Sarah-Jane O'Connor

Dr Sarah-Jane O'Connor trained in journalism after finishing a PhD in Ecology then worked for The Press for two years. She is a teaching fellow in science communication at Victoria University of Wellington, editor of Sciblogs, and a former senior media advisor with the Science Media Centre.

The MMR Myth: How should we report it? - Unsorted

Mar 08, 2019

This week a new research paper concluded, again, that there is no link between the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine and autism. It almost seems mundane to report on, given we established many years ago that there was no such link and the persistent myth was based on fraudulent ‘research’. But as a friend and family member of people on the autism spectrum, and having worked for several years in disability care, I find it personally offensive that this malicious myth persists. Putting aside the fact they’re completely wrong, I despise that they treat autism as something so sinister and shameful. Our autistic family members, colleagues, friends and neighbours deserve so much better than this. But the question remains: how should we report on these issues when they arise? Dip a toe into the subject of science communication, and … Read More

Cold-store snails, data for sale and NZ’s lost birds – our favourite science journalism from October - Lately, In Science

Nov 01, 2018

Phew, it’s been a busy month in the news agenda: from the IPCC’s 1.5C report to turmoil in the National party and tragedy in Wanaka and Mt Cook. Through all of that, you’d be forgiven for missing some of the excellent science-related stories that have been published over the past month. But never fear, we’ve collated some of our favourites for your reading and listening pleasure. Let us know in the comments if you think there’s something we’ve missed. What happened here Charlie Mitchell, Stuff This month Stuff has launched a new ‘premium’ section on its website to highlight some of the excellent long-form reporting being produced by the company’s journalists. It’s no surprise to see National Correspondent Charlie Mitchell featured with this in-depth story about the West Coast’s Powelliphanta augusta snails that were rescued from a cloudy mountaintop … Read More

Suffrage 125: a series - Suffrage 125

Sep 17, 2018

Please don’t do the math, but I was eight in 1993 when New Zealand celebrated 100 years since Suffrage. My mum the history teacher made sure we understood when major world events were going on. I remember her pointing out the Rwandan refugee crisis on TV, telling us it would matter later that we remembered this. And so, of course, I remember the centenary of Suffrage. But it didn’t really mean anything to me then; how could it? When Kate Sheppard was simply a woman on the ten dollar note, it meant nothing to me to consider that there had been a time women couldn’t vote or own property. At age eight, neither of those things were high on my agenda. (Property ownership still feels like a distant ambition, if we’re being  … Read More

Cults, leaky houses and a belated obituary – great journalism from July and August - Lately, In Science

Aug 31, 2018

Spring is just around the corner which means the Science Media Centre team have been enjoying late winter vacations. Here’s a double-issue instalment of the great science journalism we’ve enjoyed during July and August. Seen, read or listened to anything you think we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below. High Hopes: Who Will Benefit From NZ’s Legal Cannabis Industry? Tess McClure, Vice Legal cannabis is big money, Tess McClure writes in this feature, but who will benefit if an industry kicks off in New Zealand? This one’s particularly timely given Hikurangi Industries has just been granted the first New Zealand licence to cultivate cannabis for medicinal research purposes. The ark, the algorithm and our conservation conundrum Charlie Mitchell, Stuff How did a stinky, ugly plant become a higher priority for protection than the iconic … Read More

Funding science journalism in Aotearoa - Lately, In Science

Jul 23, 2018

The Aotearoa New Zealand Science Journalism Fund is now in its third round, with applications closing this week, which seems like a good time to celebrate some of the great journalism that’s been enabled by the fund. It’s the first independent journalism fund dedicated to furthering coverage of the science-related issues that impact New Zealanders. Dr Rebecca Priestley, winner of the 2016 Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize, set up the fund in 2017 to support journalism that highlights the science that underpins, or informs, major issues facing our society. While Rebecca provided the seed money to get the fund started, several institutes have come on board to fund specific topics within rounds – more info about becoming a supporter is available on the fund’s website. But even if you’re an individual who wants to support the fund, you … Read More

Flat Earthers, data breaches and the human cost of meth testing – June journalism - Lately, In Science

Jun 29, 2018

From human stories about the impacts of meth testing, to whether or not to debate scientific facts, here are some of the stories that caught our eye at the Science Media Centre this month. Seen, read, listened to anything great? Let us know in the comments. NZ’s natural born killer: Inside our war on stoats Jamie Morton, NZ Herald They’re the Department of Conservation’s public enemy number one and can take down birds as big as a takahē or kākāpō: why are stoats so hard to kill and who’s trying to figure out better ways to control them? The human cost of Housing NZ’s meth-testing debacle The Hui Outgoing Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor Sir Peter Gluckman’s report on meth-contaminated houses, released at the end of May, created waves among media and resulted in Housing NZ immediately … Read More

Kea catching, moose hunting and Juuling – some of May’s great stories - Lately, In Science

May 31, 2018

It may come as no surprise that at the Science Media Centre we consume a lot of media; it’s very much our job to keep abreast of what’s happening in New Zealand particularly in the science scene. But we also know that for those of you who aren’t eyes-deep in media on a daily basis, it can be hard to keep track of the must-reads (watch, listens). So we’re trying out something new – at the end of the month, we’ll look back at some of the stories we’ve really enjoyed, both from New Zealand and overseas. Here’s the May list…think we’ve missed something great? Let us know in the comments. And if you spot something great during June, let us know so we can include in next month’s edition. New Zealand’s moose hunt: A century-long quest for a … Read More

Book review: How to Tame a Fox - Scibooks

Apr 11, 2018

As an undergraduate studying biology, I knew I was in the right place when we got to animal behaviour experiments and the insights they gave about evolution and domestication. Pavlov’s drooling dogs, Skinner’s lever-tapping rats, Lorenz’s imprinted goslings … I lapped it up, drool and all. And no experiment has ever piqued my interest quite like an almost-forgotten study in the depths of Siberia during the Cold War, now the subject of a new book How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog): Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-started Evolution. It’s a tale of dogs, domestication and research in a time where being a scientist was a dangerous game. Have you ever looked at a domestic dog and noticed its baby-like features? Shortened snouts, bulging foreheads, round floppy ears…and that’s not to count the number of them that … Read More

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