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.

What does ‘academic freedom’ mean in practice? Why the Siouxsie Wiles and Shaun Hendy employment case matters - Guest Work

Jan 14, 2022

Jack Heinemann, University of Canterbury   Two high-profile University of Auckland academics raised important questions about academic freedom with their complaint to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) that their employer had failed its duty of care to them. Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles and Professor Shaun Hendy have become well known for their work explaining the science behind COVID-19 and guiding the public and government response. But not everyone has agreed with that response or valued their contribution, and the academics have been threatened by what they have called “a small but venomous sector of the public”. They argued the university had not adequately responded to their safety concerns and requests for protection. The case has now been referred to the Employment Court and the outcome for all parties remains unknown. My focus is on the initial determination by … Read More

New Zealand summers are getting hotter – and humans aren’t the only ones feeling the effects - The Changing Climate

Jan 12, 2022

Cate Macinnis-Ng, University of Auckland   It’s not a mirage, our summers are getting hotter on average and we are experiencing more extremely hot days. News from NIWA that 2021 was New Zealand’s hottest year on record fits with the long term trend. Analysis of 70 years of data has shown extreme hot days are increasing at a rate faster than average temperature increases across Aotearoa. At the same time, rainfall is decreasing in many areas. Recent heat waves are associated with a current La Niña event. Warming ocean waters around Aotearoa and northeasterly winds drive warmer air temperatures. A second contributing factor is atmospheric blocking slowing air movement and allowing air to warm further. Together with global warming, these processes will cause more frequent heat waves in coming years. What is a heatwave? While … Read More

What day is it? How holidays warp our sense of time - Guest Work

Dec 22, 2021

Adam Osth, The University of Melbourne   The holidays are coming and chaos is upon us. You may be navigating crowded parking lots in the heat, shuffling from one holiday party to the next, not to mention trying to avoid recently arrived relatives. Amid this chaos, you might experience time a bit differently. You might forget what day it is. New Year’s Eve might sneak up on you when Christmas felt like it was just yesterday. And before you know it, the holidays are over, the trays of mangoes are gone, and the relatives have packed up and left. That’s not the only way your sense of time may be a bit distorted over summer. While sitting around and reflecting on past holiday seasons, you might find last Christmas feels just like yesterday. In fact, it might feel more recent … Read More

The stomach moves to a rhythm of gentle contractions. Any change can be an early signal of gastric disease - Guest Work

Dec 21, 2021

Peng Du, University of Auckland and Peikai Zhang, University of Auckland Our stomach is a wonderful organ that turns what we eat into the nutrients and energy we need to maintain our health. At first glance, it might appear as a simple extendable muscular bag, but it has many sophisticated divisions of labour and functions that continue to puzzle researchers. The stomach is lined with three layers of muscles. Shutterstock/Nerthuz When food enters the stomach, a series of biological processes kick in to extract nutrients while continuously moving the content down the gut. The movement comes through gentle, rhythmic contractions, which is not surprising given there are three layers of muscle in the human stomach. But how these muscles are coordinated and what happens when the controlling mechanisms break down are key questions researchers are seeking to address. We know … Read More

New Zealand’s 2021 climate action - Planetary Ecology

Dec 16, 2021

By Robert McLachlan 2021: the fourth year of the Labour-led government; the first in which it governs alone; the second year of the Covid pandemic; the last year before the Zero Carbon Act kicks in for real. What was achieved for the climate? In terms of actually cutting emissions, – like removing petrol cars and coal boilers – not a lot. Apart from the Covid-induced slowdown, it’s unlikely that emissions have started falling. But changing the entire energy system takes time and preparation. 2021 was a year in which more ducks got in a row than ever before, some of them ducks never before seen in these parts. Let’s check out those ducks and hear them squeak. Duck 1: Renewable energy, especially solar If 2019 was the end of a long wind drought, 2021 was the year in which solar power … Read More

