Guest Author

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.

Euthanasia referendum: How to cut through the emotions - Guest Work

Sep 18, 2020

Jacqui Maguire, registered clinical psychologist This podcast episode highlights how difficult it is to have effective conversations about euthanasia due to how polarised people’s views are. I’m a clinical psychologist, with a passion for science communication. In early 2020 I founded the podcast Mind Brew, with an aim to make psychological research accessible for New Zealanders to foster personal wellbeing, work and relationships. In the latest episode, I speak with Dr Miguel Ricou ahead of the End of Life Choice referendum. Dr Ricou is an Assistant Professor and research coordinator at the Department of Social and Health Sciences of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto (FMUP). He is President of the Ethics Commission of the Portuguese Order of Psychologists and founder of the European platform “Wish to Die”, a platform that … Read More

From adenoviruses to RNA: the pros and cons of different COVID vaccine technologies - COVID-19

Sep 18, 2020

Suresh Mahalingam, Griffith University and Adam Taylor, Griffith University The World Health Organisation lists about 180 COVID-19 vaccines being developed around the world. Each vaccine aims to use a slightly different approach to prepare your immune system to recognise and fight SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. However, we can group these technologies into five main types. Some technology is tried and trusted. Some technology has never before been used in a commercial vaccine for humans. As we outline in our recent paper, each technology has its pros and cons. Each of these five technologies is designed to prepare your immune system to recognise and respond to a future infection. Author provided. 1. DNA/RNA-based DNA and RNA vaccines use fragments of genetic material made in the lab. These fragments code for a part of the virus (such … Read More

New Zealand will make big banks, insurers and firms disclose their climate risk. It’s time other countries did too - Guest Work

Sep 18, 2020

Ivan Diaz-Rainey, University of Otago This week’s announcement of mandatory disclosures of climate-related risks for companies and financial institutions is arguably the New Zealand government’s most significant climate policy — even more so than the Zero Carbon Act itself. The new policy will come into effect in 2023. It requires all banks, asset managers and insurance companies with more than NZ$1 billion in assets to disclose their climate risks, in line with the emerging global standard from the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). This is a smart move, as it ties risk disclosure to international best practice, which is likely to evolve in the coming years. There will be a collective gulp in bank boards and company risk management departments of the roughly 200 affected entities, but initiatives such as the Aotearoa Circle Sustainable … Read More

Things that grow fast, and things that surprise us - Tuhia ki te rangi

Sep 17, 2020

Marie Becdelievre January 2020. The number of news article mentioning coronavirus exploded and anxious voices whispered about a global pandemic. Whisper? To me, it was only a whisper. I tend to learn about the world through non-fiction books, conferences, and academic research rather than news and social media, so I did not see the crisis coming. But as whispers became alarms, my bubble of blissful ignorance popped. On the 5th of March, I heard about Covid-19 for the first time in a Science Communication class. People present at the time seemed to treat the subject relatively lightly, so I went home without thinking about it too much. But a couple of days later, I talked to my parents who live in France and they were worried. French news bombarded them with images of Italian hospitals unable to cope with … Read More

Will the tropics eventually become uninhabitable? - Climate: Explained

Sep 16, 2020

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz What is the impact of temperature increases in the tropics? How likely is it that regions along the Equator will be uninhabitable due to high wet bulb temperatures such as 35℃ and more in places like Singapore? Do we have models that suggest how likely this is and at what time frames? James Shulmeister, University of Canterbury More than 3.3 billion people live in the tropics, representing about 40% of the world’s population. Despite some areas of affluence, such as Singapore, the tropics are also home to about 85% of the world’s poorest people and … Read More

COVID-19 is not the only infectious disease New Zealand wants to eliminate, and genome sequencing is a crucial tool - COVID-19

