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.

A vaccine will be a game-changer for international travel. But it’s not everything - COVID-19

Dec 04, 2020

Adrian Esterman, University of South Australia The United Kingdom yesterday became the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for widespread use. Following a review by the country’s drug regulator, the UK government announced it will begin rolling out the vaccine next week. Other countries are likely to follow soon, authorising the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and possibly other leading candidates too. Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration says it’s continuing to assess the Pfizer/BioNTech data. The world has been eagerly awaiting a COVID vaccine, touted since early in the pandemic as our best hope of returning to “normal”. A big part of this is the resumption of international travel. Certainly, an effective vaccine brings this prospect much closer. But a vaccine alone won’t ensure a safe return to international travel. There are several other things Australia and other countries … Read More

The forgotten environmental crisis: how 20th century settler writers foreshadowed the Anthropocene - Guest Work

Dec 04, 2020

Philip Steer, Massey University Just as writers and artists today are responding to the Anthropocene through climate fiction and eco art, earlier generations chronicled an environmental crisis that presaged humanity’s global impact. The Anthropocene is a proposed geological epoch that powerfully expresses the planetary scale of the environmental changes wrought by human activity. Yet almost a century ago, New Zealand and Australia were at the forefront of an environmental crisis that was also profoundly geological in nature: erosion. And it, too, left its mark on culture. A forgotten global problem Erosion was first brought to the attention of the western world in the 19th century by the American diplomat and polymath George Perkins Marsh. In Man and Nature: Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action (1869), he argued that much of the “Old … Read More

I Published a Fake Paper in a ‘Peer-Reviewed’ Journal - Guest Work

Dec 02, 2020

Bradley Allf Back in April, I received a strange email from a pair of academic journals inviting me to submit my research to one of their latest issues. The email was written in a jarring mix of fonts, and riddled with formatting mistakes and bungled idioms. The editor who sent it to me had, inexplicably, attached a handbook on Covid-19 hospital protocols, a document that detailed at length the precise mechanism of sealing the dead in a “leak-proof corpse wrapping sheet.” It was the kind of email you might expect to receive from a long-lost uncle who wants to send you a barrel of gold bullions if you could, kindly, just wire him the cost of the shipping via Western Union. Except they didn’t want my money — at least not yet. They wanted a research manuscript. Read More

By declaring a climate emergency Jacinda Ardern needs to inspire hope, not fear - The Changing Climate

Dec 01, 2020

David Hall, Auckland University of Technology; Raven Cretney, University of Waikato, and Sylvia Nissen There is no question that we must act, and act fast, on climate change. This week’s climate emergency declaration by the New Zealand government acknowledges the urgency of the climate crisis and the need to collectively confront it. But a declaration is not the same as action. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been frank that the declaration is a symbolic gesture: “It’s what we invest in and it’s the laws that we pass that make the big difference.” In saying this, she echoes the sentiments of some local councils during the first wave of climate emergency declarations in mid-2019. For all that, it is wrong to imagine a declaration will make no difference at all. Language has power. Words like “emergency” have an impact … Read More

Why the way we approach transgender and non-binary healthcare needs to change - Guest Work

Dec 01, 2020

Rona Carroll, University of Otago Demand for healthcare for transgender people is on the rise in New Zealand but training for health professionals to develop basic competencies is lagging behind. There is little teaching on gender and sexuality at either of New Zealand’s medical schools. It’s partly due to lack of time, but also lack of confidence and knowledge to teach the topic. Medical education needs to change urgently to prepare doctors to adequately care for their transgender and non-binary patients. Transgender and non-binary health We use the term transgender (or trans) to refer to people who identify with a gender different to that assigned to them at birth. The term non-binary describes people who don’t identify with the male/female gender binary. There are other gender identities such as takatāpui, a traditional Māori term which has … Read More

Scientists should welcome charges against agency over Whakaari/White Island — if it helps improve early warning systems - News

