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Online Feature

The Tamiflu saga shows why all research data should be public

By Chris Del Mar

Attempts to evaluate whether the antiviral drug Tamiflu is effective have been stymied by lack of access to the data from clinical trials.

There’s a dispute going on at the moment, a war of words with lots of public relations manoeuvring. It’s all about the disclosure of trials undertaken in the past. And it is between Cochrane reviewers (of which I am one) and Big Pharma (in this case, Hoffman-La-Roche of Switzerland).

To understand the dispute, it’s necessary to go back a bit in history.

Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is a drug, cleverly-designed in 2000 to attack a molecule in the influenza virus. It prevents the influenza virus bursting infected human cells to spread more virus in the body.

Thinking the unthinkable: tracing language back 15,000 years

By Michael Dunn

Linguists have identified a set of 23 frequent words to establish relationships between languages dating back to ancient times.

Just about everyone has a personal stake in language, and many people — expert and amateur — feel entitled to an opinion. But linguists care more than most people, and when linguistics hit the media, linguists can get very agitated indeed.

Gender-bending fish share their secrets

By Leigh Dayton

Local scuba divers are teaming with scientists to survey populations of sea dragons, which are classified as “near threatened” on the Red List of threatened species.

When David Booth spotted his first seadragon he thought the colourful 40 centimetre-long fish looked like an intergalactic hybrid: half alien, half animated seaweed. “They are amazing things,” the marine ecologist says.

Its oddball appearance not only gives the quirky creature its name – weedy seadragon or Phyllopteryx taeniolatus – it provides cover from hungry predators. “A fast escape or sharp scales are definitely not in their protective repertoire,” says Professor Booth, Director of the Centre for Environmental Sustainability at UTS. “They just blend in.”

Words that stand the test of time

Linguists have compiled a list of words that can be traced to old forms around the time of the last Ice Age.

A University of Waikato academic involved in a groundbreaking and controversial new study on words which have remained in use for around 15,000 years says the team involved expected the results to be controversial but the years of work that went into it were worth it.

"It's a new thing and won’t be accepted by everyone," Dr Andreea Calude says.

Holy grilled cheese sandwich! What is pareidolia?

By Kevin Brooks

A few quirks of neural processing explain why religious devotees can see the face of the Virgin Mary in a slice of toast.

How much would you pay for a grilled cheese sandwich?
$6? Maybe $7, if it was deliciously fresh and you were really hungry?

In 2004, Diane Duyser from Florida, USA sold a ten-year-old grilled cheese sandwich for US$28,000. And the reason for the 4,000-fold inflation?

Budget defers renewable energy development when it's needed most

By Dylan McConnell

The decision to link the Australia’s carbon price to the European Union emissions trading scheme has wiped A$6 billion from the federal budget.

Treasurer Wayne Swan has dealt with that loss of revenue by reducing industry assistance to deal with the carbon price – a reasonable move – but he has also deferred funding for important renewable energy development.

On academic efficiency and the 2013 federal budget

By Matthew Bailes

One of the casualties of the 2013 federal budget is the university sector.

As you may have noticed, the 2013 federal budget is out and, despite his best efforts, Euromoney’s “2011 Finance Minister of the Year” Wayne Swan has missed his earlier predicted budget surplus by almost A$20 billion.

New coatings extend life and safety of hip implants

By Dick Meredith, London Press Service

New coatings have been developed for hip replacements to protect against post-operative infection and provide a barrier to minimise metal ion release into the body.

There has been concern about 'metal-on-metal' hip replacements – where a metal ball fits into a metal cup implanted into the pelvis – with problems reportedly occurring when friction between the ball and cup causes tiny metal filings to break off. These filings can seep into the bloodstream and cause inflammation, which can destroy muscle and bone.

The first metal-on-metal devices were introduced in the 1990s, when they were seen as offering better mobility than other materials, but most were withdrawn from the market in 2010.

Could Li-Fi spark a communications revolution like Wi-Fi?

By Dick Meredith

Multi-tasking micro-lights now being developed could initiate an amazing transformation for the future of communications by using light to carry information over the internet.

Tiny light-emitting diode (LED) lights could deliver Wi-Fi-like internet communications, while simultaneously displaying information and providing illumination for homes, offices and many other locations.

Over the next four years, a consortium of universities in the United Kingdom will be developing this innovative technology to help unleash the full potential of “Li-Fi” - the transmission of internet communications using visible light rather than the radio waves and microwaves currently in use.

Is the end to diabetic injections in sight?

By Richard Maino

Nasal gel reduces blood glucose levels.

Globally, it is estimated that diabetes is expected to affect as many as 440 million people by 2030.

But sufferers may never need to take insulin injections again - because innovative scientists working in the United Kingdom have developed a once-a-day nasal gel.