What is wrong with Australian Academia

What is wrong with Australian Academia

THIS is what’s wrong with Academia in Australia… among many other things. Australian academics spend an insane amount of time applying for grants they’ll never win.

Scientists spent ‘500 years’ grant chasing

Also, Sydney Uni academics are preparing for more industrial action in order to defend just a little bit of their entitlements that are continuously being eroded.

Hoping this industrial action will achieve something though it has little chance of halting the decline of working conditions for younger academics or changing the overall management culture. Which is a shame cause the current trend is both short sighted for Australia and for universities.

What a shame.

Wish most students and citizens in general would have a better grasp of the actual situation of academics. The glossy brochures are a joke.

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The art of asking… and receiving

The art of asking... and receiving

A wonderful TED talk by artist and musician Amanda Palmer…

Amanda Palmer on the art of asking

She talks about letting people pay for music instead of making them pay for it (which is a wonderful way of pointing out what is wrong with the music industry at the moment and why their online business model isn’t working). She looks at the relationships between the artist and the fan and how she made her living, by asking fans to support her.

There’s beauty in her ideas and some deeper human truths are revealed… but, they also point to how, perhaps, the music and entertainment industry could be turning back the tide on its fortunes. Although, it’s possible to argue that these ideas on direct support only apply for small or individual artists and only the exceptional ones who cultivate a direct and close relationship with their fans. Still, some powerful ideas…

Respect the boob! On human milk…

Respect the boob! On human milk...

Oh my, milk is really amazing! Respect the boob 😉

“Mother’s milk is food; mother’s milk is medicine; and mother’s milk is signal,” says Katie Hinde, an assistant professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard. (She also writes the fascinating blog Mammals Suck, which I suspect is the only place on the Internet where you can fill out a Mammal Madness bracket.) “When people find out I study milk, they automatically think we already know about it, or it’s not important. And I’m like, ‘No, we don’t know about it, and it’s super important.’”

But first, a disclaimer—because conversations about lactation always seem to require disclaimers, especially if you happen to be someone who will never ever lactate. (I’m pretty sure.) In my new book Baby Meets World, I write about how, contrary to myth, not nursing has never been a death sentence. Hundreds of years before halfway-decent formula, infants were fed gruesome substitutes for breast milk (mushed bread and beer, say)—and although many more died than those who were nursed, many also survived. So the lesson of the new science of milk isn’t that formula is some sort of modern evil. (It isn’t modern or evil.) It’s that milk is really complicated—and evolutionarily amazing.

Here’s how complicated: Some human milk oligosaccharides—simple sugar carbohydrates—were recently discovered to be indigestible by infants. When my son was nursing, those oligosaccharides weren’t meant for him. They were meant for bacteria in his gut, which thought they were delicious. My wife was, in a sense, nursing another species altogether, a species that had been evolutionarily selected to protect her child. (A relationship immortalized in the paper titled “Human Milk Oligosaccharides: Every Baby Needs a Sugar Mama.”) In effect, as Hinde and UC-Davis chemist Bruce German have written, “mothers are not just eating for two, they are actually eating for 2 × 1011 (their own intestinal microbiome as well as their infant’s)!” That’s what’s meant by milk serving as medicine, and that’s only scratching the surface.

But Hinde primarily studies the food and the signal elements of milk. “The signal is in the form of hormones that are exerting physiological effects in the infant,” she explains. “Infants have their own internal hormones, but they’re also getting hormones from their mother. They’re binding to receptors in the babies, and we’re just starting to understand what those effects are.”

Hinde works with rhesus macaques, and she’s tracked the effects of the hormone cortisol in their milk. Cortisol is often thought of as the stress hormone, but its function is far more varied, and Hinde has found that the amount and especially the variation of cortisol successfully predicts how the infant macaques go on to behave. It’s a stunning finding: The composition of early milk seems to mold infant temperament. But—and here’s the twist—the males were much more sensitive than the females. Roughly, the more cortisol, the more bold and exploratory the male rhesus macaques were.

Such sex-specific variations in milk, possibly “programmed” by the placenta during gestation, may be common. In humans, there’s early data suggesting that mothers produce fattier milk for boys than girls. But that may be only part of the story, as Hinde has found with rhesus macaques. “Just because sons are getting better milk doesn’t mean they’re getting more. It looks like they’re getting very similar total calories.” So why do sons get fattier milk? “In rhesus macaques, daughters stay in their social groups their whole lives,” Hinde notes. “They form a bond with their mother that only ends when one of them dies. So it might be that mothers are nursing their daughters more frequently and that helps establish this bond.” In contrast, the sons end up leaving the group—and fattier milk means they nurse less often, which means they can spend more time playing with strangers, developing skills they’ll need later in life. The milk, in other words, reflects and cements the social structure of rhesus macaques.”

The Secrets of Breast Milk

Lucky country…

Lucky country...

Australians don’t know how lucky they are

Australians are so lucky. We live in a prosperous, peaceful country with amazing natural resources. We enjoy wealth and opportunity that very few others can enjoy in the world. We have ridden the financial crisis and came out almost unscathed, unlike most other economies around the world. We live in harmony (mostly, with some exceptions), despite problems enjoy an amazing health care system and our cities are amongst the top ranked in the world (where the majority of us live).

This is why it’s awful what we do to asylum seekers, whom we detain for several years, separate them from their family members, keep in inhumane conditions with little democratic scrutiny and lock them away with no hope which is why a huge number are mentally ill and contemplating suicide. It’s also inexcusable how money is taken away from single parents, mental health and higher education (that last one is also incredibly foolish as we cannot ride on the resources boom forever).

If we can’t play fair and care for those less fortunate than who the hell in the world can??