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.

Why governments will have to consider the costs of long COVID when easing pandemic restrictions - COVID-19

Jul 27, 2021

Richard Meade, Auckland University of Technology   With governments worldwide under pressure to ease pandemic restrictions as vaccination rates rise and impatience with border restrictions grows, new threats become clearer. One of the costliest, it is now feared, could be a tsunami of “long COVID” cases. Long COVID is a serious ongoing illness that follows an acute episode of the disease. It is characterised by extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, post-exertional malaise and an inability to concentrate (“brain fog”), among many other symptoms. The focus, therefore, needs to shift towards protecting quality of life as much as saving lives in the first place. In the UK it is reported two million people have experienced long COVID. Around 385,000 having suffered symptoms for a year or more. The nation’s so-called “Freedom Day” on July 19 went ahead despite expert warnings … Read More

Gender-specific health programs address important issues, but risk creating new biases - Guest Work

Jul 27, 2021

Matthew Jenkins and Victoria Chinn, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington   Gone are the days when health programmes were designed to simply punish or reward people to encourage behaviour change. We now know lasting behaviour change is more complex and nuanced, and this has prompted a proliferation of programmes that attend to factors like motivation, confidence, social support and social determinants of health. Among such programmes, we’ve observed a trend towards gender-targeted interventions. Examples include programmes for men focusing on rugby fandom as a route to getting them to look after their health, and those for women that concentrate on small, holistic health changes to limit the impact of damaging body ideals. Health programmes are often tailored for either men or women. Shutterstock/Nataliia Martseniuk While biological sex is based on our anatomy and physiology, gender … Read More

Fossil tooth fractures and microscopic detail of enamel offer new clues about human diet and evolution - Hot off the press

Jul 27, 2021

Ian Towle; Carolina Loch, and Thomas Loho, University of Auckland   Teeth can tell us a lot about the evolution of prehistoric humans, and our latest study of one of our species’ close relatives may finally resolve a long-standing mystery. The genus Paranthropus is closely related to ours, Homo, and lived about one to three million years ago. Both Paranthropus and Homo are often considered to have evolved from Australopithecus, represented by the famous fossils Lucy and Mrs Ples. The Paranthropus group stands out in our family tree because of their massive back teeth, several times the size of ours, and their extremely thick enamel (the outer-most layer of our teeth). This prompted the hypothesis that they ate mostly hard foods, and one of the most complete Paranthropus specimens was dubbed the Nutcracker … Read More

Billionaire space race: the ultimate symbol of capitalism’s flawed obsession with growth - News

Jul 24, 2021

Tim Jackson, University of Surrey Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids, laments the Rocket Man in Elton John’s timeless classic. In fact, it’s cold as hell. But that doesn’t seem to worry a new generation of space entrepreneurs intent on colonising the “final frontier” as fast as possible. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no sullen technophobe. As lockdown projects go, Nasa’s landing of the Perseverance rover on the surface of the red planet earlier this year was a hell of a blast. Watching it reminded me that I once led a high school debate defending the motion: this house believes that humanity should reach for the stars. It must have been around the time that Caspar Weinberger was trying to persuade President Nixon not to cancel the Apollo space programme. My brothers and I … Read More

Extreme heat warning: what the first-ever UK Met Office alert means - The Changing Climate

Jul 22, 2021

Chloe Brimicombe, University of Reading Summer 2021 will mark a turning point in how heat is seen by the public and communicated by experts. For the first time in its 167-year history, the UK’s Met Office has issued an amber warning for extreme heat for much of Wales and parts of southern, central and western England, where temperatures are expected to reach 33°C in places. It’s an exciting time to be a researcher specialising in heat. I’ve spent a lot of my time so far explaining to people that heat is an invisible killer that can affect every aspect of our lives. The Met Office’s new heat warning service, if communicated well, could change the public’s often risky relationship with heat for the better and save lives. The Met Office was spurred by the deaths of nearly … Read More

When an ancient volcanic ‘supereruption’ caused sudden cooling, early humans got lucky - Hot off the press

