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.

GM pig feed and stomach inflammation

Experts respond to a study finding that GM soy and corn cause stomach inflammation in pigs.

Prof Tom Sanders, Head of the Nutritional Sciences Research Division at Kings College London, said:

“It does not look like a convincing adverse effect as it was a minor incidental finding. There were no differences in growth and mortality rates and pigs at sacrifice appeared in similar health. The dietary groups were also not identical as different supplements had been used. If you do not specify outcomes at least one in 20 will come up as being statistically significant by play of chance.

Food Standards Authority Defends GM Safety

Earlier this year, a scientific review raised concerns that double-stranded RNA molecules produced in new genetically modified crops could pose a risk to human health. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has responded to the claims by Heinemann et al. (2013) that this gene silencing technology is entering the food supply without adequate scrutiny.


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Where does Australia stand on science, technology, engineering and mathematics education?

Experts respond to a report into international comparisons of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

The Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) is releasing a report into international comparisons of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. The report recommends introducing maths as a compulsory subject up to and including Year 12, reintroducing more comprehensive prerequisite requirements for university programs that require knowledge of science and maths and the recruitment of science PhD graduates into teaching.

The first two comments are from independent experts:

Federal Budget 2013 – experts respond


Experts address how the latest announcements will impact on science, the Murray Darling Basin and the Great Barrier Reef.

General comments on science research and science education spending

“While the Academy welcomes investments in research grant funding and research infrastructure, this Budget unfortunately represents a missed opportunity to support a strategic long-term vision for Australia’s future. The investment has been small and short-term in the same year in which the Government has announced $3.3 billion in cuts and deferrals to research and higher education.

Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

A new coronavirus – from the same group of viruses responsible for the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) – has been identified as the cause of an increasing number of illnesses and deaths in several countries.

A second case of the novel coronavirus in France was confirmed as the result of patient-to-patient transmission within a French hospital. The news has prompted some to speculate whether coronavirus will be behind the next global pandemic.


Professor Charles Watson is a John Curtin Distinguished Professor of Health Science at Curtin University in Western Australia

Back Pain Can Be Treated with Antibiotics

New research finds that bacterial infection is the cause of 40% of chronic lower back pain.

Three papers published in the European Spine Journal have reported that bacterial infection is the cause of 40% of chronic lower back pain, meaning that patients can now be treated with courses of antibiotics rather than major surgery.

Red Herring for Red Meat Consumption

A nutrient used as a dietary supplement, not fat and cholesterol, is the link between red meat consumption and cardiovascular disease.


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Aspirin May Lower Melanoma Risk

New research has found that women who take aspirin have a reduced risk of developing melanoma, and that the longer they take it, the lower the risk.

Overall, women who used aspirin had a 21% lower risk of melanoma relative to non-users, with each incremental increase in duration of aspirin use associated with an 11% lower risk of melanoma. The findings suggest that aspirin’s anti-inflammatory effects may help protect against this type of skin cancer.

Court Upholds Patent for Breast Cancer Gene

A landmark decision by the Federal Court has upheld the validity of patents on the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, with Cancer Voices Australia and cancer survivor Yvonne D’arcy losing their case against US-based Myriad Genetics Inc and Melbourne-based Genetic Technologies.

“My initial reaction is that the judge has given a broad reading of the ‘invention’ requirement in Australian law (referred to as manner of manufacture). Using the language from a 1959 case, he says that what is required is an ‘artificially created state of affairs’ and that without human intervention an isolated DNA sequence does not exist outside the cell.

Getting Stoned May Not Be Making Teens Stupid

A previously reported causal link between teenage marijuana use and a reduction in IQ may be erroneous. A Norwegian researcher re-examined data from the Dunedin longitudinal study of cannabis users in New Zealand and found that the decrease in IQ observed may instead be linked to lower socioeconomic status.

“The approaches differ between these two papers, reflecting the authors’ backgrounds.

“The original paper is led by authors specialising in psychology and psychiatry. They do not consider variables such as socio-economic status (SES), and their statistical analyses rely heavily on strong and untested assumptions. For example, they assume a simple linear relationship between the duration of marijuana smoking and the change in IQ, and their results do not show clearly how confident we can be in the magnitude of the results.