John Pickering

Dr John Pickering is an Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Otago, Christchurch and a Senior Research Fellow in Acute Care in the Emergency Department of Christchurch hospital. John aims to blog on science, health, and occasionally political issues. He believes publicly funded science should be made public - so publishes regular "cheesecake files" about his own research. John is on Twitter @kiwiskinz

The physics of maiming a child (repost because of “those” scooters) - Kidney Punch

Oct 26, 2018

Dear Driver, When you backed out of a driveway and did not even see how I swerved around behind your car to avoid T-boning you, how dare you have the temerity to tell me you were careful!  I was 7 feet tall, dressed in bright yellow and traveling at no more than 10 km/h.  Perhaps a simple lesson in physics will help you and your fellow “driveway backers” to realise how dangerous you are and to adopt safer driving practices. In the diagram you can see a car backing out of a driveway.  Typically when you are at the edge of your property and have a fence (see photo below) blocking your view of the footpath you are able to see about 1.7 metres along the footpath.  Let us imagine that there is a child on a trike riding at … Read More

Cheesecake files: A new test to rule out heart attacks in just a few minutes - Kidney Punch

Oct 18, 2018

Your chest hurts, you go to the hospital (good move), you get rushed through and a nurse takes some blood and measures the electrical activity of your heart.  A doctor asks you some questions.  While she does so, the blood is being tested – the results are back already! Yeah, they are negative and everything else is OK, it’s not a heart attack – you can go home.  This is the likely scenario in the near future thanks to new blood test technology which we, in Christchurch Hospital’s Emergency Department, have been fortunate to be the first in the world to trial in patients. The results of our pilot study have now been published ( in a Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA Cardiology). About 65,000 patients a year are investigated for heart attacks in New … Read More

The Treatment of Kidney Failure in New Zealand - Kidney Punch

Oct 16, 2018

I am delighted to introduce a guest post from Dr Kelvin Lynn. Dr Lynn worked as a Nephrologist at Christchurch Hospital for 35 years and retired in 2015.  He is the lead author for a book just published: The Treatment of Kidney Failure in New Zealand Authors: Kelvin L Lynn, Adrian L Buttimore, Peter J Hatfield, Martin R Wallace 2018 ISBN PDF – 978-0-473-45293-3 Available at no charge at www.kidneys.co.nz/Kidney-History from 16 October 2018. Dr Kelvin Lynn and his fellow editors tell the history of the treatment of people with kidney failure in New Zealand; beginning in the early 1950s this story encompasses remarkable experiences of patients and their families, and of the contributions made by dedicated health professionals. It also reveals the challenges and ethics of meeting an ever-increasing demand for treatment. New Zealand doctors were … Read More

PBRF: The end is nigh - Kidney Punch

Jul 16, 2018

I’d like to say the end is nigh for the performance-based research fund (PBRF), full stop. A few months ago, I demonstrated how the expensive and tedious production of evidence portfolios by 7000 academic staff will do nothing to change the redistribution of research funding – the purported reason for PBRF. So, I’d like to say the end is nigh because the minister responsible (Hon. Chris Hipkins) has seen the light and pulled the plug. But, alas, it is simply that all portfolios have now been submitted and so await assessment by the peer review panels . About 250 people serve on these panels, nearly all of whom are Professors, most from New Zealand but a sprinkling from Australia and elsewhere.  They represent the gathering of some of the best minds in the country.  … Read More

More on the PBRF’s new clothes - Kidney Punch

Dec 21, 2017

A few of weeks ago I outed the multi-million-dollar exercise that is the Quality Evaluation component of the performance based research fund (PBRF) as a futile exercise because there was no net gain in research dollars for the NZ academic community.  Having revealed the Emperor’s new clothes, I awaited the call from the Minister in charge to tell me they’d cancelled the round out of futility.  When that didn’t come, I pinned my hope on a revolt by the University Vice-Chancellors. Alas, the VCs aren’t revolting.  This week, my goal is for there to be mass resignations from the 30 or so committees charged with assessing the evidence portfolios of individual academics and for individual academics to make last minute changes to their portfolios so as to maintain academic integrity. What is PBRF? According to … Read More

