Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Cover Story

Cover Story

Creationism Evolves

Credit: enterlinedesign/adobe

Credit: enterlinedesign/adobe

By Nick Matzke

It’s 10 years since US legislation drafted to stop the teaching of “intelligent design” was ruled unconstitutional, yet anti-evolution legislation continues to replicate and “evolve” across the USA.

Many who have studied the anti-evolution movement have noted that “creationism evolves”. Usually scholars make the joke, note the irony and move on with traditional approaches to history.

But “creationism evolves” can be made into a more literal, scientific statement. I have estimated the evolutionary family tree, or phylogeny, of 67 anti-evolution policies proposed in the United States between 2004 and 2015 (www.tinyurl.com/zxkyr38).

Digital Immortality

Credit: vitanovski/SSilver

Credit: vitanovski/SSilver

By Mahir Ozdemir

Is a Google executive’s vision of a digital afterlife feasible or a fantasy?

Living forever while staying healthy and vital has always been one of the oldest quests of mankind. Some wish it would happen, and some say they’ll make it happen.

The director of engineering at Google, Ray Kurzweil, is one of them. His unbounded self-confidence and unshakable faith in science and technology propelled him into the spotlight as a leading figure in the transhumanist movement, which is seeking to transcend our perishable, earthly bodies into immortal beings.

Aboriginal Astronomy & the Natural World

Credit: Barnaby Norris

An “Emu in the Sky” is formed by the dark spaces between stars in the Milky Way. In April and May, when emus lay their eggs, this perfectly aligns with an image engraved in the rock at Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, north of Sydney. The emu’s folded legs signify that it is sitting on its nest.

By Carl Williams

Australia’s magnificent night sky is a fresco of narratives that has inspired and informed Aboriginal peoples’ exploration and understanding of the natural world.

The Milky Way arcs across the vast Australian night sky, a disk-shaped, spiral galaxy containing billions of stars and planets. For Australia’s Aboriginal peoples it is a fresco abounding with images, portents and narratives that chronicles the creation of the universe, lays down laws and moral codes, stipulates kinships and societal relationships, and possesses a wealth of information on the natural world.

Turn Down the Volume?

VLADGRIN/iStock

A new study has examined the question of whether our concentration and memory are improved or hindered when we listen to music, and whether this can depend on our personality type and even the music we are listening to.

By Matthew Flavel

Does music help or hinder our concentration and memory?

Have you ever turned down the radio while trying to find a car park or when you are lost? Why would you need to reduce the work your ears are doing for a job seemingly just for your eyes? A recent study published in The Gerontologist (tinyurl.com/pfl5qcp) has a sound explanation for why you turned the radio off.

What Is the SKA?

The first phase of the Square Kilometre Array at night.

Artist’s impression representing the first phase of the Square Kilometre Array at night, with its two instruments SKA1 LOW (in Australia, on the left) and SKA1 MID (in South Africa, on the right). SKA1 LOW will comprise 130,000 dipole antennas while SKA1 MID will comprise 200 dishes, including 64 MeerKAT dishes. Credit: SKA Organisation

By Willem van Straten

The Square Kilometre Array is an unprecedented international collaboration to build the world's largest radio telescope and address some of the most fundamental questions of modern science.

When it comes to radio waves, most of us first think about the various devices that we use for communication, such as the radios in our cars and the phones in our pockets. However, there are many natural sources of radio emission, and as soon as we stop listening to ourselves we discover a universe full of signals from some of the most extraordinary places.

Our Sun is the brightest object in the radio sky. Its solar flares release enormous amounts of energy and produce crackling radio noise that can be detected easily with a small antenna.

Tattoo Inks: Poison Pigments?

Credit: iStockphoto/yulkapopkova

Credit: iStockphoto/yulkapopkova

By Ian Musgrave

Allergy and infection are two causes for caution when contemplating a tattoo. But are tattoo pigments toxic, and do they increase the risk of cancer?

Humans have been tattooing themselves for as long as there have been humans, as far as we know. Ötze the Iceman, whose body was entombed in ice for around 5300 years, was tattooed with lines and crosses. Over the millennia, tattoos have wandered between being signs of royalty to being signs of criminality. Since Ötze’s time tattoos have become more complex and colourful, with regional specialisation. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Red-headed League, Sherlock Holmes was able to tell that a man had been in China from the shade of pink on the scales of a tattooed fish.

Post Mortem: What Happens to Drugs after Death?

morgue

Many factors result in drug concentrations rising, falling or even disappearing after death.

By Michael Kennedy

Drug levels can rise, fall or even disappear entirely after death, potentially leading to incorrect conclusions about murder, suicide and drug overdoses.

In 1865 the bodies of Mary Pritchard and her mother were exhumed and found positive for antimony. Up to that point in time, poisonings were detected not by laboratory testing for drugs but entirely by symptoms exhibited before death and examination of organs at autopsy. Pritchard’s husband, Dr Edward William Pritchard, was presumably unaware of these new laboratory techniques. He was charged with murder and later became the last person to undergo public execution in Scotland.

Saving Lives on the Battlefield

Credit: 1JPAU © Commonwealth of Australia

Credit: 1JPAU © Commonwealth of Australia

By Geoffrey Dobson

Treatments that stem blood loss after a catastrophic injury in the battlefield can damage the brain. However, a new drug strategy aims to stabilise both in the first crucial 10 minutes.

In the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, around 87% of combat deaths occurred in the first 30 minutes before the casuality could reach a treatment facility. In a study carried out by the US military, nearly one-quarter of these deaths, almost 1000 combatants, were classified as having potentially survivable wounds. The “Golden Hour”, a term used in emergency retrieval medicine to denote the highest likelihood that prompt medical treatment will prevent death, is a meaningless concept in these far-forward military environments. The “Platinum 10 minutes” is the new window of opportunity.

Brain Stimulation & Memory: How Strong Is the Evidence?

neuron

The data show convincingly that tDCS does not enhance brain function.

By Jared Cooney Horvath

For nearly 15 years, scientists have reported that running a weak electric current through the brain can improve learning and memory. What if we got it wrong?

If you’ve ever licked the end of a 9-Volt battery, you know the result can be an eye-opening jolt because the tongue is a conductor that completes an electric circuit between the ends of the battery. Another organ in the body that’s a conductor is the brain, and 15 years ago a group of German researchers reported that they were able to use the brain to complete an electric circuit in the same manner. But here’s the interesting bit: these researchers reported that as the electric current flowed through the brain, activity within the brain was significantly enhanced.

Does Eating Less Extend Life?

Baweg/iStockphoto

Lifespan extension due to dietary restriction has been demonstrated in species ranging from yeast to flies to mice – and even primates too. Credit: Baweg/iStockphoto

By Margo Adler

Dietary restriction extends the lives of species as diverse as yeast, flies and mice, but is this effect simply due to artificial conditions in the laboratory?

Scientists have known for decades that one of the most reliable ways to extend lifespan in laboratory animals is to feed them less. Dietary restriction has been studied since the 1930s, and the lifespan extension effect it elicits has been demonstrated in species ranging from yeast to flies to mice. There’s even some evidence it occurs in primates too.