The News – 30 September 2014

Overview

  • Humans have evolved different defences against malaria depending on where they live, scientists have found.
  • Allies should be strengthening the voice of people with disability by speaking up alongside us, not simulating disability in a tokenistic fashion and raising money for charities, writes Stella Young.
  • In the final 2014 Boyer Lecture, Professor Suzanne Cory addressed Australia’s other brain drain—the lack of women at science’s highest levels. The former head of the Australian Academy of Science says we need to engage girls early and make room for female scientists to have families.


Stories Discussed
News on Health Professional Radio. Today is the 30th September 2014. Read by Rebecca Foster.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-29/malaria-resistance-depends-on-location-study-finds/5775176

Humans have evolved different defences against malaria depending on where they live, scientists have found.

About half the world’s population is exposed to the disease, which kills more than 500,000 people each year.

A study, conducted over 10 years across 11 countries, looked for specific mutations known as markers in genes that result in resistance against malaria in almost 12,000 people.

Laboratory head at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, Dr Ivo Mueller, said the study found there is a close evolutionary interplay between malaria and human populations.

Dr Muller said that the increasing ability to look at genome interactions between parasites and hosts at a detailed level will hopefully result in a greater understanding of the disease.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-25/young-disability-simulations-should-be-left-in-the-90s/5769148

Allies should be strengthening the voice of people with disability by speaking up alongside us, not simulating disability in a tokenistic fashion and raising money for charities, [according to] …Stella Young.

Another day, another awareness campaign. From pink water bottles for breast cancer, to dumping a bucket of ice water on your head for neuromuscular conditions, it seems we’re bombarded by requests to be “aware” of one thing or another.

September alone has seen such calendar entries as World Stay in Bed Day, World Physiotherapy Day, White Balloon Day, Headache and Migraine Week, Canberra’s Big Red Kidney Walk, and numerous other events.

Also held in September for the last three years is the Chatterbox Challenge, where participants are sponsored for being silent for a nominated period of time. The funds raised go to support five nominated charities. Confusingly, the purpose is to “help give disability a voice by not speaking”.

Promoting the charity model of disability is only part of the problem with this strange Chatterbox campaign.

Disability simulation fails to capture the nuance and complexity of living in a disabled body. And it certainly fails to give a deep understanding of systemic discrimination and abuse faced by disabled people.

You want to further your understanding of disability? No props required! Just talk to disabled people. [states Stella Young.]

Remember, we’re living in a country that no longer has a Disability Discrimination Commissioner, but a newly funded Commissioner for Endangered Species.

What we need from our non-disabled allies is solidarity, not silence. [states Stella Young.]

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/boyerlectures/professor-suzanne-cory-on-the-need-for-female-scientists/5766548

In the final 2014 Boyer Lecture, Professor Suzanne Cory addressed Australia’s other brain drain—the lack of women at science’s highest levels. The former head of the Australian Academy of Science says we need to engage girls early and make room for female scientists to have families …

‘Lean in,’ Facebook COO Cheryl Sandberg urged working women at her landmark 2010 Ted Talk. Sandberg described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers and encouraged them to step up and claim their rightful place in leadership roles in government and industry.

Much to her surprise, the video went viral—it was viewed more than two million times, created a media storm and led to a book of the same name.

Professor Suzanne Cory, former president of the Australian Academy of Science, echoes this call to action and says that the future of Australian Science depends on women and girls getting involved.

‘We have a major brain drain in this country—a very concerning loss of women from science, technology, engineering and maths. How can we hope to compete internationally if we are losing so much creativity?’

When it comes to the number of university science graduates and postgraduates, women are on level pegging with men, but a steep drop off occurs as they move up the ranks, with only 17 per cent of positions above the senior lecturer level going to women.

Professor Cory says the problem is partly historical, with centuries of gender bias blocking or effacing the scientific achievements of women both here in Australia and overseas.

The stories of the female scientists of the past are both inspiring and sad: ‘Let’s start with Hypatia, mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and teacher who lived in ancient Alexandria,’ says Professor Cory.

‘It was probably Hypatia who developed the first earth-centric version of the universe—but she paid the ultimate price for being so far ahead of her time—she was beaten to death and burned by a mob of Christian zealots in 415 AD.

‘Then there’s Marie Curie, physicist and chemist, one of the rare women of science to have become a household name. She discovered the radioactive elements polonium and radium, and won not one but two Nobel prizes.

‘Her daughter, Irene, also won a Nobel prize for work on radioactivity. Like Marie, Irene died from her lifelong exposure to radioactivity.’

In more recent times, there’s the story of Ruby Payne-Scott. Australia’s first female radio astronomer, Payne-Scott lost her permanent position when her marriage became known to her employer, the CSIRO. This was because under the 1902 Commonwealth Public Service Act every female officer was ‘deemed to have retired from the Commonwealth service upon her marriage’.

‘This restriction enshrined discrimination and legitimised male domination in many organisations, not just the public service,’ says Professor Cory.

‘I’m ashamed to say that Australia was the last democratic country in the world to repeal such a restriction.’

‘Recently Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt broke down in public when speaking about the loss of Ruby Payne-Scott to science. “How could this country possibly throw away someone like her,” he asked in anguish.’

Apart from historical gender inequity, attracting young women to the sciences in the first place is a fundamental problem.

‘Sadly, in our schools, the proportion of girls taking serious science and maths subjects has been dwindling rather than improving,’ Professor Cory explains.

‘In NSW, for example, the number of girls taking no maths at all after year 10 increased from 7.5 per cent in 2001 to 21.5 per cent in 2011. This is more the twice the proportion of boys not studying maths.’

However, young women aspiring to be mathematicians now have an international role model. Until recently no woman had ever won mathematics’ top prize, the Fields Medal. In August it was awarded to Iranian Maryam Mirzakhani, who was educated at Tehran’s Sharif University and is now a professor at Stanford.

Parents and teachers also have a role to play, according to Professor Cory.

‘They must ensure that the talents and interests of girls are nurtured as broadly as those of boys. Don’t bind our girls’ feet to traditional “female” occupations; fit them to range boldly and freely through all career possibilities.’

‘Give our girls visions of becoming astronauts and explorers, engineers and inventors, rather than of becoming Disney princesses and of meeting Prince Charming.’

‘There are just so many wonderful women with inspiring careers out there, showing us what a difference they make to discovery and innovation. Many of them have children—not that any of them would say juggling family and career has been easy.’

‘As Malcolm Fraser memorably told us, “Life was not meant to be easy”. Rather, life is about making a difference.’

Leading public figures, selected annually by the ABC board, deliver the Boyer Lectures on topics of special relevance to the Australian community.

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