Should I get my COVID vaccine booster? Yes, it increases protection against COVID, including Omicron

Originally published on theconversation.com

CDC/Unsplash

If it’s been six months since you got the second COVID vaccine dose, it’s time to book in for your booster shot. This will provide additional protection against COVID, including the new Omicron variant.

While the evidence is still emerging, preliminary data suggests a Pfizer booster might give the same protection against Omicron as double-dose vaccination did for the original strain.

Why get a booster?

When you get your first dose of COVID vaccine, your body produces an immune response against a part of the virus called the spike protein. If you’re exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, your immune system can recognise and fight the virus quickly.

The immune response to a single dose of COVID vaccine is generally short-lived. So a second dose is needed to have a stronger and longer-lasting response.

Over time, the amount of antibodies in your body decreases – this is referred to as waning immunity.

If the immune response wanes below the level needed for protection against COVID – the “protective threshold” – your immune system may not be able to prevent infection when exposed to the virus.

Vaccine doses given some time after the initial course help boost the level of antibodies above the protective threshold.


The Conversation, CC BY-ND

How much does immunity wane after 2 doses?

Antibodies decrease over a period of six months or more after the second dose of COVID vaccine.

Vaccine effectiveness against COVID infection decreases, on average, by 18.5 percentage points, six months after completing vaccination.



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On a positive note, protection against serious COVID illness, including hospitalisation or death, does not seem to be reduced to the same extent, only by about 8 percentage points.

This is likely because other components of the immune response (T cells and immune memory cells) stay in the body for longer than antibodies and prevent serious illness.

Waning protection is more of a concern among elderly and immunocompromised people because they tend to have weaker immune responses to vaccines compared with young, healthy people.

How effective are booster doses?

Antibody levels after a booster dose are higher than those after the initial vaccination course.

Although protection against COVID infection from two doses was slightly lower against Delta than the original strain, a booster dose restores protection to the same level.

In Israel, people who received a booster dose (five or more months after completing vaccination) had infection rates ten times lower than in people who had only received the initial two-dose course.

From a safety perspective, the types and frequency of side effects after the booster dose have been similar to first and second doses.


The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Which vaccine should I get as my booster dose?

The two mRNA COVID vaccines available in Australia – Pfizer and Moderna – are so far approved for use as a booster dose.

A recent clinical trial showed several COVID vaccines, including all three currently available in Australia (Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca), and the Novavax and Janssen vaccines, produce strong immune responses after a course of either Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines.



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When will I need my COVID vaccine booster shot? And can I switch to a different brand?

Based on what we know so far about immune responses to COVID vaccines, any of these vaccines given as a booster should be effective in reducing your risk of infection, regardless of which vaccine you initially received.

The highest immune responses were seen with mRNA vaccines, but it’s too early to tell whether these provide better protection against COVID infections when used as a booster, or how quickly immune responses will wane compared with the other vaccines.

When is the best time to get my booster dose?

Booster doses are timed to boost your antibody levels before they get below the protective threshold. The difficulty with COVID is we don’t yet know what the protective immune threshold is.

So the timing also involves other factors such as how much disease is in the community and vaccine availability. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, have recommended getting a booster dose as soon as three months after the initial course.

The UK has much higher daily cases of COVID, and face the potential for increased Omicron cases in winter, when hospitals are often at capacity due to other common respiratory viruses including influenza. In that context, early boosters are like an insurance policy to prevent an overwhelming winter peak.

However, a shorter interval may mean the boost to the immune response is not as high or long lasting. A longer interval between the first and second dose of COVID vaccine is more effective.

Given the COVID virus is circulating at much lower rates in Australia than other countries and vaccine coverage is generally high, a booster dose six months after the initial course seems reasonable.

With this vaccination schedule, most adults in Australia will be eligible for their booster before winter 2022.

Will the booster protect me against Omicron?

We’re still learning how the new Omicron variant, with so many mutations, may change our existing immunity (from past infection or vaccination) to be less effective.

Early laboratory studies show two doses of the Pfizer vaccine provide some immunity against Omicron, but not as much as against previous strains. This means we’re likely to see more infections in fully vaccinated people.

However a booster dose appears to improve the immune response to a level similar to that observed against previous strains in fully vaccinated people, and is expected to provide good protection against serious illness.

As more data on the effectiveness of boosters emerges, and if Omicron cases increase rapidly, the recommended timing of booster doses may also change.



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While we wait for more data to confirm the vaccines provide good protection against hospitalisation and death, we can take some comfort knowing early data indicate this variant may even be less severe than previous ones.

In the future, booster doses may be adapted for emerging variants, much like influenza vaccines are modified each year depending on what new strains are circulating.

