Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Expert Opinion

Experts pick apart the veracity of claims made in research papers and the media.

National Science Statement Released

By AusSMC

The Australian government has set out a plan to use science to engage and enrich Australian society. Its objectives are to engage all Australians with science, building scientific skills, produce new research and technology, and improve Australians’ lives through research.

“The National Science Statement sets out admirable objectives, but also shows how the Commonwealth government is failing to put those aims into practice. Most observers would agree that refining and applying science is vital for a civilised future. The Statement reveals some worrying trends.

On Blackouts and Renewable Energy

By AusSMC

Politicians have blamed South Australia’s recent blackout on its reliance on renewable energy. Is this a valid concern for the state’s energy security?

The SA blackouts had nothing to do with the State’s move to clean energy. The distribution network was affected by a storm. The problem would have been exactly the same if SA used coal or nuclear power to provide its electricity.

Climate Change Authority Report “Untrue and Dangerous”

By AusSMC

The Climate Change Authority has called for the introduction of an emissions trading scheme, but two members of its board, David Karoly and Clive Hamilton, have since issued a dissenting minority report calling for stronger measures to reduce emissions.

“Karoly and Hamilton point out that the Climate Change Authority’s report is inconsistent with Australia’s international obligations. In 2014, the Climate Change Authority recommended a carbon budget through to 2050. The new report rapidly blows our carbon budget. By accepting the current government’s targets for greenhouse gas emission cuts, it creates a crunch point for emissions reduction in 2030 that we can’t possibly achieve. The new CCA report is contradictory with the Authority’s 2014 report and with Australia’s role in keeping global warming below 2°C.”

Who to Kill? An Ethical Dilemma for Driverless Cars

By AusSMC

A study published in Science has found that people generally approve of autonomous cars that have been programmed to sacrifice their passengers if it will save others, yet these same people aren’t keen to ride in such “utilitarian” vehicles themselves.

Given that driverless cars are less than a decade away, we need to work out, as a society, how we program such systems. Unlike the past, where if you survived an accident you could be brought in front of the courts if you drove irresponsibly, we will have to program computers with behaviours in advance that determine how they react in such situations.

Who to kill? The dilemma of driverless cars

By AusSMC

Driverless cars hold the promise of safer transport. But how should they react when loss of life appears inevitable? Should a car swerve to miss a pedestrian on the road, even if doing so would kill the passenger?

New US research, published in Science (http://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6293/1573), explores this ethical dilemma in a series of surveys, revealing that people generally want automated cars to be utilitarian (i.e. prevent the greatest loss of life) but, when pressed, admit that they would prefer to buy a driverless car that protects the driver at all costs.

Nanotech Cleared in Food Additives and Packaging

By AusSMC

Food Standards Australia New Zealand has released two reports reviewing the evidence for the safety of nanotechnologies in food packaging and in food additives. Based on patent searches rather than on nanotech declarations to the regulator, the reports suggest there is no direct evidence that novel nanomaterials are currently being used in food packaging applications in Australia or New Zealand.

“The use of nanomaterials in food packaging offers a lot of benefits and new opportunities. These include the promise of offering extended shelf-life to perishable foods such as red meat and chicken, giving significant food safety and health benefits – not to mention the cost and environmental savings associated with less food wastage. This report is a positive step forward to allowing this to happen in Australia and letting us catch up to other parts of the world.”

Very Hot Drinks Are a Likely Cancer Risk

The World Health Organization has found that drinking very hot drinks is a likely cancer risk but there is no evidence of a link between coffee and cancer.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, has found no conclusive evidence that coffee causes cancer. The group did however find that drinking very hot drinks (65 degrees or above) probably causes cancer of the oesophagus. This finding suggests that it is the temperature of drinks rather than the drinks themselves that is important when it comes to cancer.

Federal Budget 2016

By AusSMC

The Federal Budget announced an additional $100 million for geographical modelling of mineral, petroleum and groundwater resources, and $200 million over 10 years for Antarctic research. However, there were no direct budget measures relating to CSIRO.

“The government is maintaining support for the science budget: the Academy is pleased to see this indication of a long-term commitment to science in Australia.

“We warmly welcome the announcement of additional funding for Australia’s Antarctic program. Australia is a leader in Antarctic science, and it’s great to see a long-term commitment like this.

Second Genetically Modified Human Embryos Created

By AusSMC

A second case of gene editing of human embryos has attempted to introduce resistance to HIV infection, but only four of the 26 embryos were modified successfully.


“These Chinese researchers are trying to perfect the art of modifying genetic expression in human embryos. It follows on from a similar publication last year, also from China, which demonstrated... that genetic changes can be made but cannot be controlled. The implication is that if the embryo was implanted and a baby eventually born, the genetic makeup would be uncertain.

Wi-Fi Fears Disputed

By AusSMC

The ABC’s science program Catalyst drew widespread criticism after giving precedence to the views of US cancer epidemiologist Dr Devra Davis in an episode that examined “whether our wireless devices could be putting our health at risk”.

“I was particularly disappointed to see “Wi-Fried” air yesterday in the guise of science journalism, and felt it important to reassure other viewers that the fringe position provided by Dr Davis and associates is merely that: a fringe position that is not supported by science.