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.

Book review: I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that - Scibooks

May 28, 2016

Dr Ben Goldacre’s collection of columns and essays, I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that, is a snackable read for anyone interested in science and how it’s used and misused in media, policy, and everyday life. I must first admit to being a bit sucked in on this book. I picked it up in a bookstore thinking it was new – I certainly hadn’t seen it before – only to find it was released in 2014. Perhaps it was delayed in arriving on our fair shores, or I really do need new glasses. In any case, I decided it was still worthy of inclusion on SciBooks if only to whet our appetites while we await Goldacre’s next book – which he alludes to multiple times in I think you’ll find. (Apparently it’s on evidence-based policy, building upon … Read More

Gaps in conservation work - News

Mar 30, 2016

Some of the countries that need conservation work the most are missing out, undermining global efforts to protect biodiversity, a new study suggests. The research, published today in PLOS Biology, analysed over 10,000 scientific papers from more than 1000 journals published in 2014. The Australian researchers looked at where the research was done, by whom and how that related to the most important countries for biodiversity conservation. The countries ranked most important for mammal conservation (Indonesia, Madagascar, Peru, Mexico, and Australia) accounted for 11.9% of publications, though the authors determined, based on relative importance for mammal conservation, the top five countries should have been represented in 37.2% of publications. By the same calculation, the United State should have been represented by 0.5% of the papers, but instead made up 17.8% and was the most studied country overall. A broader view … Read More

Book review: Ocean Notorious - Scibooks

Mar 24, 2016

In his book Ocean Notorious, New Zealand writer, photographer and sailor Matt Vance threads history, science and good old fashioned armchair travel into a riveting read. The Ocean Notorious in question is the Southern Ocean: the ocean that doesn’t really exist. In 1914, authorities tried to agree on names and boundaries for the world’s oceans. Dubbed the Southern Ocean, they drew its borders touching the tip of South America and skirting the southern ends of Africa, Australia and New Zealand. But, as Vance starts his book: In 1953, with the stroke of a pen, the most important ocean on the planet disappeared. I read this book in preparation for a trip to the Subantarctics, which was unfortunately cancelled. It did exactly what I needed it to, though: inspired, informed and excited me for the impending voyage. For many years, Vance worked with … Read More

Paracetamol ineffective for osteoarthritis pain - News

Mar 18, 2016

Paracetamol has no clinical effect in treating osteoarthritis pain or improving physical function, according to a large-scale analysis of pain-relief medication. The study, published today in The Lancet, found that while paracetamol was slightly better than a placebo, it did not meet the minimum standard of clinical effectiveness for patients with knee and hip osteoarthritis. Taken on its own, the researchers say paracetamol has no role in the treatment of patients with osteoarthritis, regardless of the dose administered. The researchers put together the largest analysis of randomised trials of medical pain relief for osteoarthritis to date, pooling data from 74 randomised trial published between 1980 and 2015. They found the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) diclofenac was the most effective short-term pain relief. However, they cautioned against the long-term used of NSAIDs because of known side-effects, such as stomach ulcers … Read More

Whales still scarce after historic hunts - News

Mar 16, 2016

It took less than 150 years to decimate a population of the southern right whales around New Zealand and the species has yet to recover beyond a fraction of the pre-whaling size, genetic and historic data shows. Researchers at Oregon State University – including Scott Baker who is an adjunct professor at the University of Auckland – combined historic information on hunting and sightings with genetic data to estimate the abundance of southern right whales before whaling. Their results, published today in Royal Society Open Science, suggests a pre-whaling population in New Zealand waters of 28,800 to 47,100 was knocked back to about 15 – 20 mature females between 1914 and 1926, or a total population of less than 150 whales. A 2009 estimate put the current population at about 2200, recovering at about 7% a year. Right whales, Eubalaena spp., were … Read More

