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.

The Paleo diet and diabetes: evidence lacking - Unsorted

Aug 08, 2016

An Australian researcher has spoken out against a growing number of claims that the Paleo diet – consisting largely of low-carbohydrate food – can help to manage or even reverse diabetes. Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia, Associate Professor Sof Andrikopoulos from the University of Melbourne says despite dozens of websites urging people with diabetes to go paleo, there have been no trials lasting beyond 12 weeks on type 2 diabetes sufferers. “Both studies had fewer than 20 participants, one had no control diet, and at 12 weeks or less, neither study lasted long enough for us to draw solid conclusions about the impact on weight or glycemic control,” he says. The ‘paleo’ or palaeolithic diet claims to be based on the diet of early ‘hunter-gatherer’ humans from the Palaeolithic period – around 2.5 million to … Read More

Honeybee decline could sting NZ for $700m - News

Aug 03, 2016

The pollinating power of the humble honeybee is worth millions of dollars to the New Zealand agricultural sector – but we are at risk of losing it. Bees are having a hard time of it these days; varroa mite, pesticides and a lack of plant diversity are all contributing to the decline of the bee populations crucial for pollinating crops. Now a new study from New Zealand researchers has put a dollar value on just how this much bee decline could cost our farmers. A number of studies have estimated the value that pollinators provide farmers, but few are based on experimental data from the field. Aiming to get an accurate take on the true value of honeybee pollinators, a team of Kiwi scientists put in the hard yards and conducted a real life experiment. Pollinators provide a sweet … Read More

Tiny bird refutes ancient NZ drowning - News

Aug 01, 2016

A tiny native bird has challenged the theory that New Zealand’s ancient land mass was completely submerged millions of years ago. DNA analysis of New Zealand wrens, just published in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, has untangled the birds’ family history as well as a larger mystery around the very origins of New Zealand. The research from the University of Adelaide focused on acanthisittids, a family of New Zealand wren species whose living members include the rock wren and the rifleman. By studying the genetic differences between several of the wren species, including a number of now extinct birds, researchers were able to build an acanthisittid family tree, offering insights into when different birds branched off to become a new species. “Surprisingly, we found that some of the wren species were only distantly related to each other, potentially sharing a common … Read More

World needs to ‘get serious’ about exercise - News

Jul 28, 2016

The world needs to lift its game when it comes to exercise, warn public health researchers, saying we face a “global pandemic” of physical inactivity. The call comes as part of Special Series published today in leading medical journal The Lancet. The authors of the Series warn there has been too little progress in tackling the global pandemic of physical inactivity, with a quarter of adults worldwide still failing to meet current recommendations on physical activity. The series lays out the costs of physical activity – including for New Zealand specifically – as well as some possible solutions. You can read more about the full series on Scimex.org. Only a little bit of exercise needed Even just a brief walk makes a difference. Flickr / Ze’ev Barkan. One of the papers published in the series highlights some good news: … Read More

Samoa obesity-gene link not so simple - News

Jul 26, 2016

High rates of obesity in Samoa have been linked to a particular version of a gene which is prevalent among the island’s population. However, relying on the often repeated formula of ‘gene X’ causes ‘condition Y’ risks oversimplification, say experts. The results, published today in Nature Genetics, were based on an analysis of DNA samples and basic health data collected from over 5,000 Samoan volunteers. The researchers found that individuals carrying a particular version of a gene called CREBRF had about 35 percent higher odds of being obese compared to not having the gene variant. While this elevated risk is much greater than any other common known genetic link to body-mass index, overall it explains only about 2 percent of the variation in weight among Samoans. Other factors such as diet, physical activity and early life nutrition and growth are important, and … Read More

Predator free NZ: Can we do it? - News

Jul 26, 2016

The New Zealand Government has just unveiled ‘the world’s most ambitious conservation project’: eliminating introduced predators such as rats, possums and stoats by 2050. But is it a realistic goal? The Prime Minister John Key announced the target yesterday , starting off with with a new $28 million joint venture, Predator Free New Zealand Limited, which will sponsor community partnerships and pest eradication efforts around the country. “This is the most ambitious conservation project attempted anywhere in the world, but we believe if we all work together as a country we can achieve it,” said Key. From the Beehive: “New Zealand is a world leader in conservation technology and research,” Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce says. “The Biological Heritage Challenge has an established network of scientists who are ready and willing to take on the Predator Free Challenge. For … Read More

Environment NZ’s weak point for UN goals - News

Jul 22, 2016

New Zealand gets a few ‘Fs’ in a new report card examining how we are doing on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. In September last year New Zealand, along with 192 other countries, signed up to the goals, which described by the UN as “a bold and ambitious global plan to end poverty, address inequalities and tackle climate change.” There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals in total, ranging from providing universal clean water to eliminating gender inequality. Timed to coincide with UN meetings this week, a new independent report has provided a country-by-country snapshot of performance for each of the goals. The Sustainable Development Goal Index and Dashboard gives a ‘traffic light’ report card for each country, tracking progress and ensuring accountability across the 17 goals. The aim of the report card is to help countries identify priorities for early action to meet the … Read More

Govt asks: ‘Conservation science – are we doing it right?’ - News

Jul 18, 2016

The Government funds millions of dollars’ worth of conservation and environment research each year – and it needs your help to make sure that research is heading in the right direction. A planned conservation and environment science ‘roadmap’ will lay out the Government’s research priorities of for the next 20 years. The Department of Conservation (DOC) and Ministry for the Environment (MfE) have jointly released a discussion document, seeking public feedback on where the roadmap should focus. According to the document: “The goal of the roadmap is […] to identify the areas of scientific knowledge that will be needed to support decision-making for conservation and environmental policy and management. This will help us reach our national ambitions of having a healthier people and environment, and a robust economy, while also nurturing our environment and conservation estates and implementing our obligations under the Treaty of … Read More

Brexit: how will it impact NZ science? - Guest Work

Jul 15, 2016

In the wake of the Brexit vote, UK scientists have been extremely worried over uncertainties about European Union research funding – closer to home the question is ‘what does it mean for NZ science?’ Things are looking tough for the UK science sector. According The Guardian: “The backlash against UK researchers began immediately after the June referendum when the failure to plan for a post-Brexit Britain cast serious doubts over the chances of British organisations winning future EU funding. “British researchers receive about £1bn a year from EU finding programmes such as Horizon 2020, but access to the money must be completely renegotiated under Brexit.” How much is NZ getting from UK Horizon 2020 projects? The Horizon 2020 Framework is by far the EU’s biggest research fund– and apparently the one most UK scientists are now worried about. I’m no … Read More

Nail-biting thumb-suckers less prone to allergies - Unsorted

Jul 12, 2016

Children who engage in thumb-sucking and nail-biting are more likely to grow up to be free of some allergies, according to new research from the long-running Dunedin Study. The world-famous study has followed a cohort of over a thousand children born in Dunedin in the early 1970’s, allowing unprecedented insights into what makes us into who we are (and is currently the subject of TVNZ documentary series Why am I?). Way back in the 70’s and 80’s the children’s thumb-sucking and nail-biting tendencies were measured at ages 5, 7, 9 and 11. Later, at ages 13 and 32, their sensitivity to airborne allergens was measured by skin-prick testing. The researchers found that among all children at 13 years old, 45 per cent showed a reaction to allergens in a skin prick test, but among those with one oral habit, only 40 per cent had … Read More