Sarah-Jane O'Connor

Dr Sarah-Jane O'Connor trained in journalism after finishing a PhD in Ecology then worked for Fairfax Media for two years. She is now a media advisor with the Science Media Centre and is on Twitter: @DrSJNZ.

Book review: Antibiotic Resistance – the end of modern medicine? - Scibooks

Apr 21, 2017

A new book summarising the risks of antibiotic resistance by prominent Kiwi scientist Dr Siouxsie Wiles is an excellent overview of the issue, and what you should be aware of. Antibiotic Resistance: The End of Modern Medicine?, published by Bridget Williams Books, draws on Siouxsie’s expertise as a microbiologist to discuss the threat facing modern medicine if we lose access to some of our most important drugs: antibiotics. We have copies of Antibiotic Resistance to give away to Sciblogs readers – find details on how to enter at the bottom of this post. You’d only have to pay a tiny bit of attention to the news to have an inkling of why we need to focus antibiotics and their responsible use. A campylobacter outbreak in Havelock North last year, caused by a contamination in the town’s water supply; a … Read More

Book review: Doctors in Denial - Scibooks

Mar 11, 2017

One of the doctors who blew the whistle on National Women’s Hospital’s ‘unfortunate experiment’ has written about his experiences in an attempt to set the revisionist history straight. Ron Jones was a junior obstetrician and gynaecologist when he joined National Women’s Hospital in 1973, by which point Professor Herbert Green was well into his study that has since become infamously known as the ‘unfortunate experiment’. In brief, from the mid-1960s Green opted to give minimal care to women who presented at the hospital with carcinoma in-situ (CIS): a lesion that is now known to lead to cervical cancer in a proportion of cases [terminology has changed over the years, it’s now called cervical intraepithelial neoplasia or CIN]. Green’s theory was that CIS and cervical cancer were different entities, and that women were being subjected to unnecessary procedures, including hysterectomy, without … Read More

The Port Hills, a love story - Guest Work

Feb 17, 2017

The first few years I lived in Christchurch, the Port Hills were a hazy mirage on my horizon. An undergraduate student – living in the suburbs neighbouring the university, without a car and distracted by the daily dramas of assignments, waking up in time for lectures and shaking off hangovers – they were just a sight to occasionally glance up at. Sometimes they had snow on them; a big deal for us North Islanders. In later years, they became my figurative home. As a PhD student I chose the Port Hills as my field site because they required little travel and I thought it’d be interesting. I liked the idea of urban ecology – science close to our homes – and I wondered if there might be something neat going on in Cantabrians’ backyard that they … Read More

Book review: The Conversation Yearbook 2016 - Scibooks

Jan 20, 2017

Toward the end of the year there can be a glut of ‘best of’ publications, but The Conversation Yearbook 2016 stands out as an enjoyable, wide-ranging collection of essays. The Conversation has been running in Australia since 2011, collating news and views from the academic and research community on hot topics of the day or longer-burning issues. My main dealing with The Conversation is through its science and technology content, so it was a surprising joy to read more broadly through the Yearbook, in subjects ranging from music, politics, history and education. Edited by John Watson – The Conversation’s cities and policies editor – the overall package is a select offering from the thousands of articles published in 2016. It’s given Watson plenty to choose from, with the result being the creme of the crop. In other similar collections, I’ve … Read More

Book review: Falcon - Scibooks

Dec 14, 2016

You may have already devoured H is for Hawk, but Helen Macdonald’s precursor is worth a visit (or revisit) for its marvellous story telling of the cultural and natural history of falcons. Better known for her acclaimed H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald’s precursor book Falcon has been re-released on its tenth anniversary. I’ve yet to read H is for Hawk, but I understand it is more of a personal narrative compared to Falcon, which is a combination of a natural and cultural history of the titular bird. This all began with a PhD thesis, which Macdonald never completed. Instead, it became Falcon. Plenty of PhD students like to joke that they’ll have written a book by the end of their thesis, but to be fair – most of us who aren’t in the humanities wouldn’t have wound up with a good book. But that’s what … Read More

