The Hendra Story: A Triumph for Australian Science

Guest post by Erin O’Neill, Visiting Fellow at The Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science


When most people think of Australia, they imagine long coastlines with beautiful beaches, magnificent deep red deserts, the Opera House and cuddly koalas and kangaroos.  The more jelly-legged will profess a concern for sharks (of any kind), snakes, crocodiles, blue ringed octopus, funnel web spiders, jelly fish and possibly cassowaries.

They don’t think of one of the deadliest viruses that humanity has had to reckon with.

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Putting a stop to deadly diarrhoea

Guest post by Arwen Cross

“Cholera is frightened of a collar and tie” is an old saying in Mozambique, explains Jim Black. It’s not the dress-code that’s important, but the wealth it represents. Cholera, like other deadly forms of diarrhoea, is a poor man’s disease. Wealthier people have better living standards which include access to clean water and sanitation – the keys to avoiding diarrhoea. “I guess the moral of the story is to make people rich so they won’t get cholera anymore,” jokes Michael Emch. But since poverty is a difficult problem to solve, scientists are working out other ways to prevent this deadly disease. Continue reading

The outrage cycle, or why trolling works

Thanks to the world’s esteemed opinion writers, we’ve recently learned why ‘Chinese Mothers are Superior‘, how ‘bogans in shopping centres have no souls‘, and, thanks to Mark Latham, that “anyone who chooses a life without children, as [Australian Prime Minister] Gillard has, cannot have much love in them”.

Trolls the lot of them. Deliberately offensive flamebait.

Now, with a line up of Catherine Deveny, Gerard Henderson and Graham Richardson, I suspect we’re likely to be further ‘enlightened’ by QandA tonight as well.

I wrote recently about the benefits of social reading – that social media can provide a better reading experience than editorially made traditional media – but I’ve since realised that trolling is the clear and present downside downside to this. This post explores how this dynamic works. Continue reading

A Study of Social Media in Science Communication

Guest post by Kristin Alford

Kristin: In November I attended a communications stakeholders meeting comprising representatives from science and research institutions from around Australia. It struck me that again that different organsiations have different goals in undertaking science communications. And then it struck me, that while I am an avid and open user of Twitter, was it also that corporate Twitter accounts needed to have an identifiable personality, someone to connect with? What were good social media practices for science organisations?

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Why Twitter will always provide a more socially responsible reading experience than editorial media

So we hear a lot of whinging that Twitter is just about what people had for lunch. That’s fair enough! I often tell people what I had for lunch, but I don’t tell people where I get my curries from. That would ruin the secret.

Anyway, what I wanted write about here is based on this criticism, but I want to raise a directly opposite argument: Twitter will always provide a more socially responsible reading experience than editorial media.

People on Twitter know this already, what I want to flesh out is why.

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Muzzling sheep: Wikileaks bringing a new D-notice era for Australia?

Wikileaks rally

Liz Tynan and Will J Grant

Legendary British Labour foreign secretary Ernest Bevin probably didn’t say “why bother to muzzle sheep?” during a House of Commons debate in the 1940s on media censorship – there is no official record of him doing so – but the phrase still resonates with those concerned about the tensions between government and media.

Suddenly, the idea of media submission to the information controls set by government has new currency. D-notices, short for Defence Notices, are an antiquated system in which the government stakes out territory it claims as belonging exclusively to the realm of national security, and asks the media not to go there. They are voluntary agreements and are not enforceable in law. Britain has had D-notices since 1912 and still has them today (though now they are called DA-notices – the “A” stands for advisory). Australia had D-notices too, from 1952. In fact, technically we still do. Though the D-notice committee has not met since 1982, that may be about to change.

Are we on the brink of a new D-notice era in this country, as the Wikileaks juggernaut rolls on, spooking governments around the world? The system of voluntary media regulation now being proposed by Attorney-General Robert McClelland does not carry the old Cold War moniker but the name is bound to stick. Continue reading

Building an ANU Campus Map

The official ANU Campus Map is not the most helpful of maps. It is difficult to navigate, awkward to use, and painful to search.

So, we’ve decided to build a new one. Here’s our first attempt via Google Maps – it should be finished soon.

View ANU Campus Map in a larger map

Note, we’re having some technical issues with getting all buildings on to the same page, and getting the map to load in mobile devices (iPhones etc) – if you’ve got a solution, let us know!

Alien Visitation: From ‘The Truth Is Out There’ To ‘I Want To Believe’

This is the text of a talk I gave in a debate with
Mary Rodwell on the topic of alien visitation. The debate will be broadcast by SBS (I believe under the title ‘My Mum Talks to Aliens’) in December 2010.


Extraterrestrial aliens.


Mysterious happenings.

Odd marks on the skin.

I can’t talk about aliens without thinking about The X-Files. I’m sorry, but I was a teenager in the 1990s. The X-Files offered something cool. The Truth – and this is something dear to my little scientist heart – Was Out There!

As a young teenager living in the murky mists of Far North Queensland, The X-Files offered something special. It offered a coherent view of the world, but one that was just… twisted slightly. The people were the same; the buildings were the same; but something different rested underneath. Watching The X-Files in the 1990s, we were like the muggles of the world of Harry Potter, muggles being introduced to this magical twist on our normal world. While everything was the same on the surface, underneath was a radically – magically – different world of aliens, wondrous flying machines and government cover-ups and conspiracies of the highest order.

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