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.

The Call for Nuclear Energy to Stop Biodiversity Loss

By Australian Science Media Centre

Adelaide ecologists Prof Barry Brook and Prof Corey Bradshaw have called for the promotion of nuclear power to mitigate climate change and protect biodiversity in an open letter published in Conservation Biology.

“It is obviously correct to say that we need to move rapidly away from our present heavy dependence on fossil fuels. By far the most cost-effective change is to improve the efficiency of turning energy into the services it provides: lighting, heating, cooling, motive power and electronic devices. Wind and solar are the best alternatives for supplying the energy we need.

Antidepressants during Pregnancy Linked to ADHD in Kids

By AusSMC

Exposure to antidepressants in the womb may be linked to attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder in the child, but the risks of depressed mothers stopping their medication may be greater.

“Current psychiatric advice is generally that the risk of ‘depression’ during pregnancy outweighs the risk of foetal exposure to antidepressant medication. These data challenge this assertion and suggest that great caution needs to be exercised in prescribing antidepressants to women who are pregnant or planning to be pregnant because of risks to foetal neurodevelopment.

Prostate Cancer Screening: Do Benefits Outweight Risks?

By AusSMC

Screening for prostate cancer could reduce deaths from the disease by about one-fifth, according to long-term results of a European study involving over 162,000 men. Despite this new evidence for the efficacy of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing, the authors question whether the benefits of screening outweigh the harms, and recommend against routine PSA screening programs.

Source: Schröder et al., The Lancet, published online at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(14)60525-0

“The results are not surprising given previous reports and updates from the individual participating centres that the study data was collected from over the past 13 years. The key findings indicate that screening can reduce death from prostate cancer, but the risk of over-detection and over-treatment is considered too high to roll out a national screening program.

Organic Food High in Antioxidants and Low in Toxic Metals

A meta-analysis of 343 studies has found that organic crops and crop-based foods are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants and 50% lower in toxic heavy metals than conventional crops. But are these results biologically meaningful?

GM Farmer Wins Landmark Court Case in Western Australia

By AusSMC

The Western Australian Supreme Court has dismissed an organic farmer’s claims for damages from his neighbour’s genetically-modified canola crop, which caused him to lose organic certification for more than half of his property for almost 3 years.

“The decision will give farmers surety that they can choose the crops they grow. The outcome is not about the safety of GM crops; it is more about the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia’s organic certification, which has a zero tolerance threshold for contamination in broadacre crops.

“We hope that the NASAA policy might be reviewed and brought in line with similar policies around the globe to support farmers wishing to grow crops for their niche markets. GM crops can be consistent with organic farming.

Federal Budget 2014-15

By AusSMC

Experts address how the latest announcements will impact on research, health and science.

While a $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund will provide additional funding for medical research, the Budget has some grim news for science. The Australian Research Council will see funding reduced by $74.9 million over 3 years, and savings of $111.4 million will be made to the CSIRO budget over 4 years. The Budget cuts also include the Defence Science and Technology Organisation ($120 million), Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation ($27.6 million, and Australian Institute of Marine Science ($7.8 million) – as well as Cooperative Research Centres program ($80 million).

National Commission of Audit’s recommendations for scientific research

The National Commission of Audit has suggested a major overhaul of the way scientific research is carried out in Australia, including greater government control over the work undertaken by CSIRO and abolishing the Cooperative Research Centre Association.

-----------

The Hon Tony Staley is Chairman of the CRC Association

“I can't for a minute believe that Government will take on this recommendation.

Cooperative Research Centres have very clearly given the Australian taxpayers outstanding value for money.

It is very interesting that the Commissioners have commented in making this recommendation that the ARC should take on longer funding periods. That's one of the features that has made CRCs so successful - seven years of funding to let researchers get on with the job.

Effectiveness of Flu Drug Questioned

A Cochrane review of the effectiveness and side-effects of the drug Tamiflu raises critical questions around the future of government stockpiling of such drugs for use in an influenza pandemic.

An earlier paper published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine suggests that, if patients were NOT on neuraminidase inhibitors (i.e. Tamiflu) there was a 9.2% death rate (959/10,431) but if they were given Tamiflu the death rate was slightly higher at 9.7% (1825/18,803). Yet the conclusion was the opposite of this. They concluded that neuraminidase inhibitors save lives.

Looking at comments on the Lancet paper in the BMJ (http://www.bmj.com/content/348/bmj.g2228/rr/692897), the statistics that were done to reach that conclusion likely have major methodological issues.

IPCC Report on Climate Adaptation and Mitigation

Experts respond to the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Summary for Policymakers on “mitigating climate change, and the underlying technical, economic and institutional requirements”.

-----------

Professor Hugh Outhred is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the School of Electrical Engineering & Telecommunications at The University of New South Wales

Scientists Detect Echoes of the Big Bang

By AusSMC

Astronomers have found evidence that the Universe underwent a period of rapid inflation in the very first moments of its existence. If confirmed, the tell-tale signature of gravitational waves in the afterglow of the Big Bang will open a new chapter in astronomy, cosmology and physics.

Astronomers using a radio telescope based at the South Pole have peered into the afterglow of the Big Bang and seen the tell-tale whirls of light (called B-modes) that are caused by ripples in space–time (indirect evidence for Einstein's final prediction, which is a big deal). These ripples (or gravitational waves) would normally be too small for us to detect, yet something has blown them up to the size of the entire Universe. That something is inflation, and this discovery is the first confirmation of this incredible, potential Nobel Prize-winning result.