John Kerr

John Kerr is a PhD student researching public attitudes towards science in the School of Psychology at Victoria University Wellington. He was a Media Advisor at the Science Media Centre for five years and has several years experience in both laboratory research and academic publishing.

‘Brain training’ apps won’t make you smarter - Guest Work

Dec 01, 2017

If you think that a few bucks spent on a braining training app is a solid investment in your intellectual future, think again. Anyone who has spent a reasonable amount of time on the internet has probably heard of the brain training app Lumosity. The San Francisco-based company has spent millions on advertising and claims to have 85 million users. Their app is free to download but to use it on an ongoing basis requires a subscription, starting at US$11.99 a month. Lumosity is just one of many brain–training apps on the market; there are dozens of competitors claiming their methods are ‘scientifically proven’ to improve intelligence and cognitive functioning. Most of the apps involve users repeatedly completing small puzzle-like tasks such as quickly matching symbols based on shape or colour (a version of the Stroop task), memorising patterns, or rotating and shifting objects, … Read More

Put the brakes on ‘gene drives’ for predator control, say researchers - News

Nov 17, 2017

New Zealand wants to get rid of predators. But some of the genetic tools under consideration for the task could have disastrous consequences if they spread beyond our shores, warn researchers. Last year New Zealand boldly announced its ambitious Predator Free 2050 goal, and just yesterday unveiled a detailed strategy for reaching the goal. Investigating the potential of new technologies, such as gene drives, forms a key part of the strategy. Today researchers from the US and New Zealand have issued a stern warning, urging that any use of such technologies must have built-in safeguards. In an article published today in PLOS Biology, Professor Neil Gemmell from Otago University and Assistant Professor Kevin Esvelt of MIT highlight the possible consequences of the accidental spread of existing ‘self-propagating’ gene drive systems. What’s a ‘gene drive’? Gene drive systems distort … Read More

2017 in top three hottest years on record, with record-breaking extreme weather - News

Nov 07, 2017

This year will be the third hottest year on record, according to a new report released to coincide with a major climate summit in Germany. World Meteorological Organization’s provisional Statement on the State of the Climate reveals that the mean global temperature for the period January to September 2017 was approximately 1.1°C above the pre-industrial era.  As a result of a powerful El Niño, 2016 is likely to remain the warmest year on record, with 2017 and 2015 being second and/or third. 2013-2017 is set to be the warmest five-year period on record.     “The past three years have all been in the top three years in terms of temperature records. This is part of a long-term warming trend,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “We have witnessed extraordinary weather, including temperatures topping 50 degrees Celsius in Asia, record-breaking hurricanes … Read More

Earth Microbiome Project: crowd-sourcing the world’s bacteria - News

Nov 02, 2017

A genetic database of over 27,000 bacterial samples from around the world – including New Zealand – will keep researchers busy for years to come. Cataloging the bacterial diversity of the entire planet? Given that microbes are basically everywhere, this seems like an impossible task. But an international team of researchers is taking on the challenge. The Earth Microbiome Project, co-founded by Dunedin-born microbiologist Prof Rob Knight in 2010, describes itself as “a massive crowd-sourced effort to analyze microbial communities across the globe.” The immense depth and breadth of the samples already collected by the Project is outlined in a new analysis published today in Nature. More than 27,000 samples have been sourced from researchers around the world, including samples from volcanoes in Hawaii, mummified seals in Antarctica, monkey poo in China and good old New Zealand dirt. The Project team … Read More

Meteor shower to hit New Zealand skies - News

Oct 20, 2017

Earth is passing through a cloud of comet debris and there’s good chance to catch meteors lighting up the New Zealand sky – weather permitting! Kiwis will witness the peak of the annual Orionids meteor shower tonight – at least those who are committed to getting up early (or staying up late) and who have the luxury of a clear night. The shower is expected to peak tonight and early tomorrow morning (Saturday 20 October 2017). In previous years there have been as many as 80 meteors per hour at the height of the shower, although this year experts estimate that the rate of meteors will be at the lower end of the scale. At their best, the #Orionids should produce rates of up to 20 meteors per hour, in the hours before dawn. — Jonti Horner (@JontiHorner) October 19, … Read More