Book review: The chimp and the river - Scibooks

Mar 14, 2016

What do dengue fever, yellow fever, bubonic plague, bovine tuberculosis and West Nile fever have in common? Add to them swine flu, bird flu, SARS, HIV and Ebola and perhaps it becomes more obvious: all are zoonotic diseases – those that have crossed from animals into humans, often with devastating consequences. In 2012, science writer David Quammen tackled the subject of zoonosis in his book Spillover (which I have yet to get my mitts on). But in a clever marketing move, two chapters from the book have been republished and expanded as stand-alone books: Ebola: the natural and human history (2014) and The chimp and the river: how AIDS emerged from an African forest (2015). I’ve devoured both books and I’m now champing at the bit to read the rest of Spillover. So take this review as based on the two stand-alone … Read More

Shifting pest control to our backyards - Guest Work

Mar 11, 2016

It was a photo op that no media could turn up. Pictures of adorably fluffy kōkako chicks hatched this season in the Hunua Ranges thanks to a 1080 blitz on predators. The news stories followed a report released by the Auckland Council following last year’s 1080 operation in the ranges near Auckland. The 1150-hectare Kōkako Management Area was set up in 1994 to protect a tiny remnant population of the blue-wattled birds – at the time, there was a single breeding pair in the area. Later, birds were translocated from nearby, predator-free areas with 55 breeding pairs now present in the KMA. But while there has been ongoing pest control in the ranges, humans were just not making any ground. Rat and possum densities were rising and in the 2014/2015 breeding season, across six monitored kōkako pairs no chicks hatched. So … Read More

Big South Cape: an invasion, a rescue and an eradication - News

Mar 09, 2016

It was 1955 and it was only a single rat. But then in 1964, it was lots of rats. Muttonbirders returning to Big South Cape Island found their huts infested. The rodents had got into the bedding, they’d chewed the wallpaper off the walls, evidence of their presence was everywhere. By winter’s end, the island was devoid of life: plants were stripped bare, two bird species were gone, the forest floor was naked of seedlings. Rats had arrived and left a destructive trail in their wake. Big South Cape Island/Taukihepa, the biggest of the Big South Cape group, sits just 1.5 kilometres off the southwestern coast of Rakiura/Stewart Island. It’s one of the Tītī islands where Rakiura Māori have rights to gather muttonbirds in perpetuity. The scale and speed at which the rats … Read More

Allergy-reducing baby formula debunked by experts - News

Mar 09, 2016

Baby formula that supposedly reduces a baby’s immune response to cows’ milk doesn’t work and international guidelines should stop recommending the products, scientists say. Hydrolysed infant milk formula – marked with ‘HA’ on the tin – is recommended in many countries to lower the risk of allergic diseases in children, but a systematic review published today in The BMJ found no evidence for such an effect. Allergic and autoimmune diseases are afflicting more children in many countries and are leading causes of chronic illness among young people. Some evidence suggests early dietary exposure in infants, such as intact cows’ milk protein in infant formula, could increase the risk of these diseases. Several countries spanning North America, Australasia and Europe have guidelines recommending hydrolysed cows’ milk formula in place of standard infant formula, for disease prevention. Imperial College London’s Robert … Read More

Voyaging to the Subantarctics - News

Feb 22, 2016

Update: The HMNZS Canterbury is being deployed to the Pacific to help Fiji in the recovery from Cyclone Winston. At this stage, Operation Endurance is suspended. Feb 24, 2016. Sciblogs writer Sarah-Jane O’Connor is heading to the Subantarctics as a freelance reporter, on board the HMNZS Canterbury, bound for Campbell Island and the Antipodes Islands. This page will be updated with news stories, backgrounders and blogs from the voyage including guest posts and related stories. Check back to follow the progress. Setting sail for the Subantarctics, Sarah-Jane O’Connor, Field Work Antipodean wandering albatross continues to dive, Sarah-Jane O’Connor, News Sarah-Jane is travelling to the Antipodes Islands courtesy of the Department of Conservation and the New Zealand Navy. Featured image: Flickr CC, Pleurophyllum speciosum daisy, Campbell Island,  … Read More