John Kerr

John Kerr is a PhD student researching public attitudes towards science in the School of Psychology at Victoria University Wellington. He was a Media Advisor at the Science Media Centre for five years and has several years experience in both laboratory research and academic publishing.

Avoiding the strange of climate change - News

May 23, 2017

Children alive today will find themselves living in a totally different climate in the future, should greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, warns a new study. Climate change does what it says on the tin – it changes the climate. The question of when and where we will start to notice those changes is tackled in a new, Kiwi-led study published today in Nature Climate Change. ‘Unfamiliar’ climates From year to year there is a lot of variability in the local climate, some years are warmer than average, some cooler. The new research aims to separate the future climate change ‘signal’ from the ‘noise’ of this normal variation, with a focus on the human dimension. At which point does a future local climate become so unusual that an individual would see it as significantly different from, say, when they were a … Read More

Antimicrobial resistance – what does it mean for NZ? - News

May 17, 2017

We may be a small country tucked away in the South Pacific, but that doesn’t mean New Zealand is immune to the global problem of ‘superbugs’, warns a new report.  A new evidence paper from the Royal Society Te Apārangi sums up the current knowledge on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in New Zealand and outlines efforts underway to prevent the further spread of disease-causing microorganisms resistant to medicines – AKA ‘superbugs’. Siouxsie Wiles, a microbiologist from the University of Auckland, a Royal Society Te Apārangi Councillor and an expert adviser on the report, says AMR is not a new thing. “Microbes have become resistant to the medicines we have used to treat them ever since we started using medicines, but the problem is we are running out of medicines that work. The cupboard is now bare.” A 2016 … Read More

NZ scientists leading de-extinction discussion - News

May 11, 2017

If we could resurrect an extinct species like the moa or the mammoth, how would it fare out in the big bad world? This week the journal Functional Ecology published a special feature series on the ecology of de-extinction, including a number of articles by New Zealand authors. Sciblogs has dived into the de-extinction discussion with a special miniseries on de-extinction featuring posts from some of the Functional Ecology authors as well as regular Scibloggers.  Here’s a run-down of the posts: De-extinction: the devil is in the details Prof Phil Seddon from Otago University, the guest editor behind the Functional Ecology feature, kicks off with a post acknowledging the realities and difficulties of resurrecting an extinct species. “Trouble is, even for species that have only recently disappeared from parts of their range, reintroduction success is not guaranteed, In fact, historically, … Read More

Depression among Māori, Pacific and Asian Kiwis flying under the radar - News

Apr 28, 2017

Māori, Pacific and Asian New Zealanders are more at risk of depression and anxiety disorders and yet are likely to be under-diagnosed, say the authors of a new study.  Around one in six  New Zealand adults are diagnosed with an anxiety or mood disorder in their lifetime. However some minorities are less likely to be diagnosed, despite appearing to have higher rates of psychological distress. New research, published today in the New Zealand Medical Journal, highlights these inequalities and shows that depression and anxiety are very likely under-diagnosed in Māori, Pacific and Asian communities. The findings are based on data from the long-running New Zealand Values and Attitudes Study (NZVAS) at Auckland University, which in 2015/14 surveyed almost 16,000 New Zealanders. Included in the survey was a version of the Kessler Scale, which measures psychological distress and is widely used to identify individuals at risk of anxiety of depression. Read More

Superbug death may herald ‘start of the post-antibiotic era’ - News

Apr 21, 2017

Infectious disease experts are “deeply alarmed” by the death of a US woman due to a bacterial infection resistant to all available antibiotics. Writing this week in a  Medical Journal of Australia editorial, researchers warn that the case may herald “the start of the post-antibiotic era.” Professor Cheryl Jones, President of the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases (ASID), and her colleagues write that we may be facing a future in which high level antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is widespread, meaning that common pathogens will be untreatable. Should this be the case, it would profoundly affect all areas of health care, and society. Simple childhood infections would once again be life-threatening events, major surgery would be associated with high mortality, chemotherapy for cancer and organ transplantation would no longer be possible. The authors highlight a number of drivers of AMR that need … Read More