Jul 22, 2021

Ben Black, Rutgers University and Anja Schmidt, University of Cambridge Around 74,000 years ago, a “supereruption” on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, blasted out an estimated 5,000 cubic kilometres of magma. This was the Toba eruption, the largest volcanic eruption of the past 2 million years. To put 5,000 cubic kilometres of magma in perspective, this is more than a hundred times as large as the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, and included enough ash to blanket the entire United Kingdom about 1 millimetre deep. The eruption happened to occur at a critical time in human evolution when Homo sapiens was poised to expand more broadly beyond Africa. Sulphur released by explosive eruptions can temporarily cool the Earth’s climate. Some scientists have even argued that sulphur released from Toba disrupted the climate enough to create a “volcanic winter” that created … Read More

How does the Pegasus spyware work, and is my phone at risk? - News

Jul 21, 2021

Paul Haskell-Dowland, Edith Cowan University and Roberto Musotto, Edith Cowan University A major journalistic investigation has found evidence of malicious software being used by governments around the world, including allegations of spying on prominent individuals. From a list of more 50,000 phone numbers, journalists identified more than 1,000 people in 50 countries reportedly under surveillance using the Pegasus spyware. The software was developed by the Israeli company NSO Group and sold to government clients. Among the reported targets of the spyware are journalists, politicians, government officials, chief executives and human rights activists. Reports thus far allude to a surveillance effort reminiscent of an Orwellian nightmare, in which the spyware can capture keystrokes, intercept communications, track the device and use the camera and microphone to spy on the user. How did they do it? There’s nothing particularly … Read More

Calling out China for cyberattacks is risky — but a lawless digital world is even riskier - News

Jul 21, 2021

Alexander Gillespie, University of Waikato This week’s multi-country condemnation of cyber-attacks by Chinese state-sponsored agencies was a sign of increasing frustration at recent behaviour. But it also masks the real problem — international law isn’t strong or coherent enough to deal with this growing threat. The coordinated announcement by several countries, including the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand, echoes the most recent threat assessment from the US intelligence community: cyber threats from nation states and their surrogates will remain acute for the foreseeable future. Joining the chorus against China may be diplomatically risky for New Zealand and others, and China has already described the claims as “groundless and irresponsible”. But there is no doubt the problem is real. The latest report from New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) recorded 353 cyber security incidents in … Read More

Could Britain be sued for reopening and putting the world at risk from new COVID variants? - COVID-19

Jul 21, 2021

Kris Gledhill, Auckland University of Technology With most COVID-19 restrictions now lifted in England, the world is watching to see what this so-called “freedom day” will bring. Some scepticism is warranted, given Britain’s approach throughout the pandemic has hardly been a success. By July 19, there had been 128,985 deaths from COVID-19, and the death rate per million of population was just under 1,900. True, there are countries with worse rates, including Hungary, Italy and the Czech Republic in Europe. But countries that have taken a different approach have vastly better figures: for example, 35.8 deaths per million of population in Australia, and 5.39 in New Zealand. No doubt Boris Johnson’s government took its emphatic 2019 election victory and relatively successful vaccination program as a mandate for opening up. But the current situation doesn’t support such … Read More

Doping has become inevitable at the Olympics. And who wins gold in Tokyo might not be certain until 2031 - News

Jul 20, 2021

Jason Mazanov, UNSW Another Olympics is upon us, inexorable even in the face of COVID. With it comes the inevitable, salacious speculation around doping scandals. There have been doping scandals at every Olympics in my lifetime and a few before, reaching back to the middle of the 20th century. Now, because of the lag between new drugs coming into sport and the development of reliable drug tests, there’s a 10-year retrospective testing window. This leaves the question of exactly who wins what an open question for a decade. With the testing window used for the 2012 London Olympics now closed (it used to be eight years), we only now have a final account of both medals and doping at those games. According to Olympics historian Bill Mallon, more than 140 athletes were banned or disqualified, including 42 medallists (13 … Read More