Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Online Feature

Big Australian media reject climate science

By Wendy Bacon

One third of articles in Australia’s major newspapers do not accept the consensus position of climate science: that human beings are contributing to climate change.

Australia has the most concentrated press ownership in the world. What does that mean for significant issues such as climate change?

In 2011 and 2012 we at the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism at University of Technology, Sydney collected data on climate science coverage in ten Australian newspapers. We published the results yesterday in a report: Sceptical Climate: Part 2.

Viewing Catalyst's cholesterol programs through the sceptometer

By Justin Coleman

Was the ABC wrong to air a program that might encourage people at risk of heart disease to stop taking cholesterol-reducing medications without consulting their GP?

On the past two Thursdays, the ABC’s Catalyst program set off a chain reaction of protest from sections of the medical community, aghast that the non-medical media would question the accepted wisdom that dietary saturated fats kill people and statins – medication to lower cholesterol – save lives.

Quantum computing becomes more than just spin

The building blocks of a quantum computer have been created and tested in a high tech basement at the University of NSW, and within a few years Andrea Morello and his colleagues expect to have a small working prototype.

People have speculated about the potential of quantum computers for decades—how they would make child’s play of constructing and testing new drugs, searching through huge amounts of data and ensuring that information was fundamentally secure.

Saving young lives by the million

Professor Ruth Bishop has been named the 2013 CSL Florey Medallist for her discovery of the rotavirus responsible for the deaths of half a million children each year.

By their third birthday, just about every child in the world has had a rotavirus infection. Every day about 1200 children die from it; half a million children every year. That’s changing. We’re fighting back thanks to a discovery made in 1973 by a quiet Melbourne researcher—this year’s winner of the 2013 CSL Florey Medal.

It’s not a jungle out there: rocking the ecological boat

If you were a pharmaceutical company searching for a natural plant compound to use as the basis for a new line of drugs, where would you begin?

Until recently, this question was a no-brainer. Everyone knows that tropical forests contain the widest diversity of species, all fighting for survival and defending themselves physically and chemically against being invaded or eaten. So the tropics should naturally provide the greatest selection of biologically active compounds.

“No,” says Angela Moles, a pioneering young ecologist from the University of New South Wales, who is transforming our understanding of the plant world and overturning some of the dogmas of ecology.

Fighting cancer by the numbers

Terry Speed doesn’t expect to see headlines reading “Statistician cures cancer” any time soon. But he knows that the right mathematics and statistics can help researchers understand the underlying causes of cancer and reduce the need for surgery.

A mathematician and statistician, he has written elegant theoretical papers that almost no-one reads. But he has also testified in court, helped farmers and diamond miners, and given biologists statistical tools to help them cope with the genetic revolution.

Twenty years ago biologists looked at one or two genes in isolation. Today they can track thousands of genes in a single cell, but to understand the results they need tools of the kind that Terry develops.

Of heads and headlines: can a skull doom 14 human species?

By Darren Curnoe

A newly discovered 1.8 million-year-old skull from Eastern Europe has been pitched as disproving a decades-old paradigm in human evolution.

Its discoverers claim the find sinks more than a dozen species into a single evolutionary line leading to living people. But the new study highlights the propensity of some anthropologists to overstep the mark, interpreting the importance of their finds in a way that grabs the headlines.

More big claims

The more-than-150-year history of human evolutionary science is filled with many remarkable and headline-grabbing episodes.

Sticks and stones: Brain releases natural painkillers during social rejection

Finding that the opioid system can act to ease social pain, not just physical pain, may aid understanding of depression and social anxiety

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," goes the playground rhyme that's supposed to help children endure taunts from classmates. But a new study suggests that there's more going on inside our brains when someone snubs us – and that the brain may have its own way of easing social pain.

The findings, recently published in Molecular Psychiatry by a University of Michigan Medical School team, show that the brain's natural painkiller system responds to social rejection – not just physical injury.

Nobel prizewinners took chemistry from pipettes to programming

By Catherine Whitby, University of South Australia

The 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been awarded for research that has revolutionised our understanding of how enzymes control the chemistry in our bodies.

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been jointly awarded to Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel for developing foundation computer software that chemists today use to investigate how biological molecules work.

Could the Higgs Nobel be the end of particle physics?

By Harry Cliff

While the discovery of the Higgs boson has been awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics, it hasn’t brought us any closer to answering some of the most troubling problems in fundamental science.

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to François Englert and Peter Higgs for their work that explains why subatomic particles have mass. They predicted the existence of the Higgs boson, a fundamental particle, which was confirmed last year by experiments conducted at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.