Guest Work

This is the Sciblogs guest blog, where we run science-related submissions from the Sciblogs community and beyond. Contact Sciblogs editor Peter Griffin about making a submission - or about hosting a blog on Sciblogs.

How virtual reality spiders are helping people face their arachnophobia - Guest Work

Apr 27, 2017

By Rebekah Boynton, James Cook University and Anne Swinbourne, James Cook University. Gradually exposing people to the thing they fear, say a spider, in a controlled environment has long been the mainstay of treating phobias. But with exposure therapy you don’t have to have a spider physically present in the room for you to feel the benefits. Psychologists and researchers are using virtual reality to help people face their fears. What is exposure therapy? Psychologists originally proposed exposure therapy, also known as systematic desensitisation, in the 1950s as a way of treating specific phobias. The idea is that if you are presented with the phobic stimulus (for example, spiders or heights) repeatedly, but safely, then your fear reduces over time. In the case of a spider phobia (arachnophobia), exposure therapy may start … Read More

Citizen scientists discover new type of aurora - Guest Work

Apr 25, 2017

By Nathan Case, Lancaster University A collaboration between aurora-hunting citizen scientists and a team of professional researchers has resulted in the discovery of a completely new type of aurora. The finding was made possible thanks to photos taken by aurora enthusiasts from across the globe which scientists could then compare with data from satellites. The aurora, more commonly known as the northern or southern lights, form when electrically charged particles collide with the gases in our upper atmosphere. These charged particles, which have been accelerated into our atmosphere by the Earth’s magnetic field, transfer their energy to the atmospheric gases (such as nitrogen and oxygen). This extra energy is then released in the form of light which gives us the majestic aurora. The aurora varies in strength depending on how active the sun is. Normally, an … Read More

Facts are not always more important than opinions: here’s why - Guest Work

Apr 19, 2017

By Peter Ellerton, The University of Queensland Which is more important, a fact or an opinion on any given subject? It might be tempting to say the fact. But not so fast… Lately, we find ourselves lamenting the post-truth world, in which facts seem no more important than opinions, and sometimes less so. We also tend to see this as a recent devaluation of knowledge. But this is a phenomenon with a long history. As the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote in 1980: Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge”. The view that opinions can be more important than facts need not mean the same thing as the … Read More

Health Check: does caffeine cause dehydration? - Guest Work

Apr 15, 2017

By Ben Desbrow, Griffith University For a long time people have been told that caffeine is a diuretic. For some, this translates into advice to avoid or remove caffeinated beverages from the diet of people at risk of dehydration, or during periods of extreme summer heat. While possibly well meaning, this advice is wrong. By definition, a diuretic is a product that increases the body’s production of urine. Hence water, or any drink consumed in large volumes, is a diuretic. Importantly, urinating more does not inevitably lead to dehydration (excessive loss of body water). Drinking simultaneously provides the body with fluid for absorption (avoiding dehydration) and initiates urine production. Depending on the urine losses that occur following drinking, a beverage might be more accurately described as a “poor _re_hydrator” if large fluid losses result. Caffeine … Read More

Flu vaccine won’t definitely stop you from getting the flu, but it’s more important than you think - Guest Work

Apr 14, 2017

Allen Cheng, Monash University and Kristine Macartney, University of Sydney As we head towards a southern hemisphere winter, many people are wondering if it’s worth getting the flu vaccine. Generally speaking, if you are vaccinated, you’re less likely to get the flu. But that’s not the whole story. For most healthy people, it’s about considering the cost and a few seconds of pain against the possibility that you’ll need to take time off work and endure a few days of misery due to infection. For people who come into contact with vulnerable people – like the elderly, young or sick – getting vaccinated reduces the risk that you can pass it on. For vulnerable people, the flu can be the difference between being at home with a chronic disease, and being in hospital … Read More

Enzymes versus nerve agents: Designing antidotes for chemical weapons - Guest Work

Apr 12, 2017

By  Ian Haydon, University of Washington A chemical weapons attack that killed more than 80 people, including children, triggered the Trump administration’s recent missile strikes against the Syrian government. The use of illegal nerve agents – apparently by the Assad regime – violated international law; President Trump said he was moved to act by images of the victims’ horrible deaths. But there’s another path to mitigate the danger of chemical weapons. This route lies within the domains of science – the very same science that produced chemical weapons in the first place. Researchers in the U.S. and around the world, including here at the University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design, are developing the tools needed to quickly and safely destroy nerve agents – both in storage facilities and in the … Read More

How scientists should communicate their work in a post-truth era - Guest Work

Apr 04, 2017

By Andy Miah, University of Salford It’s not an easy time for scientists to talk to the wider public. The US president, Donald Trump, has called global warming “bullshit” and a “Chinese hoax”. In the UK, leave campaigner and MP Michael Gove famously declared that people “have had enough of experts”. But now UK MPs have published a report arguing that there should greater backing for public dialogue and engagement with science. The new report, published by the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, follows a 12-month inquiry into science communication. It argues that scientists need support to be more prominent as communicators, more strategic in how they develop relationships with the media and need to engage more with the general public to ensure that science benefits everyone. Perhaps the most important obstacle … Read More

New study shows HPV vaccine is working to reduce rates of genital warts - Guest Work

Mar 30, 2017

By Dave Hawkes, University of Melbourne The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was introduced in Australia in 2007 and New Zealand in 2008 to prevent cervical cancer. It was free for women up to age 26 in Australia and to all women under 20 in New Zealand. This is because 99.7% of cervical cancers are associated with the sexually transmissible infection. There is mounting evidence the HPV vaccination program is preventing cervical disease. This includes both precancerous lesions and cervical cancer. Although it takes 10 to 20 years from HPV infection until cervical cancer develops, the data are already showing a 17% decline in precancerous lesions in women aged 25 to 29. But the human papillomavirus is also responsible for causing genital warts. Despite a range of questions about the vaccine’s efficacy in this area, a recent … Read More

Three rivers are now legally people – but that’s just the start of looking after them - Guest Work

Mar 29, 2017

By Erin O’Donnell, University of Melbourne and Julia Talbot-Jones, Australian National University In the space of a week, the world has gained three notable new legal persons: the Whanganui River in New Zealand, and the Ganga and Yamuna Rivers in India. In New Zealand, the government passed legislation that recognised the Whanganui River catchment as a legal person. This significant legal reform emerged from the longstanding Treaty of Waitangi negotiations and is a way of formally acknowledging the special relationship local Māori have with the river. In India, the Uttarakhand high court ruled that the Ganga and Yamuna Rivers have the same legal rights as a person, in response to the urgent need to reduce pollution in two rivers considered sacred in the Hindu religion. What are legal rights for … Read More

March for Science NZ – Why we march - Guest Work

Mar 28, 2017

From the NZ March for Science Organisers Since the Science March on DC was first announced in January, after the inauguration of Donald Trump as the President of the USA, scientists and people who care about science in New Zealand have been working together behind the scenes to make sure that when we march for science and knowledge, and against ‘alternative facts’, we march together. Here are some of their stories. Science is important to me. As a parent, an individual, a woman, a science communicator, science educator and New Zealander, it has become a huge part of my identity as a human being and influences everything I do. I decided to run the Christchurch branch of the ‘March for Science’ because Science is being attacked and ignored and we are the ones who can and must … Read More