Sarah-Jane O'Connor

Dr Sarah-Jane O'Connor trained in journalism after finishing a PhD in Ecology then worked for Fairfax Media for two years. She is now a media advisor with the Science Media Centre and is on Twitter: @DrSJNZ.

Book review: Inferior – How Science Got Women Wrong - Scibooks

Dec 24, 2017

Alongside Naomi Alderman’s The Power, it’s the feminist book everyone’s been reading this year. Angela Saini’s Inferior tackles how science got women wrong and who’s resetting the agenda. Saini is a science journalist with a Masters in Engineering, so she can talk with first-hand experience about some of the issues faced in sciences. Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story tackles the gamut of ways women have got the short shrift by a system that has, for too long, been dominated by men. Each chapter in Inferior is structured around a misconception or controversy in research about gender, including brain size and intelligence, health, sexual choice and menopause. The chapters end with a question, answered in the following chapter, which makes this into a total page-turner. Saini has mastered the art of leading you along an inquisitive … Read More

Book review: Seabirds beyond the Mountain Crest - Scibooks

Dec 22, 2017

Shortly after midnight on November 14, 2016, the adult Hutton’s shearwaters of the Kaikōura ranges would have been returning to their burrows when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit. There were fears that many of the birds could have died, their burrows buried by landslides. A year on, it’s timely to have a book on these elusive birds, that live well above sea level – 1200-1800 metres above – making them the only seabirds in the world to breed in an alpine habitat. Richard Cuthbert spent three years living and working in the Kaikōura ranges in the 1990s, studying the few remaining colonies of Hutton’s shearwaters. His resulting PhD work has been instrumental in our knowledge of these mountainous birds, which were likely once common across the ranges but have been beaten back to the highest altitudes by introduced mammals … Read More

Book review: Sea Change - Scibooks

Nov 23, 2017

The latest in Bridget Williams Books mini publications of short books on big topics focuses on the social justice of climate change. I picked up Sea Change: Climate Politics and New Zealand on a Friday evening thinking I’d skim through the intro to get a taste of what University of Canterbury’s Dr Bronwyn Hayward had offered in her 90-page BWB Text. Two hours later I was closing in on chapter four and the daylight had faded until I could no longer read without wrenching myself off the couch to turn a light on. If you haven’t come across Dr Hayward before, she’s a political scientist, the only New Zealand lead author on the IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C, and a regular media commentator (who, it must be said, brought calm, level-headed commentary to … Read More

Book review: Animal Eco-Warriors - Scibooks

Jun 08, 2017

A new book from CSIRO about a range of animals helping their human companions to protect the environment will make a great gift for conservation-minded and animal-crazed kids. Animal Eco-Warriors: Humans and animals working together to protect our planet, written by Nic Gill, is a first-person account of some of Australia and New Zealand’s most active non-human conservationists. Perfect for readers aged 9-12, I can attest to this being an excellent book for animal-crazed children (having once been one myself). Even now, as the supposedly grown-up version of that child, I found this fun to read. Gill’s taken a great first-person approach to writing this, with first-hand experience visiting some of the four-legged conservationists around Australasia. That voyage took her from Tasmania, to Christmas Island, Rangitoto Island and the West Coast. And of course, to Whenua Hou to … Read More

Book review: Antibiotic Resistance – the end of modern medicine? - Scibooks

Apr 21, 2017

A new book summarising the risks of antibiotic resistance by prominent Kiwi scientist Dr Siouxsie Wiles is an excellent overview of the issue, and what you should be aware of.  Antibiotic Resistance: The End of Modern Medicine?, published by Bridget Williams Books, draws on Siouxsie’s expertise as a microbiologist to discuss the threat facing modern medicine if we lose access to some of our most important drugs: antibiotics. We have copies of Antibiotic Resistance to give away to Sciblogs readers – find details on how to enter at the bottom of this post. You’d only have to pay a tiny bit of attention to the news to have an inkling of why we need to focus antibiotics and their responsible use. A campylobacter outbreak in Havelock North last year, caused by a contamination in the town’s water supply; a … Read More