The Face of Evil – skin disorders overrepresented in Hollywood villians - News

Apr 07, 2017

The bad guy in movies is more likely to have a skin condition, reports a new study, and it could be contributing to prejudice in the real world.  Dermatologists from the University of Texas have undertaken a quick a stocktake of skin and hair problems among the top ten Hollywood villains and heroes, as cataloged in the American Film Institute 100 Greatest Heroes and Villains List. Their findings, published this week in the journal JAMA Dermatology,  reveal a clear bias in films for giving the villain a skin problem: six out the ten top villains had skin problems on the face or scalp, while all the heroes were relatively unblemished. Read more about the research on Scimex.org.  The authors of the study documented numerous dermatological findings among their – admittedly small – sample of villains. The list included: Dr. Hannibal Lecter … Read More

E-cigarettes to have legal market in NZ, experts cautious - News

Mar 29, 2017

The Government has announced new regulations to allow nicotine containing electronic cigarettes to be sold in New Zealand. Currently e-cigarette devices can be sold in New Zealand but nicotine-containing e-liquid can not (nicotine is a scheduled substance under the Medicines Act), although consumers can purchase e-liquid from overseas for personal use. That is set to change with announcement of new regulations to make nicotine e-cigarettes more widely available on New Zealand shelves. “Scientific evidence on the safety of e-cigarettes is still developing but there’s a general consensus that vaping is much less harmful than smoking,” said Associate Health Minister Nicky Wagner in a media release issued today. “The Government is taking a cautious approach by aligning the regulations around vaping with those for cigarettes. This ensures cigarette smokers have access to a lower-risk alternative while we continue to … Read More

Neil deGrasse Tyson, science communication superstar, coming to New Zealand - News

Mar 28, 2017

One of the world’s most well known and entertaining science communicators is coming to New Zealand. Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson will be coming to New Zealand – for the first time ever – this July to talk life, the universe and everything. He will be performing his show A Cosmic Perspective in Christchurch (July 4) and Auckland (July 9). Both shows will feature a personal presentation by Dr Tyson himself, a fire-side chat with a local personality, and an audience Q&A session to finish. Dr Tyson, an expert on star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies, and the structure of our milky way, is also a best-selling author, Emmy Award winner, recipient of nineteen honorary doctorates, and a man who was once named “Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive”. In his talks he will guide Kiwi audiences on a trip across the cosmos, … Read More

What a hoot! Cheeky kea ‘laughter’ sets off playful antics - News

Mar 21, 2017

A warbling kea squawk has been shown to trigger playful behaviour in the cheeky native parrot, which researchers have compared to laughter in humans. Kea are playful birds. They perform aerial acrobatics, chase each other through the air and have jostling play-fights on the ground.  Researchers noticed that in the midst of such behaviour kea screech a particular ‘play call.’ After documenting these calls and their connection with the birds’ play behaviour, Dr Raoul Schwing and his colleagues got to thinking: how would kea in the wild would respond to recorded play calls? The authors detail their surprising results in a new article published today in the journal Current Biology. “We were able to use a playback of these calls to show that it animates kea that were not playing to do so,” reports Schwing, who undertook the study as part of his PhD research at the University … Read More

Nose evolution shaped by climate - Guest Work

Mar 17, 2017

Your nose looks the way it does thanks, in part, to the climate where your ancient ancestors lived, finds new research. The new study, published today in PLOS Genetics, explores the evolutionary history of the nose, focusing on one specific question: “Has climate adaptation played an important role in influencing variation in human nose shape?” The human nose conditions the temperature and humidity of the air we breathe, so it is not a stretch to imagine that environment and natural selection may have played a hand in guiding its evolution in different populations, much like skin colour. Deconstructing the nose The researchers, led by Arslan Zaidi from Pennsylvania State University, collected over 2,500 3D scans of noses from around the world.  Using these scans, the researchers calculated a range of measures to define nose shapes. They also collected genetic and self-reported ancestry … Read More