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.

The Physics (and Economics, and Politics) of Wheelchairs on Planes - Guest Work

Dec 07, 2019

Michael Schulson When Shane Burcaw flies on an airplane, he brings along a customized gel cushion, a car seat, and about 10 pieces of memory foam. The whole arsenal costs around $1,000, but for Burcaw it’s a necessity. The 27-year-old author and speaker — who, alongside his fiancée, Hannah Aylward, is one half of the YouTube duo Squirmy and Grubs — has spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disorder that affects motor neurons and causes muscle wasting and weakness. The disorder contorted his limbs and he has used a wheelchair for mobility since he was 2 years old. Today, he uses a motorized wheelchair custom-fitted to his diminutive, 65-lb. frame, but to board an airplane, he’s required to give it up. Instead, Aylward must carry Burcaw onto the plane, and from there, transfer him into a child’s car … Read More

How plant-based meat is stretching New Zealand’s cultural and legal boundaries - Guest Work

Dec 05, 2019

Samuel Becher, Victoria University of Wellington and Jessica C Lai, Victoria University of Wellington Earlier this year, the New Zealand-based pizza chain Hell Pizza offered a limited-edition “Burger Pizza”. Its customers weren’t told that the “meat” was plant-based. Some customers complained to the Commerce Commission, which enforces consumer law in New Zealand. Yet, others did not mind – or even appreciated – the move. The Commerce Commission, however, warned that the stunt likely breached consumer protection law. Hell Pizza’s ruse should catalyse discussion around the scope and purpose of consumer law, the culture of meat consumption and the future of animal farming. Under current law, “teaching through deception” is not possible. But we argue that consumer law needs to adopt a more nuanced approach. Traditional legal approach In October, the Commerce Commission warned the pizza chain … Read More

Generalist to specialist - FutureworkNZ

Dec 05, 2019

Amelia Sharman Both my parents are pretty handy – and they seem to have the right tools for most jobs in the garage and they know how to fix practically anything. A similar story could be told about their generation’s experience in the workforce – being a generalist was not unusual and turning your hand to most activities within a broad skillset was common. But one message we’ve heard throughout this inquiry is that specialisation is increasing, in part, through the introduction of technology into the workplace. What are the implications for education and training? Specialisation in the building sector Take the building sector as an example. We heard from the BCITO that there is significantly less demand these days for a well-rounded builder who crafts a final product from scratch (although having broader foundational … Read More

How climate change will affect food production and security - Climate: Explained

Dec 04, 2019

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 According to the United Nations, food shortages are a threat due to climate change. Are food shortages a major threat to New Zealand due to climate change? Julian Heyes, Massey University Climate change is altering conditions that sustain food production, with cascading consequences for food security and global economies. Recent research evaluated the simultaneous impacts of climate change on agriculture and marine fisheries globally. Modelling of those impacts under a business-as-usual carbon emission scenario suggested about 90% of the world’s population – most of whom live in the least developed countries – will experience reductions in food … Read More

Bite-sized learning - FutureworkNZ

Dec 03, 2019

Amelia Sharman There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to micro-credentials, those bits of bite-sized learning that can help workers stay on top of technological change.  What’s a micro-credential? While definitions vary, micro-credentials can be understood as short courses that allow people to learn new skills or have an existing competency recognised. The important thing is that at the end of the course they earn a credential of some description. Time-wise, courses can range anywhere between a few hours to several weeks depending on the depth of knowledge they are seeking to achieve. Micro-credentials offer the chance for people to create so-called “education playlists” (Ryerse 2017) that are tailored to individual interests and are more flexible for people where full-time study is unrealistic. In New Zealand, after a trial period, micro-credentials can now be … Read More

Exoplanets, life, and the danger of a single study - Guest Work

Nov 28, 2019

By Pallab Ghosh There’s value in covering new research advances, even when the underlying science is unsettled. But there are also risks. The recent announcement that scientists discovered water on the planet K2-18b, 110 light years away, prompted a media swoon. News stories, including a piece written by me, billed it as the first detection of water on a “potentially habitable” planet outside our solar system. The blowback from the astronomy community was swift. A chorus of critics stated on Twitter that, although K2-18b orbits its host star within a distance range astronomers call the habitable zone, the planet is most likely too hot and under too much pressure to support life. The sentiments expressed in a Scientific American essay by Harvard University astronomer Laura Kreidberg were typical of many in the community. Read More

A Team Approach to Tackling the Psychology Replication Crisis - Unsorted

Nov 24, 2019

Dalmeet Singh Chawla In 2008, psychologists proposed that when humans are shown an unfamiliar face, they judge it on two main dimensions: trustworthiness and physical strength. These form the basis of first impressions, which may help people make important social decisions, from who to vote for to how long a prison sentence should be. To date, the 2008 paper — written by Nikolaas Oosterhof of Dartmouth College and Alexander Todorov of Princeton University — has attracted more than a thousand citations, and several studies have obtained similar findings. But until now, the theory has only been replicated successfully in a handful of settings, making its findings biased towards nations that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic — or WEIRD, a common acronym used in academic literature. Now, one large-scale study suggests that although the … Read More

Big Pharma has failed: the antibiotic pipeline needs to be taken under public ownership - Guest Work

Nov 23, 2019

Claas Kirchhelle, University of Oxford; Adam Roberts, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and Andrew Singer, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology Antibiotics are among the most important medicines known to humankind, but we are running out of this crucial resource. Decisive action is needed if we are to retain access to them. This includes rethinking our reliance on private companies and establishing public ownership of crucial parts of the antibiotic pipeline. Since the 1930s, antibiotics have transformed the way we treat diseases, ranging from syphilis to typhoid. They have enabled increasingly complex forms of surgery and organ transplantation. They have protected people with weakened immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer treatment, from life-threatening infections. And they have facilitated the industrialisation of global food production. So important have antibiotics become that some researchers compare … Read More

Why coastal floods are becoming more frequent as seas rise - Climate: Explained

Nov 20, 2019

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 I saw an article claiming that “king tides” will increase in frequency as sea level rises. I am sceptical. What is the physics behind such a claim and how is it related to climate change? My understanding is that a king tide is a purely tidal effect, related to Moon, Sun and Earth axis tilt, and is quite different from a storm surge. James Renwick, Victoria University of Wellington This is a good question, and you are right about the tides themselves. The twice-daily tides are caused by the gravitational forces of the Moon and … Read More

New era for Ngāti Kuri and Auckland Museum - Mātau Taiao

Nov 18, 2019

Words and images by Jacqui Gibson Gone are Auckland Museum’s days of doing science using a museum-centric academic approach, after Māori land rights holders Ngāti Kuri gave the museum an ultimatum. Tom Trnski holding a fossilised whale tooth from the Far North. Aussie-born Head of Natural Sciences at Auckland Museum Tom Trnski admits his first pepeha at Waiora marae in the Far North was pretty nerve-wracking. “I was a bit scared, I won’t lie. Coming from Australia, I didn’t grow up learning te reo. Introducing myself in Māori to a group of native speakers was tough. And the relationship, at that point, wasn’t in good shape. But having the courage to do it paid off.” That was four years ago. “Today my relationship with Ngāti Kuri is close. When I go there now, I feel like part of the … Read More