Book review: Doctors in Denial - Scibooks

Mar 11, 2017

One of the doctors who blew the whistle on National Women’s Hospital’s ‘unfortunate experiment’ has written about his experiences in an attempt to set the revisionist history straight. Ron Jones was a junior obstetrician and gynaecologist when he joined National Women’s Hospital in 1973, by which point Professor Herbert Green was well into his study that has since become infamously known as the ‘unfortunate experiment’. In brief, from the mid-1960s Green opted to give minimal care to women who presented at the hospital with carcinoma in-situ (CIS): a lesion that is now known to lead to cervical cancer in a proportion of cases [terminology has changed over the years, it’s now called cervical intraepithelial neoplasia or CIN]. Green’s theory was that CIS and cervical cancer were different entities, and that women were being subjected to unnecessary procedures, including hysterectomy, without … Read More

The Port Hills, a love story - Guest Work

Feb 17, 2017

The first few years I lived in Christchurch, the Port Hills were a hazy mirage on my horizon. An undergraduate student – living in the suburbs neighbouring the university, without a car and distracted by the daily dramas of assignments, waking up in time for lectures and shaking off hangovers – they were just a sight to occasionally glance up at. Sometimes they had snow on them; a big deal for us North Islanders. In later years, they became my figurative home. As a PhD student I chose the Port Hills as my field site because they required little travel and I thought it’d be interesting. I liked the idea of urban ecology – science close to our homes – and I wondered if there might be something neat going on in Cantabrians’ backyard that they … Read More

Book review: The Conversation Yearbook 2016 - Scibooks

Jan 20, 2017

Toward the end of the year there can be a glut of ‘best of’ publications, but The Conversation Yearbook 2016 stands out as an enjoyable, wide-ranging collection of essays. The Conversation has been running in Australia since 2011, collating news and views from the academic and research community on hot topics of the day or longer-burning issues. My main dealing with The Conversation is through its science and technology content, so it was a surprising joy to read more broadly through the Yearbook, in subjects ranging from music, politics, history and education. Edited by John Watson – The Conversation’s cities and policies editor – the overall package is a select offering from the thousands of articles published in 2016. It’s given Watson plenty to choose from, with the result being the creme of the crop. In other similar collections, I’ve … Read More

Book review: Falcon - Scibooks

Dec 14, 2016

You may have already devoured H is for Hawk, but Helen Macdonald’s precursor is worth a visit (or revisit) for its marvellous story telling of the cultural and natural history of falcons. Better known for her acclaimed H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald’s precursor book Falcon has been re-released on its tenth anniversary. I’ve yet to read H is for Hawk, but I understand it is more of a personal narrative compared to Falcon, which is a combination of a natural and cultural history of the titular bird. This all began with a PhD thesis, which Macdonald never completed. Instead, it became Falcon. Plenty of PhD students like to joke that they’ll have written a book by the end of their thesis, but to be fair – most of us who aren’t in the humanities wouldn’t have wound up with a good book. But that’s what … Read More

Book review: Cowspiracy – The Sustainability Secret - Scibooks

Nov 12, 2016

A documentary regurgitated into book format falls flat in Cowspiracy, which investigates the role of animal husbandry in global greenhouse gas emissions. With its gripping image of a cow in dark colours staring out at you – the documentary Cowspiracy has been sitting unwatched on my Netflix queue for some time now.  I’ve been hesitant because anything that implies a conspiracy immediately puts me on high alert, but when a review copy of the accompanying book arrived I finally decided to leap in. Documentary makers Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn have turned their 2014 film into a book, written by Anderson: Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. It doesn’t translate well into text and overall is a poorly-written, poorly-referenced and unconvincing book. Though at first blush the references appear lengthy enough, many are simply referring to websites, the same few books referred to over … Read More