Cheesecake Files: The ICare-Acute Coronary Syndrome (heart attack) study - Kidney Punch

Nov 15, 2017

Hundreds of nurses, Emergency Department doctors, Cardiologists and other specialists, laboratory staff, administrators and managers from every hospital in New Zealand with an emergency department have come together to implement new, effective, and safe pathways for patients who think they may be having a heart attack. Today, Dr Martin Than (CDHB, Emergency Department) presented to the American Heart Association results of our research into the national implementation of clinical pathways that incorporate an accelerated diagnostic protocol (ADP) for patients with possible heart attacks.  Simultaneously, a paper detailing that research is appearing in the academic journal Circulation. The headlines, are that in the 7 hospitals we monitored (representing about 1/3rd of all ED admissions in NZ a year), there was a more than two-fold increase in the numbers of patients who were safely discharged from … Read More

Half a million Kiwis suddenly have high blood pressure - Kidney Punch

Nov 14, 2017

At 10am 14 November 2017 NZST, millions of people around the world suddenly had high blood pressure. This will come as a shock to many and may precipitate a crisis in hand-wringing and other odd behaviours, like overmedication and jogging. The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology have just announced a redefinition of High blood pressure. High blood pressure is now defined as readings of 130 mm Hg and higher for the systolic blood pressure measurement, or readings of 80 and higher for the diastolic measurement. That is a change from the old definition of 140/90 and higher, reflecting complications that can occur at those lower numbers. (link) Announced at the annual American Heart Association conference, this is bound to cause some consternation.  It shifts 14% of the US adult population into the “High blood pressure” … Read More

Performance Based Research Fund: a net zero sum game - Kidney Punch

Oct 18, 2017

Throughout the land, more than 7000 academics are awake night after night and suffering.  They are scrambling to gather evidence of just how great they have performed over the last six years. A conscientious bunch, they perform this task with their usual attention to detail and desire to impress (I didn’t say they were modest!).  Ostensibly, this exercise is so that their institutions can get a greater piece of the Government research fund pie – the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF).  According to the Tertiary Education Commission PBRF is “a performance-based funding system to encourage excellent research in New Zealand’s degree-granting organisations.”  It may well do that, but, I contend, only by deception. In what follows I am only concerned with the Quality Evaluation part of PBRF – that’s the bit that is related to the quality … Read More

Artificial intelligence: Flourish with change - Kidney Punch

Oct 16, 2017

Newshub decided to do an “AI” piece today. Expect much more of this kind of “filler” piece. They will go thus… “X says AI will take all our jobs, Y says AI will save us.” These pieces are about as well informed and informing as a lump of 4×2 – good for propping up a slow news day, but not much else. The “more compassionate and moral than NZers” message (which comes from Y) type statement that was made is utter nonsense. AI is just a name we give to the software of machines – AI don’t have compassion or morals. If they appear to, that is simply because they are reflecting the data we feed them… human data with all its flaws. Yes, there is change coming because of this technology. In the past we have been … Read More

This is what happens when you talk to your mother about artificial intelligence - Kidney Punch

Oct 03, 2017

I have been chatting with my mother about the headlines around artificial intelligence and my own venture into the field. In this poem she has picked up beautifully, I think, on the idea is that any problems with AI will be because of our own inadequacies as we train the machines.  K.A. Pickering, October 2017   Artificial Intelligence  Artificial Intelligence So we don’t need to think. Everything is done for us In just an eyelid blink.   Artificial Intelligence So we don’t need to think. Just take the Robot, plug it in And go and have a drink.   When you come back your work is done; You haven’t even thunk. The Robot’s done the washing too; Oh dear, I think it’s shrunk.   Perhaps I shouldn’t have bought this one, I didn’t even think, I got it second hand … Read More