Book review: Cowspiracy – The Sustainability Secret - Scibooks

Nov 12, 2016

A documentary regurgitated into book format falls flat in Cowspiracy, which investigates the role of animal husbandry in global greenhouse gas emissions. With its gripping image of a cow in dark colours staring out at you – the documentary Cowspiracy has been sitting unwatched on my Netflix queue for some time now.  I’ve been hesitant because anything that implies a conspiracy immediately puts me on high alert, but when a review copy of the accompanying book arrived I finally decided to leap in. Documentary makers Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn have turned their 2014 film into a book, written by Anderson: Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. It doesn’t translate well into text and overall is a poorly-written, poorly-referenced and unconvincing book. Though at first blush the references appear lengthy enough, many are simply referring to websites, the same few books referred to over … Read More

Book review: The story of the Hauraki Gulf - Scibooks

Oct 28, 2016

A new book on the Hauraki Gulf spans the breadth of natural and human history and will be an enjoyable read for those who make their home and livelihoods around the Gulf. The Story of the Hauraki Gulf: Discovery, transformation, restoration has been lovingly compiled and written by Raewyn Peart – policy director at the Environmental Defence Society. At first glance, The Story of Hauraki Gulf looks like a coffee table book, but delve into its pages and you’ll find an incredible depth of content that will keep readers occupied for hours and I’m certain will be returned to time and again for its facts, maps and cultural history. Beginning at the beginning, Peart takes her readers through the discovery and early settlement of the Gulf before leading them through the development of Auckland and its surrounding communities. Recreational enjoyment is represented, naturally considering … Read More

Book review: Protecting Paradise - Scibooks

Oct 21, 2016

A new book on the history and science of 1080 in New Zealand goes beyond simply relaying facts and instead delves deep into science denial and the psyche of those who favour conspiracy over science. Protecting Paradise: 1080 and the fight to save New Zealand’s wildlife, written by Dave Hansford and published by Potton & Burton, covers the gamut of one of New Zealand’s most controversial subjects. From the history of 1080’s development and use, a thorough walk-through of the science and advancements over the past few decades, its controversies and opponents and where we’re heading in the country that hopes one day to call itself “predator free”. Hansford writes features and a regular column for New Zealand Geographic and environmental commentary for Radio NZ. He brings his superb writing style to Protecting Paradise, which means this … Read More

Book review: I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that - Scibooks

May 28, 2016

Dr Ben Goldacre’s collection of columns and essays, I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that, is a snackable read for anyone interested in science and how it’s used and misused in media, policy, and everyday life. I must first admit to being a bit sucked in on this book. I picked it up in a bookstore thinking it was new – I certainly hadn’t seen it before – only to find it was released in 2014. Perhaps it was delayed in arriving on our fair shores, or I really do need new glasses. In any case, I decided it was still worthy of inclusion on SciBooks if only to whet our appetites while we await Goldacre’s next book – which he alludes to multiple times in I think you’ll find. (Apparently it’s on evidence-based policy, building upon … Read More

Gaps in conservation work - News

Mar 30, 2016

Some of the countries that need conservation work the most are missing out, undermining global efforts to protect biodiversity, a new study suggests. The research, published today in PLOS Biology, analysed over 10,000 scientific papers from more than 1000 journals published in 2014. The Australian researchers looked at where the research was done, by whom and how that related to the most important countries for biodiversity conservation. The countries ranked most important for mammal conservation (Indonesia, Madagascar, Peru, Mexico, and Australia) accounted for 11.9% of publications, though the authors determined, based on relative importance for mammal conservation, the top five countries should have been represented in 37.2% of publications. By the same calculation, the United State should have been represented by 0.5% of the papers, but instead made up 17.8% and was the most studied country overall. A broader view … Read More