Snapper spillover: Marine reserves boost local population - News

Oct 18, 2017

New Zealand’s first marine reserve doesn’t just protect snapper inside the reserve, it also acts as a snapper super-nursery, contributing ten times more fish than expected to the surrounding areas.  The findings come from a new study examining the genetic relationships between fish inside and outside the boundaries of the Goat Island Reserve – a Marine Protected Area (MPA) north of Auckland. At least 11 percent of juvenile snapper up to 40km away are the offspring of spawning adults from the reserve, according to the research published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The research was jointly undertaken by the University of Auckland and Massey University. “The contribution from the reserve is about 10 times higher than would be expected if snapper larval contribution was simply proportional to geographic area,” says author Professor John Montgomery, who … Read More

NZ’s top researchers recognised in Royal Society Te Apārangi awards - News

Oct 11, 2017

New Zealand researchers working at the cutting edge of their fields have been recognised at the Royal Society -Te Apārangi Research Honours Dinner. The annual awards dinner hosted by the Royal Society -Te Apārangi took place in Auckland last night and saw awards conferred not just to scientists and researchers, but also teachers and students. This years’ awards dinner also marked an important anniversary for the society; the gala event was timed to fall exactly 150 years from the date that the Royal Society Te Apārangi was established (10 October 1867). A full list of all the award recipients and details of their work can be found on the Royal Society – Te Apārangi website. Just a handful of the winners are noted below.  Geologist Professor Colin Wilson The top honour, the Rutherford Medal, presented for an exceptional contribution to New Zealand research, was awarded  … Read More

We need to get serious about mens’ health, say NZ doctors. - News

Oct 08, 2017

Kiwi blokes have a lower life expectancy than women, are more likely to fall foul of accidents and certain diseases, and are less likely to seek medical advice. It’s time to sort out men’s health, say a group of New Zealand doctors. Prof David Baxter and colleagues tackle the topic of men’s health in the latest issue of the New Zealand Medical Journal.  In their editorial ‘Seven things you need to know about men’s health‘ [subscription only] they say it is time to acknowledge gender differences in healthcare and a plan a “gender-orientated response to improve men’s health and wellbeing at an individual or population level.”. Read more about the research on When talking about ‘mens’ health’, conditions like prostate and testicular cancer are the first things to jump to mind, but, as the authors point out, there … Read More

Rugby pros feel the pain later in life, but no regrets - News

Sep 29, 2017

Elite rugby players are a pretty fit and healthy bunch, but new research suggests the strain of top-level rugby can take its toll on the body later in life. A new University of Oxford study, published today in Scientific Reports, finds that retired elite rugby players are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, joint replacement, and site-specific joint replacement at the hip and knee, compared to average people of the same age. The authors also found that rugby players were twice as likely to report problems related to mobility and pain or discomfort. The research is based on a health survey of over 250 retired elite UK rugby players, with the results compared to survey data from the general population. While the increased pain and joint problems is a concern, it’s not all negative; the authors also noted rugby players … Read More

Limiting warming to 1.5 °C, we can do it – scientists - News

Sep 19, 2017

The global warming limit set at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit is still possible, say scientists, but we need to redouble our efforts if the Earth’s atmosphere is to limbo under the ambitious boundary. In an article published today in Nature Geoscience an international team of climate scientists reports a re-assessment of complex Earth System Models. Crunching the numbers in light of new data, they have updated estimates the outstanding ‘carbon budget’ – the total amount of carbon humanity could emit and still scrape under the limit of warming by less than 1.5 °C by the end of the century. We are already well on our way; in 2015 human-induced warming was estimated to be about 0.9 ◦C above mid-nineteenth-century conditions and increasing at almost 0.2 ◦C per decade. But it’s not time to throw in the towel yet. The authors say that … Read More