The benefits of new vaccine technologies like mRNA is the time required to manufacture new variant vaccines is only about 100 days. So if a vaccine-resistant variant does arise, we might not need to wait too long for an updated vaccine.

Cyra Patel is an employee at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS). NCIRS receives service contract funding from the Australian Government Departments of Health, NSW and other state government Departments of Health.

Robert Booy consults to all vaccination companies in Australia and works one day a week for Vaxxas. He has received funding from NHMRC and ARC in relation to vaccine research.

Jean Li-Kim-Moy does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Vaccinated or not, Novak Djokovic should be able to play at the Australian Open

Originally published on theconversation.com

Andy Brownbill/AP

Novak Djokovic told the media last week “you will know very soon” if he is going to play in the Australian Open in January, for a chance to win a tenth title. He is on the list of entrants to the tournament, but he has not yet clarified whether he will participate and under what conditions.

With the tournament set to begin in just over a month, speculation has been running wild regarding Djokovic’s vaccination status (he has declined to say publicly), as well as whether special medical exemptions could be provided to unvaccinated players to compete in Melbourne.

Tennis Australia has mandated all players must be vaccinated to play or provide a medical exemption. It has strongly denied any “loopholes” would be available to players seeking an exemption.

The Victorian Sports Minister Martin Pakula has reiterated the government’s top priority was the safety of the “Victorian community”.

Yet, Djokovic’s unclear vaccination status – and his preeminent position in the sport – has (again) raised questions about vaccine mandates.

Djovokic’s father, Srdjan Djokovic, has called the mandates a form of blackmail and suggested his son will not play under these conditions.

Djokovic himself claims to favour freedom of choice, but his reluctance to be clear with Tennis Australia and the public obscures what should be a simple issue. His vaccination status shouldn’t matter – he should still be able to play.

Special rules for elite athletes?

Throughout the COVID pandemic, Tennis Australia and other sporting organisations have led the way in organising large-scale events in a safe and responsible way without them becoming COVID super-spreaders.

We should trust the organisations to work closely with the Commonwealth and state governments to develop COVID protocols that will allow sports to continue and keep locals safe. These should be bespoke rather than general, and could include a range of strategies other than vaccine mandates, such as masking, quarantines, social distancing, and COVID bubbles.

If Djokovic is unvaccinated, his entry into Australia would seemingly be against Commonwealth policy. But the government already makes exceptions for elite athletes in many ways.

This might rankle with everyday people – a separate and seemingly less rigorous border policy for athletes – but athletes have always had different rules when it comes to overseas travel and work.



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Most countries have a special visa procedures for elite athletes, for instance. Before COVID, athletes coming to Australia also bypassed many ordinary border rules around importing equipment and goods and earning money without long-term working rights.

These special rules have continued during the pandemic. Freedom for athletes to travel has been a cornerstone principle for many sporting organisations, such as the International Olympic Committee. For example, the IOC is currently working with the Chinese government to allow travel for unvaccinated athletes for the 2022 Winter Olympics (with a 21-day quarantine), even though China’s borders have been closed to most other travellers.

Extensive research has been done by sporting organisations on how to host events like this safely.

A proven track record

In Australia, who needs to be reminded athletes have already enjoyed special rules that made their travel possible when everyone else was locked down?

In 2020, AFL and NRL players – and in some cases, their families – travelled widely into states with border lockdowns. Australian athletes have also been the beneficiaries of special hotel quarantine provisions, priority access to vaccinations, and forewarnings from government officials about border closures.



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Actors, business executives, and politicians have similarly had less onerous border and travel restrictions than ordinary Australians. These industries bring in valuable dollars, but they also serve important public functions, including providing entertainment and leadership.

Different rules might have set the stage for stadiums to become COVID super-spreaders, but sporting organisations have proven their critics wrong.

For example, even without vaccines, the 2021 Australian Open was kept safe through the use of restricted fan zones, mandatory masking, social distancing, frequent testing of players and staff, electronic line calling, and of course the much-maligned mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine on arrival.

The US Open did not mandate vaccines for players this year. Players were instead tested when they arrived in the US and then every four days, and they were ordered into isolation if they returned a positive result. (Fans, however, were required to be vaccinated.)

Recently, Football Australia successfully navigated a COVID scare when a Matilda tested positive after returning to Sydney for a friendly match against Brazil. The protocols put in place – including isolating the positive player immediately – prevented any further spread and the Matildas hosted two successful games.



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What is the cost?

Without special exemptions for athletes, our sporting organisations would take a major financial hit.

The NBA went ahead with its playoffs in 2020 with a COVID bubble (and without crowds), as did the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Cancelling both would have cost billions of dollars.

