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A round-up of the latest science and news from Australasia.

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By Stephen Luntz

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Exclusive articles for subscribers

By Stephen Luntz

More than a dozen Browse articles for subscribers only.

To view this article subscribe or purchase a yearly pass here.

Racial Classification Isn’t Black and White

By Stephen Luntz

People are more likely to classify faces showing a mixture of characteristics into a category they have had less exposure to, a University of Otago study has found.

The research sheds light on why biracial individuals such as US President Barack Obama are considered part of a minority.

A tendency to view people who fall between categories as “others” might be explained by a subconscious desire to keep the group with which one identifies pure. The complex politics of race provide other reasons for classifying individuals with mixed heritage as a minority, such as to deny privileges. However, A/Prof Jamin Halberstadt says: “I think the burden of proof falls on the motivational explanations”.

Childhood Paracetamol Use Linked to Asthma

By Stephen Luntz

A longitudinal study has confirmed the connection between early paracetamol use and asthma, as well as finding a link to allergies.

“Observational studies have suggested a link between paracetamol and asthma,” says Prof Julian Crane of the University of Otago. These have included studies with enormous sample sizes. However, these relied on parents’ memories of when they first gave their children paracetamol, and how often.

Flying Vampire Frog Alert

By Stephen Luntz

A new species of tree frog discovered in the mountains of Vietnam has been given the blood-curdling name of the vampire flying frog.

Rhacophorus vampyrus was named by Dr Jodi Rowley of the Australian Museum, who described the species in the journal Zootaxa. She first found a specimen in 2008, but required assistance from locals to uncover further individuals for study.

Parrots Divided

By Stephen Luntz

The eastern and western ground parrot are now considered distinct enough to justify their separation into separate species.

Parrots Divided

Australia has a new species of bird, with the eastern and western ground parrot considered distinct enough to justify their separation. The discovery will add urgency to conservation measures for the western variety, which is threatened by development of the coastal heathland in which it is found.

“This really shows the value of museum collections,” says Dr Stephen Murphy of the Wildlife Conservancy. “We relied almost solely on birds collected 100 years ago. Museums keep track of biodiversity. You can’t overstate how important these collections are.”

Urban Songbirds Raise Their Voice

By Stephen Luntz

City-dwelling birds are struggling to compete with background noise.

A study of the common songbird the silvereye has found differences between urban and rural songs and calls, as city-dwelling birds struggle to compete with background noise.

Studies in Northern Europe have shown similar effects, but Dominique Potvin of the University of Melbourne’s Department of Zoology says: “This study is the first to demonstrate varied adaptations of urban bird songs over such a vast geographical area, and as such, these changes may have wider implications for mate choice and evolution in urban populations of this species.”

Dinosaur Stampede in Doubt

By Stephen Luntz

An ambling herbivore, rather than a hunting carnivore, made Australia’s famous dinosaur tracks, a new paper claims.

Anthony Romilio, a PhD student at the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences, has examined the large dinosaur footprints at Lark Quarry in Central Queensland. In work published in Cretaceous Research he has concluded that the tracks were made by an ornithopod that is possibly related to Muttaburrasaurus rather than a terrifying theropod resembling Tyrannosaurus rex.

2010 the Hottest on Record

By AusSMC

Yet another warm year gives the climate change deniers something to ponder

The World Meteorological Organization has confirmed that 2010 ranked as the warmest year on record, together with 2005 and 1998. In 2010, global average temperature was 0.53°C above the 1961-90 mean.

These statistics are based on data sets maintained by the UK Meteorological Office Hadley Centre/Climatic Research Unit (HadCRU), the U.S. National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Neural Response to Acupuncture Lasers

By Stephen Luntz

Brain scans reveal laser stimulation of acupuncture points.

A study of the use of infrared lasers has found that those placed at acupuncture points considered to benefit stress and depression produce positive changes in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans. Laser intervention on a non-acupuncture point resulted in less significant activation.