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

Matariki – Te whetū tapu o te taū - Kidney Punch

May 18, 2022

“Māori star lore was, and still remains, a blending together of both astronomy and astrology, and while there is undoubtedly robust science within the Māori study of the night sky, the spiritual component has always been of equal importance” writes Professor Rangi Matamua in his book Matariki – Te whetū tapu o te taū (Matariki – The star of the year).  I picked up this book as a keen amateur astronomer hoping to show Matariki off to people in Christchurch this year, as well as being keenly aware of my ignorance of the significance of Matariki to Māori. Matariki – Te whetū tapu o te taū Rangi Matamua Huia Publishers 2017 ISBN 978-1-7750-325-5 Rangi Matamua (Tūhoe) is an astronomer and professor at the University of Waitkato, a fellow of the Royal Society Te Apārangi and winner of the … Read More

Celebrating Women in Space - Kidney Punch

Oct 06, 2021

Beautiful, Inspiring, Mysterious!  How do you describe space?  What do you think when you look up at the stars?  The United Nations General Assembly certainly knew how beautiful, inspiring, mysterious, and important space is when they designated a week to be World Space Week.  That’s this week, and the theme for this year is Women in Space. There are numerous New Zealand women who have been inspired by the stars to become Women in Space. I must, of course, start with Professor Beatrice Tinsley – not simply because she studied physics as I did at the University of Canterbury.  She had a huge influence on astronomy and particular the science of the evolution of galaxies. Take a look at the video by another Woman in Space, Dr Meghan Grey from the University of Nottingham, who explains just why Dr Tinsley was so … Read More

Shorter stays in the ED thanks to COVID-19 - Kidney Punch

Mar 29, 2021

Early last year the expected influx of patients with COVID-19 to emergency departments (ED) in New Zealand required rapid preparation.  Many questions needed answering quickly – such as, where will we put all the patients? How will we separate highly likely COVID-19 patients from less likely COVID-19 patients?  How will we allocate staff and keep them safe? One of the two most common presentations to the ED are people who think they may be having a heart attack – chest pain patients.  I got the call to ask if there was a way we could speed up assessment of these patients and identify who could safely go home earlier.  This was a challenge, as Christchurch was already one of the leading hospitals globally for accelerated diagnostic pathways for possible heart attacks. My job was to go back to our research data to try and … Read More

A divine visitor last Friday - Kidney Punch

Mar 09, 2021

Apophis on a trip to down-town Auckland   On Friday night, 5 March 2021, the “God of Chaos” sped past our planet. The asteroid Apophis, or “God of Chaos” as it is known, made a close approach.  Bigger than the Sky Tower (about 370m diameter) and faster than a speeding bullet (4 km/s or about 14,000 km/h) it would surely be a spectacular sight if it hadn’t been so far away (16,000,000 km).  Fortunately, to keep you all safe, I was watching with a new kind of amateur telescope, the Unistellar eVscope (enhanced Vision scope).*  The thin streak in the photo below shows the movement of Apophis relative to the background stars. Apophis will come around again in April 2029, but much much closer.  Skimming the Earth under 3 Earth diameters away (~36,000 km), possibly disrupting satellites, and being visible to … Read More

End of life – it isn’t so easy - Kidney Punch

Sep 28, 2020

In a few weeks, New Zealanders will make a choice whether we implement into law the End of Life Choice Act 2019.  My scientific expertise includes developing and validating methods to predict future events of ill people including death. There is one section of the Act that concerns me deeply. Section 5(1)c of the End of Life Choice Act 2019 states that one of the criteria of eligibility for assisted dying is that a person “suffers from a terminal illness that is likely to end the person’s life within 6 months”. Concern 1: How likely is likely? What does “likely” mean?  Does it mean a 51% chance of dying or a 99% chance?  The Act does not define it. This means that the decision as to what “likely” means is left to the individual physicians’ involved in … Read More

Cheesecake Files: Machine learning heart attacks - Kidney Punch

Aug 21, 2019

“Machine learning” rates very high on the buzz-word scale, right up there with “nano-technology” and “blockchain”. Like most buzz it is more noise than substance. However, every now and again it looks like there might be something in the noise that bites. This episode of the Cheesecake Files1 is about testing an algorithm (another buzz word) developed through a machine learning technique for the early detection of heart attacks (strictly – myocardial infarction). The buzz Before I begin my story in earnest a couple of words about the buzz words. When I say “algorithm” think “recipe”. In the context of emergency medicine this is simply a series of steps which assist the medical team in their decision making. For example – if the presenting complaint is “chest pain” the triage nurse will connect up a device (ECG) to measure … Read More

Dark space - Kidney Punch

Jun 24, 2019

Dark space, like green space, is essential for our well being. Dark space, like green space, is our past, our taonga, and our right. Dark space, unlike green space, is not prioritised in our city plans, is not part of our conversation about Te Tiriti, nor is it where we go for relaxation and inspiration. But once it was. Dark space is accessible to us all, if only. If only we turned off the lights and looked up. Dark space is the night sky, the moon, the planets, the stars and galaxies. Once visible to every child, now lost in the haze of light pollution; once the source of wonder and joy; once the inspiration and the starting point for the personal journeys of countless scientists and philosophers, religious leaders and poets. The week is Matariki. The new year … Read More

Performance Based Research Fund: The numbers are up - Kidney Punch

May 01, 2019

8269 academics and their bosses have been alerted – the data is in, the numbers are crunched, PBRF scores are out. Who are the winners, who are the losers? Find out more with tec publication. But before you go there… I predict that any minute now tertiary institutions throughout the land will be posting press releases detailing their successes, each one trying to say “we’re the best” – at least in some category, somehow, if you squeeze the numbers and look at them sideways… well, you get the picture. Speaking of which – here’s one I posted after the last lot of PBRF results were released in 2013. 12 April 2013 Last year I stated that the … Read More

Is my science ethical? - Kidney Punch

Apr 12, 2019

Am I doing what the public thinks is OK to do?   That was the question that came to mind as I heard Bioethics and Health Law expert Rochelle Style speak at a Health data workshop held at the University of Otago Christchurch this week.  Rochelle spoke with clarity and demonstrated a great deal of expertise.  I like the simplicity of Law – tells us what we can do, Ethics – tells us what we should do, and Social license – tells us what the publish think is OK to do.  In this post, I want to focus on social license because when I asked a question about it, it became evident that this was the least understood or investigated of the three legs to ethical decision. First, an example.  It is legal for me to search Twitter for posts about prostate cancer.  If I was … Read More

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