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.

NZ is home to species found nowhere else but biodiversity losses match global crisis - Guest Work

Dec 06, 2018

Robert McLachlan, Massey University and Steven Alexander Trewick, Massey University The recently released 2018 Living Planet report is among the most comprehensive global analyses of biodiversity yet. It is based on published data on 4,000 out of the 70,000 known species of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Rather than listing species that have gone extinct, the report summarises more subtle information about the vulnerability of global biodiversity. The bottom line is that across the globe, the population sizes of the species considered have declined by an average of 60% in 40 years. New Zealand is a relatively large and geographically isolated archipelago with a biota that includes many species found nowhere else in the world. One might think that it is buffered from some of the effects of biological erosion, especially since people only … Read More

How To Make Friends And Influence People (By Being A Great Session Chair) - Guest Work

Dec 03, 2018

Dr Lucy Stewart Chairing talk sessions at conferences can be a weird gig. It’s a skill we expect people to learn by observation, but we rarely talk about how to do it well. Instead, we bolt our lunch while grousing about yet another overrun session, as if it had been caused by uncontrollable forces of nature. But that’s not the case. So, because it’s academic conference season in New Zealand, I’m going to offer my tips on how to be a truly great session chair – and trust me, people will notice the difference. First and foremost, you have two jobs as a session chair. And they’re not “introduce the speakers and ask the audience to clap at the end”. Make sure your audience gets to hear the speakers they … Read More

What He said - Guest Work

Nov 30, 2018

Peter Mills, Assistant Director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics I arrived in Hong Kong on Monday lunchtime for the second ‘international summit’ on genome editing amid stories circulating that gene-edited twin girls had been born to a Chinese couple. The editing, it was claimed, had targeted the CCR5 gene, with the aim of introducing a variant that confers immunity to HIV and some other viruses by altering the cellular receptors to which the virus binds on the surface of human cells. At first I was sceptical, recalling the alleged cloning attempts of reproductive biologists more than a decade ago, but discussions in the margins of the summit suggested that the claims had credibility. The doctor responsible for this was Dr Jiankui He, a PhD physicist who went on to study bioengineering in the US, and who is currently on leave from the … Read More

The Ethical Quandary of Human Infection Studies - Guest Work

Nov 22, 2018

Linda Nordling In February of last year, 64 healthy adult Kenyans checked into a university residence in the coastal town of Kilifi. After a battery of medical tests, they proceeded, one by one, into a room where a doctor injected them with live malaria parasites. Left untreated, the infection could have sickened or even killed them, since malaria claims hundreds of thousands of lives every year. But the volunteers — among them casual labourers, subsistence farmers, and young mothers from nearby villages — were promised treatment as soon as infection took hold. They spent the next few weeks sleeping, eating, and socializing together under the watchful eye of scientists, giving regular blood samples and undergoing physical exams. Some grew sick within a couple of weeks, and were treated and cleared of the parasite before being sent home. Those who did … Read More

Colonising Mars means contaminating Mars – and never knowing for sure if it had its own native life - Guest Work

Nov 20, 2018

David Weintraub, Vanderbilt University The closest place in the universe where extraterrestrial life might exist is Mars, and human beings are poised to attempt to colonise this planetary neighbour within the next decade. Before that happens, we need to recognise that a very real possibility exists that the first human steps on the Martian surface will lead to a collision between terrestrial life and biota native to Mars. If the red planet is sterile, a human presence there would create no moral or ethical dilemmas on this front. But if life does exist on Mars, human explorers could easily lead to the extinction of Martian life. As an astronomer who explores these questions in my book “Life on Mars: What to Know Before We Go,” I contend that we Earthlings need to understand this scenario … Read More

Two years on from the Kaikōura quake - News

Nov 14, 2018

This week marks the second anniversary of the magnitude 7.8 Kaikōura earthquake that ruptured a world record 25 faults in the upper South Island. GNS Science reflects on some of the key features and implications of this complex event – and talks to principal scientist Dr Kelvin Berryman about what we’ve learned. It was New Zealand’s most comprehensively recorded earthquake. The magnitude 7.8 event involved widespread surface rupturing, landslides and other ground failures, and a tsunami. The rupture began near Waiau in North Canterbury and ripped through the upper South Island landscape at about 2km-a-second and ended up off Cape Campbell in Marlborough. It travelled 170km in about 74 seconds. It was a very different event to the devastating Canterbury earthquakes of 2010-2011. A contrasting feature was the compressed aftershock sequence in which all the main aftershocks occurred within the … Read More

Using Satire to Communicate Science - Guest Work

Nov 12, 2018

Elizabeth Preston, Undark Research shows that while satire does carry some risks, it can be an effective tool for communication. Scientists are giving it a go. “We do not care about planet Earth,” four French scientists declared in February in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution. If humans are exhausting the planet’s resources, they wrote, it’s Earth that needs to adapt — not us. The authors issued a warning: “Should planet Earth stick with its hardline ideological stance…we will seek a second planet.” They were joking, of course. Lead author Guillaume Chapron, a quantitative ecologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, works mainly on conserving wolves and other large carnivores. He does care about the Earth. In fact, he and his coauthors all signed a paper in BioScience last year called “World Scientists’ Warning … Read More

Before replacing a carer with a robot, we need to assess the pros and cons - Guest Work

Nov 09, 2018

Helen Dickinson, UNSW and Catherine Smith, University of Melbourne If you have seen science fiction television series such as Humans or Westworld, you might be imagining a near future where intelligent, humanoid robots play an important role in meeting the needs of people, including caring for children or older relatives. The reality is that current technologies in this sector are not yet very humanoid, but nonetheless, a range of robots are being used in our care services including disability, aged care, education, and health. Our new research, published today by the Australia and New Zealand School of Government, finds that governments need to carefully plan for the inevitable expansion of these technologies to safeguard vulnerable people. Care crisis and the rise of robots Australia, like a number of other … Read More

Mānuka honey: who really owns the name and the knowledge - Guest Work

Nov 07, 2018

Jessica C Lai, Victoria University of Wellington Adulterated honey and fake mānuka honey have repeatedly made headlines in recent years. The arguments around adulterated honey are relatively simple. These honeys are diluted with cheaper syrups and their lack of authenticity is unquestionable. The discourse around mānuka honey is different, as there are serious questions about what authentic mānuka honey actually means. Two warring families The term mānuka carries with it a premium. Mānuka honey is made from the nectar of the Leptospermum scoparium flower. This plant is native to New Zealand and south-east Australia. It is, thus, not surprising that much of the war around the term mānuka has played out between Australian and New Zealand producers. There are many registered trademarks in Australia and New Zealand that include the word mānuka and relate to … Read More

Digging Deep into Geosciences with Minecraft - Guest Work

Nov 06, 2018

Laura Hobbs, Carly Stevens, and Jackie Hartley, Science Hunters Building volcanoes, caves, and other features in an “open-world” computer game is an engaging way to teach the next generation about Earth. Imagine yourself in a world where everything is made up of cubes. Colorful blocks represent rocks, trees, water, and animals. An erupting volcano produces blocks of flowing lava. A cave contains cubes of iron and gold ore. Sound familiar? This is the world of Minecraft, a hugely popular “open-world” construction-based video game in which players can move around freely and build virtual creations by “mining” and placing textured blocks with different properties. You can build elaborate cities and ships—even the Eiffel Tower or Tolkien’s Minas Morgul. You can also build a working computer that can perform calculations. But what … Read More