Courts around the world have made strong climate rulings – not so in New Zealand - The Changing Climate

Dec 16, 2021

Nathan Cooper, University of Waikato New Zealand made two important climate commitments at the COP26 summit last month — to halve emissions by 2030 and to join the global methane pledge to cut methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030. But what happens if these pledges are inadequate for the climate emergency we face? And how can we ensure future climate commitments are bold enough, and actually fully met, to bring about the transformation necessary to limit global warming to 1.5℃? One response is climate litigation, the use of courts to compel governments and corporations to take greater action to mitigate climate change. The number of climate-related court cases is increasing around the world. In some countries, it has achieved strong rulings, but in New Zealand, the courts recently pushed the responsibility back to policymakers. New … Read More

Why climate change must stay on the news agenda beyond global summits - The Changing Climate

Dec 10, 2021

Áine Kelly-Costello, University of Gothenburg   During last month’s COP26 summit, climate change was a ubiquitous story. News hooks abounded, from unpacking the flurry of non-binding pledges to reporting on the failure of rich nations to honour demands of countries at the frontline, criticising the summit as the “most exclusionary COP ever”. Even in today’s crowded information landscape, mainstream news media continue to play an important role in shaping how we understand and act on climate change. This chart shows coverage of climate change (across newspapers, radio and TV) across 59 countries in seven regions around the world. Media and Climate Change Observatory, CC BY-ND Based on research interviews with climate reporters, I argue the main stories are about climate breakdown and climate justice, and entire newsrooms, not just science and environment specialists, need to step up … Read More

A century on from the 1919 influenza inquiry, NZ needs a royal commission into its COVID-19 response - COVID-19

Dec 10, 2021

Alexander Gillespie, University of Waikato and Claire Breen, University of Waikato   The National Party’s recent call for a royal commission of inquiry into New Zealand’s pandemic response may have been part of a wider political strategy, with former leader Judith Collins highly critical of the government’s handling of the Delta outbreak. But the idea predated its recent advocate, and there are good, non-political reasons for holding such an inquiry – not least that it would be powerful and independent. Royal commissions reach further and dig deeper than parliamentary select committees, and are free from partisan sway. Nor is this a novel recommendation. In 1919, the Influenza Epidemic Commission investigated what happened after the arrival of the disease in New Zealand the previous year. That commission’s influence can still be felt today. The 1918-19 pandemic killed at least … Read More

The uninvited Christmas guest: is New Zealand prepared for Omicron’s inevitable arrival? - COVID-19

Dec 10, 2021

Matthew Hobbs, University of Canterbury and Lukas Marek, University of Canterbury   As New Zealand gets ready for the festive season under the new traffic light system, the emergence of the Omicron variant is a reminder this pandemic is far from over. The new variant of concern is already fuelling a new wave of infections in South Africa and there is some evidence hospitalisations are increasing. Data from the South African COVID-19 monitoring consortium show the impact of the Omicron variant. SACMC Epidemic Explorer, CC BY-ND Omicron has already arrived in Australia and the question now is whether it will get to New Zealand during the summer holiday season and potentially affect plans for border openings. New Zealand is currently planning to start opening its borders and allowing quarantee-free entry from early 2022, first … Read More

Climate activism has gone digital and disruptive, and it’s finally facing up to racism within the movement - News

Dec 07, 2021

Nina Hall, Johns Hopkins University; Charles Lawrie, University of Sussex, and Sahar Priano, Johns Hopkins University   To understand the agreement states reached at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow earlier this month, it’s important to explore how climate activism has grown and changed since the Paris Agreement in 2015. Climate activists have played a pivotal role. They have kept the pressure on governments to implement their Paris pledges and to increase their ambition in the coming years. Two new and powerful climate groups — Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion — have been particularly important. Our research suggests they have championed new models and tactics of activism, and also grappled with racism in their own ranks. The distinctiveness and evolution of these two groups tells us a lot about contemporary climate activism and the direction it … Read More