Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Online Feature

The state of Australia: our environment

By Ian Lowe

The state of Australia’s environment is a real worry – and we have the report cards to prove it.

For the past two decades, successive federal governments have received a series of independent, five-yearly State of the Environment reports. I was appointed to chair the first national assessment, which delivered its findings in May 1996. And what we concluded then – a lifetime ago for an 18-year-old reading this today – is even truer now:

Temper trap: the genetics of aggression and self-control

By Tom Denson

A new study concludes that people who are genetically predisposed toward aggression have inefficient functioning in brain regions that control emotions.

Everyone knows someone with a quick temper – it might even be you. And while scientists have known for decades that aggression is hereditary, there is another biological layer to those angry flare-ups: self-control.

In a paper published earlier this year in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, my colleagues and I found that people who are genetically predisposed toward aggression try hard to control their anger, but have inefficient functioning in brain regions that control emotions.

Getting to the Root of Enamel Evolution

Scientists have identified how natural selection may have acted to give modern human teeth their thick enamel, one gene at a time.

Along with our big brains and upright posture, thick tooth enamel is one of the features that distinguishes our genus, Homo, from our primate relatives and forebears. A new study, published in the Journal of Human Evolution, offers insight into how evolution shaped our teeth, one gene at a time.

By comparing the human genome with those of five other primate species, a team of geneticists and evolutionary anthropologists at Duke University has identified two segments of DNA where natural selection may have acted to give modern humans their thick enamel.

What about science in the Commission of Audit report?

By Rod Lamberts and Will J Grant

The federal government’s Commission of Audit treats science, research and education as expenses to be trimmed rather than investments to be nurtured.

The message from the federal government’s Commission of Audit is loud and clear: science, research and education are expenses to be trimmed rather than investments to be nurtured.

Yes, there are few big surprises for such sectors in the recommendations in the report. But not being surprised is not the same as being pleased.

Powdered alcohol, seriously? A health risk we don't need

By Nial Wheate

What are the potential dangers of the marketing of alcohol in powdered form?

Opening a bottle and pouring liquid into a glass isn’t exactly an arduous task but a US company hopes to release a powdered variety to make consuming alcohol that little bit easier – and more portable.

'Censored' IPCC summary reveals jockeying for key UN climate talks

By David Stern

Was the IPCC's latest report on climate change censored to suit the agendas of different countries?

In the wake of this month’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on ways to cut global greenhouse gas emissions, accusations began to fly in the media that the report had been censored by governments.

IPCC: emissions cuts are about ethics as well as economics

By Frank Jotzo and David Stern

The dramatic cuts in emissions needed to limit global warming to 2°C raise not just technical and economic challenges but also profound questions of ethics and values.

By Frank Jotzo, Australian National University and David Stern, Australian National University

Questions over effectiveness of flu drugs

Researchers call for guidance on use of Tamiflu in light of most recent evidence about efficacy and side-effects.

Tamiflu shortens symptoms of influenza by half a day, but there is no good evidence to support claims that it reduces admissions to hospital or complications of influenza according to an updated Cochrane evidence review published by The Cochrane Collaboration and the British Medical Journal.

Evidence from treatment trials confirms increased risk of suffering from nausea and vomiting. And when Tamiflu was used in prevention trials there was an increased risk of headaches, psychiatric disturbances and renal events.

No evidence homeopathy is effective: NHMRC review

By Ian Musgrave

An NHMRC review concludes that there is no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has released its long-awaited review of homeopathy, as well as a tip sheet for doctors to talk to their patient about complementary medicines in general. The review should spell the end of rebates for the practice currently available through some private health insurance companies.

Ancient viruses sound scary, but there's no need to panic

By Jennifer McKimm-Breschkin

Can ancient human viruses uncovered by drilling in permafrost cause a modern pandemic?

You may have seen recently that scientists recovered and “revived” a giant virus from Siberian permafrost (frozen soil) that dates back 30,000 years.

The researchers raised concerns that drilling in the permafrost may expose us to many more pathogenic viruses. Should we be worried about being infected from the past? Can human viruses survive in this permafrost environment and come back to wreak havoc?

First, we need to examine the properties of viruses.