Dec 01, 2020

Shane Cronin The decision by Worksafe, a government agency focused on workplace safety, to bring criminal charges against 13 parties in relation to last December’s eruption of Whakaari/White Island heralds a new chapter for volcano scientists in New Zealand. On December 9, 2019, 22 people died and 25 suffered injuries when Whakaari erupted. They were not locals caught by a bigger than expected eruption. They were tourists and their guides on an adventure tourism visit to the island and the volcanic vent. It is now clear that even though the volcanic alert level had been raised to “unrest” several days before the eruption, the visitors and their guides were unaware of the likelihood and especially the consequences of an eruption. Had they known, as we do now, that there was a 10% chance of an eruption … Read More

Ancient sponges or just algae? New research overturns chemical evidence for the earliest animals - Hot off the press

Dec 01, 2020

Lennart van Maldegem, Australian National University; Benjamin Nettersheim, Max Planck Institute; Christian Hallmann, Max Planck Institute; Ilya Bobrovskiy, California Institute of Technology, and Jochen Brocks, Australian National University Sponges are the simplest of animals, and they may stand at the root of all complex animal life on Earth, including us humans. Scientists study the evolution of the earliest sponges, hundreds of millions of years ago, to learn about the conditions that led life to develop from single-celled amoeba-like creatures to the large, mobile and even intelligent animals that surround us today. Exactly when and how animals emerged on our planet is a subject of fierce debate among scientists. While the most ancient sponge fossils ever found are around 540 million years old, some have argued that fossil molecules dating from 635 million years ago are evidence of earlier animal life. Read More

Devastated by disease in the past, Samoa is on high alert after recent coronavirus scares - COVID-19

Nov 27, 2020

Tootoooleaava Dr. Fanaafi Aiono-Le Tagaloa, University of Waikato Within minutes of news that crew members of the cargo ship Fesco Askold had tested positive for COVID-19, a social media storm broke across Samoa. COVID-free until then, the island nation’s anxiety was understandable. More so when you consider its history. Memories of the deadly 2019 measles outbreak were still fresh. But more distant events resonated just as much. Next to images of the cargo ship in the harbour, people were posting pictures of the Talune, the infamous “ship of death” that brought the Spanish influenza virus to Samoa in 1918, devastating the population. The Fesco Askold had docked in Apia, Samoa, on November 7, before sailing to Pago Pago in American Samoa, where the crew apparently tested positive. Panic increased when a hoax email claimed a school child … Read More

Mining companies are required to return quarried sites to their ‘natural character’. But is that enough? - Guest Work

Nov 27, 2020

Shaun Rosier, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand has more than 1,100 registered quarries. Some of these mined sites are small, rural operations, but a significant number are large and complex, and within a city’s urban boundaries. As part of the resource consent application for a mining project, quarry operators are usually issued with a quarry management plan, which outlines what needs to happen to the landscape once mining has finished. Most local government bodies require quarry operators to do little more than smooth the altered landscape, redistribute topsoil across these slopes, plant some new vegetation, and manage any onsite waterways to prevent surface erosion. But restoring the ecology of an extracted site isn’t enough any more. My research at the Horokiwi Quarry in Wellington explores how design-led remediation projects can restore … Read More

5 reasons why banishing backpackers and targeting wealthy tourists would be a mistake for NZ - Guest Work

Nov 26, 2020

James Higham, University of Otago and Hazel Tucker, University of Otago Raise your hand if you’ve ever travelled for weeks or months as a backpacker on a limited daily budget. Keep your hand up if you were made welcome in the places you visited on your OE, enjoyed chance encounters and experienced the generosity of strangers. And did those experiences leave a lifelong affection for the places you visited and people you met? If the answer is yes, then we need to consider what might happen in New Zealand were Tourism Minister Stuart Nash’s latest ideas to become policy. To recap, Nash told the Tourism Summit in Wellington last week the industry should move away from catering for low-spending backpackers and instead target the rich. This would solve two problems: the environmental damage allegedly caused by freedom campers … Read More