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.

What’s around the corner? Sciblogs Horizon Scan - News

Jan 30, 2017

What does the future hold in store for New Zealand science? What are the big issues our small, isolated country will face in a world of accelerating change? Over last two weeks we’ve seen some excellent commentary from New Zealand researchers contributing to our Sciblogs Horizon Scan special series. We asked experts across the spectrum of New Zealand science to give us their take on the big issues in their field and what might be around the corner. You can get the full lowdown in this introductory post from Sciblogs Editor Peter Griffin. Population demographics, artificial intelligence and forest health are just a few of the subjects covered in this ‘sneak peek’ over the horizon. Here’s a wrap up of what we’ve seen thus far (and there’s more to come…): The Sciblogs Horizon Scan The “Great Acceleration” is … Read More

The Science of Christmas - News

Dec 18, 2016

As the big day approaches, there is no shortage of scientists turning their inquisitive minds to the mysteries of Christmas. In the spirit of the festive season, Sciblogs brings you a tinsel entwined ‘wrap-up’ of Noel-related research. Naughty or nice? Not so important for Santa Santa pays a visit to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. Source: BelfastLive. To kick off, new (real) research published in the BMJ dispels the myth that Santa Claus rewards children based on how nice or naughty they have been in the previous year. Researchers surveyed every UK hospital with a paediatric ward to find out if ‘Santa’ had visited during Christmas 2015. They then correlated this with rates of absenteeism from primary school, conviction rates in young people (aged 10-17 years), distance from hospital to North Pole (as the reindeer flies), … Read More

Book review: What’s so controversial about genetically modified food? - Scibooks

Dec 11, 2016

John T Lang’s new book tackles a tough question: What’s so controversial about genetically modified food? The answer is: It’s complicated. While far from satisfying, this conclusion isn’t a cop out. The staggering complexity of our modern food systems is a returning theme in Lang’s small treatise on genetic modification (GM) and food. His observations and insights are certainly timely. Here in New Zealand, our current stance on genetically modified crops is increasingly questioned. A better understanding of how business, law and the public collide over this issue is more than welcome. A sociologist by trade, Lang does an excellent job of reviewing how a handful of multinational agritech companies, patent law and international trade all jumble into an incredibly messy, globe-spanning tangle. It is a system that no one person – let alone a 180 … Read More

Local extinctions: Climate change’s vanishing trick - News

Dec 09, 2016

Now you see them, now you don’t. Hundreds of species have already undergone ‘local extinctions’ because of climate change, according to new a study. As overall temperatures increase around the world thanks to climate change, plants and animals are starting to shift their geographic range closer to the cooler poles of the planet, or higher up the slopes of mountains. The results are small scale ‘local extinctions’ – where a species cannot be found an area where it once lived, but has not been wiped out completely. To get a handle on just how widespread these local extinctions are, Prof John Wiens from the University of Arizona has trawled through the published literature pulling together all the available studies examining climate-related shifts in species range. His results, published today in the journal PLOS ONE, capture data from 27 … Read More

Science in NZ: How are we doing? - News

Nov 30, 2016

A ‘big picture’ report on the New Zealand science system shows Kiwis are pretty good at publishing top-notch research and collaborating with scientists overseas, but there is room for improvement on our business R&D spending.  The 2016 Science and Innovation System Performance Report was released yesterday by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). The report aims to give policy-makers, academics and the public a solid steer on how the New Zealand science system is performing. “This report provides us with a performance benchmark against other OECD countries including the other small advanced economies – Israel, Switzerland, Singapore, Finland, Ireland and Denmark,” said Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce in a media release announcing the report. “The report increases transparency by showing how public funding for science and innovation is being invested, and it begins to give a direct line-of-sight to … Read More

Tsunami from quake a ‘surprise’ - News

Nov 20, 2016

The tsunami generated by last week’s 7.8 earthquake was not expected as the quake was initially centered on land, not offfshore. In the week since the quake there has been a lot of public debate over the efficacy of New Zealand’s national and local tsunami warning systems. The Science Media Centre has collated much of the coverage here. A key point of confusion related to the initial announcement from the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (MCDEM), just half an hour after the quake, that there was no tsunami threat. There is no tsunami threat to New Zealand following the cheviot earthquake #eqnz — National Emergency Management Agency (@NZcivildefence) November 13, 2016 In the latest MCDEM media briefing Ken Gledhill, Director of GeoNet, said the fact that the Hanmer quake was initially centred on land … Read More

NZ Earthquake – international scientists react - News

Nov 14, 2016

In the aftermath of this morning’s 7.5-magnitude earthquake there has been a solid effort by researchers and authorities to provide timely information to an understandably worried New Zealand public. The most up-to-date source of information on the situation is GeoNet, which is providing updates on aftershock sequences and likelihood estimates of future scenarios. In the most recent news update on the GeoNet site, Sara McBride gives the following breakdown of what we know. This earthquake was the largest recorded in New Zealand since the M7.8 Dusky Sound earthquake in 2009. But, given its location, it was more widely felt and more damaging. This earthquake unsettled many people and that is perfectly normal; earthquakes can be upsetting events. The best advice we have is to be prepared for earthquakes.  We can say one thing with certainty: there will be more earthquakes to … Read More

What does Trump mean for Science? - News

Nov 10, 2016

Donald Trump has been elected to the be the next President of the United States. What does this mean for science?  Already journalists, academics and pundits are scrambling to analyse the impact his presidency will have on every facet of, well, everything.  Here at Sciblogs we’ve rounded up some of the key points on science emerging from the coverage. Scientists respond The reaction from scientists in the US has been marked by surprise and trepidation. Speaking to Nature immediately after the election, Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society, expressed deep concern: “Trump will be the first anti-science president we have ever had,” he said. “The consequences are going to be very, very severe.” The implication of many of Trump’s expected policies extend beyond the US. “I think at the very least it would put a … Read More

Ancient rat dung a window into the past - News

Nov 03, 2016

The bits of plant and animal matter found in fossilised rat poo can tell us a rich and detailed story of New Zealand’s past. Rat droppings are something most people actively avoid, but not Associate Professor Janet Wilmshurst. She has just been awarded a $830,000 grant from the Marsden Fund to take a closer look at preserved dung left behind by Pacific rats. Wilmshurst, A palaeoecologist jointly based at the University of Auckland and Landcare Research, plans to use cutting edge genetic analysis and carbon dating techniques to uncover biological clues about pre-European New Zealand. The new project is titled: In one end out the other: using ancient dung to reconstruct the transformation of prehistoric island ecosystems by invasive rats.  A Research Highlight from the Marsden Fund lays out the idea: Associate Professor Wilmshurst and her team will … Read More

Psychobiotics – bacteria as a psychiatric medicine? - News

Oct 31, 2016

A growing field of research – psychobiotics – hints that the millions of bacteria living inside us have more of a say in our mental well-being than we think. The term ‘psychobiotics’ was coined in 2013 by Ted Dinan to describe bacteria that “produce a health benefit in patients suffering from psychiatric illness.” Since then there have already been leaps forward in our knowledge about the connection between the bugs in our gut and what is going on in our heads, says Dinan, a psychiatrist at the University of Cork, Ireland. This week, Dinan and an international team of researchers, writing in Trends in Neurosciences, detail the new frontiers of psychobiotics, charting the landscape of what we already know and posing the critical questions we need to answer to advance our understanding. Read more about the research on  Ted’s … Read More