Sep 15, 2020

Nigel French, Massey University Genome sequencing — the mapping of the genetic sequences of an organism — has helped track the spread of COVID-19 cases in Auckland, but it also plays an important role in the control of other infectious diseases in New Zealand. One example is Mycoplasma bovis, a global cattle disease New Zealand also hopes to eliminate. It was first detected on a South Island dairy farm in July 2017 and has subsequently been found on 250 properties across the country. It remains active on one farm. M. bovis causes a range of diseases in both adult cattle and calves, including pneumonia, arthritis, mastitis, conjunctivitis and middle ear infections. The original source of the incursion remains unknown, but the Ministry for Primary Industries, together with industry partners, runs a programme to eliminate M. bovis … Read More

Now everyone’s a statistician. Here’s what armchair COVID experts are getting wrong - COVID-19

Sep 14, 2020

Jacques Raubenheimer, University of Sydney If we don’t analyse statistics for a living, it’s easy to be taken in by misinformation about COVID-19 statistics on social media, especially if we don’t have the right context. For instance, we may cherry pick statistics supporting our viewpoint and ignore statistics showing we are wrong. We also still need to correctly interpret these statistics. It’s easy for us to share this misinformation. Many of these statistics are also interrelated, so misunderstandings can quickly multiply. Here’s how we can avoid five common errors, and impress friends and family by getting the statistics right. 1. It’s the infection rate that’s scary, not the death rate Social media posts comparing COVID-19 to other causes of death, such as the flu, imply COVID-19 isn’t really that deadly. But these posts miss COVID-19’s infectiousness. For … Read More

The 2019 measles epidemic in Samoa - Tuhia ki te rangi

Sep 14, 2020

Gabrielle Po-Ching In November 1918, the cargo and passenger ship Talune travelled to Apia, Samoa from Auckland, carrying a number of passengers who had pneumonic influenza. From these passengers stemmed the biggest pandemic Samoa had ever seen. With around 8,500 deaths, over 20% of the country’s population at the time had been wiped out. Just over a century later, New Zealand would once again bring over a disease that would impact Samoa greatly, by way of air travel. Measles was carried by an infected passenger who flew from Auckland to Upolu in August 2019, and by September, Samoa had their first case of community-spread measles. By November 15th there were over 4,000 cases, calling for the Samoan Government to declare a national state of emergency. The state of emergency ended just before New Year’s eve, but in the 43 … Read More

Swimming with whales: you must know the risks and when it’s best to keep your distance - Guest Work

Sep 11, 2020

Chantal Denise Pagel, Auckland University of Technology; Mark Orams, Auckland University of Technology, and Michael Lueck, Auckland University of Technology Three people were injured last month in separate humpback whale encounters off the Western Australia coast. The incidents happened during snorkelling tours on Ningaloo Reef when swimmers came too close to a mother and her calf. Swim encounters with humpback whales are relatively new in the Australian wildlife tourism portfolio. The WA tours are part of a trial that ends in 2023. A few tour options have also been available in Queensland since 2014. But last month’s injuries have raised concerns about the safety of swimming with such giant creatures in the wild. Close encounters Until recently, you had to travel to Tonga, Niue or French Polynesia for similar humpback whale encounters in … Read More

Could academic streaming in New Zealand schools be on the way out? The evidence suggests it should be - Guest Work

Sep 11, 2020

David Pomeroy, University of Canterbury; Kay-Lee Jones, University of Canterbury; Mahdis Azarmandi, University of Canterbury, and Sara Tolbert, University of Canterbury Academic streaming in New Zealand schools is still common, but according to recent reports it is also discriminatory and racist. Also known as tracking, setting and ability grouping, streaming has been called a systemic barrier to Māori educational success in one major analysis released in August. Education Minister Chris Hipkins agreed, saying “streaming does more harm than it does good”. The criticism should come as no surprise. Decades of research has shown streaming doesn’t lift achievement. While it may boost top streams a little, it usually drags down the achievement of students in bottom streams. Low expectations and low confidence Given the main justification for streaming is that it lets teachers fine-tune learning … Read More