-litre V8 4WD may achieve a fuel consumption of 95kmpg. Yet in real life an owner would expect to achieve about 25kmpg.

Consumers would obviously be sceptical about an advertised fuel consumption of 95kmpg for such a car, but we take the quoted SPF ratings of sunscreen products at face value.

We trust, intrinsically, the process from which these measures are derived, but they are no more relevant to real world use than the fuel consumption example.

Not only does this mislead the public from an ethical perspective, it also fosters a sense of misguided reassurance about the protection which sunscreens are providing.

The stated performance of sunscreens is also a misconception, which although fully appreciated by officialdom has not been explained adequately to the public.

Why? Is it because it is clear that bodies have been promoting a deceptive message for so long?

Are they potentially liable for the ill-informed use of sunscreens by a trusting public?

The official recommendation to use a sunscreen of SPF 30 or more is yet another misconception. Scientifically it has been shown that for the vast majority of people (90-95per cent) there is no need for an SPF of more than 15 - most of us need less.

The challenge is to ensure that users really do achieve an SPF of about 15.

Once again research has shown that using an SPF 30 product actually delivers a lower SPF on the users' skin than using an SPF 15 product.

Why? Because in order to achieve higher SPF levels, the concentration of active ingredients has to be increased, and as these are inherently oily the product becomes even more challenging and even less cosmetically acceptable to apply.

If the official stance was to follow the dictates of true science it would recommend the use of SPF 15 products which are easier to apply and re-apply.

They are less expensive, expose users to fewer chemicals and actually deliver higher protection.

Over the years, numerous commentators have stated that sunscreens should not be viewed as a "suit of armour" against the sun. Yet in New Zealand, the official bodies responsible for promoting the Sun Smart message have been less than candid about this issue.

Although it may seem to serve the interests of sunscreen manufacturers to promote greater consumption of their products, the fact is that for economic as well as cosmetic reasons few people are prepared to apply so much sunscreen.

The discrepancy between expectation and realisation of sunscreen performance has been known by the medical and scientific community for decades. But it has never been addressed adequately by the health education lobby.

Are official interests being placed ahead of those of the public?

* Steve Taylor is a general practitioner who has developed products including a sunscreen spray.