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.

Australia's Megafauna Extinctions: Cause and Effect

By various experts

Australian research has found new evidence that human hunters were primarily responsible for the disappearance of Australia’s giant vertebrates about 40,000 years ago, and concluded that the extinctions caused changes to the Australian landscape.

“We are excited by this research not just because it helps us to understand why Australia's megafauna went extinct. More importantly, it moves the question on by focusing on the ecological impacts of that extinction. Big animals have big impacts on plants. It follows that removing big animals should produce significant changes in vegetation.

Is Sugar as Toxic as Alcohol?

By Various experts

Experts evaluate a commentary published in Nature* arguing that added sweeteners pose dangers to health that justify controlling them like alcohol.

“A focus on added sugar is most timely, with increasing evidence of its negative health effects.

“The public health arguments for intervening are indeed strong, with perhaps the most important consideration, not highlighted by the authors, [being] the imperative of governments to protect vulnerable members of society, especially where the capacity for well-informed decision making is limited or non-existent.

Fukushima: one year on

By Various experts

A year since a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit the coast of Japan, triggering a powerful tsunami and resulting in the most serious nuclear accident since Chernobyl, nuclear and disaster experts examine the current situation and what lessons can be learnt.

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Dr Don Higson is a retired nuclear safety specialist and Fellow of the Institution of Engineers Australia, Fellow of the Australasian Radiation Protection Society

On Engineering

Gas Drilling Affects Animal Health

By AusSMC

US scientists have documented cases of animal health problems they believe have possible links to gas drilling.

“This work is based on interviews and thus provides anecdotal evidence rather than a direct cause-and-effect relationship for adverse health impacts from gas drilling. It is an interesting study and highlights some of the knowledge that is required. However, there are some important differences between gas drilling in the US and here which need to be taken into consideration when extrapolating from this research.

ATLAS and CMS experiments present Higgs search status

By Various experts

It's far too early to say whether ATLAS and CMS have discovered the Higgs boson, but updated results are generating a lot of interest in the particle physics community.

Dr. Philip Schuster, Faculty, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Canada

Do Soft Drinks Lead to Teen Violence?

By AusSMC (ed.)

A study published in Injury Prevention suggests a link between high fizzy soft drink consumption and violence among teenagers, but how strong is the evidence?

“These findings probably tell us more about the people who drink large volumes of soft drink rather than necessarily suggesting a causal link between soft drink and anti-social behaviour. The study really cries out for more research to understand why heavy use of soft drink may be an indicator of poor behaviour and what are the social conditions that lead to such heavy use. Such a study would also need to look at the impact of alcohol, caffeinated drinks and illicit drugs, which we do know have both an indicator and a causal link.”

Response to the Draft Murray-Darling plan

By Various experts

The Draft Murray-Darling Basin plan has been released.

The Draft Murray-Darling Basin plan has been released and is proposing water use cuts of 2750 GL/year. The plan is based on the premise that the maximum amount of water that can be removed for irrigation, agriculture and drinking water, whilst remaining environmentally sustainable, is 10,873 GL/year.

The draft plan is available online on the Murray-Darling Basin Authority website (http://www.mdba.gov.au/draft-basin-plan/draft-basin-plan-for-consultation). The plan is now open for 20 weeks of consultation.

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Stem Cell Research Loses European Patent Protection

By Martin Pera and Debra Yin Foo

The European Court of Justice has ruled that research involving the removal of a stem cell from a human embryo at the blastocyst stage – and therefore entailing the destruction of that embryo – cannot be patented. The ruling removes a key commercial incentive for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies to back stem-cell research in Europe.

"The decision by the European Union Court of Justice will slow or halt the translation of advances in stem cell research into treatments for patients.

“Though the ruling does not affect Australia directly, we have to recognise that progress in this field depends on international collaboration, particularly in clinical trials. European stem cell scientists are leaders in the field, and everyone will suffer if there are barriers to such collaboration.

Aboriginal Genome Reveals New Insights into Early Humans

By Australian Science Media Centre (Ed.)

What does the genetic sequencing of an ancient Aboriginal man tell us about the ancestry of Aboriginal Australians?

What Does the Hyabusa Asteroid Sample Tell Us?

By Trevor Island

Last year the Hayabusa capsule landed in South Australia with a sample of dust collected from the Itokawa asteroid. The dust has now been analysed and the results of the preliminary investigation published in Science. Here the only Australian involved in the research outlines its significance.

“The Hayabusa mission has provided us with samples of a pristine asteroid – and what a message it contains.

“We can now unequivocally link the asteroids we see in space with meteorites that we collect on land. There have been problems relating the nature of asteroids with meteorites because meteorites are ablated as they come in through the atmosphere. The samples from Itokawa are the previously unknown ‘skin’ of an asteroid.