The NBA playoff bubble cost some US$190 million to organise, but the NBA recouped US$1.5 billion in revenue that would have been lost.
Ashley Landis/AP

To be sure, COVID bubbles cost money, but they are justified due to the long-term financial benefits these events can bring. For instance, Tennis Australia reported A$100 million in losses from June 2020 to September 2021 due to cost of hosting the 2021 Australian Open.

However, in the past decade, the Australian Open has contributed more than A$2.7 billion to the Victorian economy.

The 2022 Australian Open will be the first Grand Slam to require player vaccinations. Tournament director Craig Tiley’s position is understandable. Hemmed in by the need to protect his employees from the threat of infection, as well as his desire to work with the Victorian government, the Australian Open and Tennis Australia seem less receptive to risk than other sporting organisations.

However, the fact remains that COVID is already here. It is unlikely to be spread much further due to any sporting competition and we need to consider new ways of living with it, and each other, in the coming year.

Keith Rathbone does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Planning a Christmas get-together? 8 tips to avoid a super-spreader event

Originally published on theconversation.com

Shutterstock

Not many more sleeps until Christmas, and all those long lunches and get-togethers with family and friends.

If you’re hosting a gathering and want to avoid a super-spreader event, it’s worth having a discussion with your guests to set some rules to minimise the risk of COVID transmission.

For example, should you only ask vaccinated family members and friends to attend? Or require a negative rapid antigen test before arrival?

As an expert in infection control and prevention, I can offer some information to help you to decide.

How COVID spreads

Three ways SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) can spread are:

through respiratory droplets exhaled through breathing, talking, laughing, coughing and sneezing. These droplets tend to fall to the ground relatively quickly, due to their larger size, which can limit the distance they spread. Physical distancing of 1.5-2 metres reduces the risk of spread this way, as does wearing masks

through smaller respiratory aerosols that can hang in the air for longer periods and potentially travel longer distances. Masks and good ventilation are key strategies to avoid infection here

touching virus-contaminated surfaces and then touching your food or face. This isn’t as much of a risk as we first thought early in the pandemic but it’s still possible.

8 tips to reduce transmission risk

1. Hand hygiene

The easiest way to avoid transferring virus from your hands to your food or face is to ensure you wash or sanitise your hands regularly, particularly before touching food.

Ensure you provide ample hand sanitiser and hand soap for guests.

Avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose (the latter is harder than you might think given on average we touch our faces about 23 times per hour).

2. Respiratory etiquette

People can have respiratory symptoms for various non-COVID reasons, for example asthma and hay fever.

Let your guests know before arriving that you want them to practice respiratory etiquette.

This means coughing or sneezing into their elbow rather than their hand, or into a tissue, followed by sanitising hands afterwards.

3. Don’t show up if you have symptoms

Make clear you expect guests shouldn’t attend if experiencing signs and symptoms of COVID.

These include sore throat, cough, fever, and loss of sense of taste and smell.

Keep a record of who came to the event, in case contact tracing is required.

4. Gather outdoors

Weather and circumstances permitting, have your event outdoors. This greatly reduces the risk of transmission, as the breeze can disperse infectious particles.

Evidence suggests transmission is almost 19 times more likely indoors than outdoors.

Ultraviolet B in amounts found naturally in sunlight also rapidly inactivates the virus on surfaces, as it damages the viral genetic material making it harder for the virus to replicate.

Eating outdoors will reduce the risk of COVID transmission.
Shutterstock

5. Ventilation

If you must hold your event indoors, ensure the best possible ventilation by opening doors and windows.

Also consider portable air filters with HEPA filtration, which can remove infectious particles from the air. Some studies do show a benefit from HEPA filtration.

However, the effectiveness of machines on sale for home use varies. So do your research on the most effective devices.



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6. Consider high-risk people

You might want to consider separating people at high risk from infection from others in space or time.

For example, relatives and friends that are at high risk (the elderly and anyone on chemotherapy or treatments that suppress the immune system) might sit at a greater distance from everyone else who may be getting out and about more and might have an infection that isn’t yet symptomatic.

You might also choose to separate visitors by time. For example, you may have your elderly grandparents visit for lunch, and then have other friends and family for dinner.

7. Ask guests to be fully vaccinated

If your guests are fully vaccinated, it will be safer for everyone.

First, someone who is fully vaccinated is less likely to contract COVID because the vaccine can help their body produce neutralising antibodies. These are proteins that bind to the spike protein of the virus, stopping it from binding to the receptor on cells that allows the virus to enter the cell.

Even if you’re vaccinated and do get infected, data from New South Wales shows you’re much less likely to be hospitalised or die from it.

Fully vaccinated people are less likely to contract COVID, and less likely to pass it on.

Second, the vaccine triggers other responses from our immune system that help to reduce the overall viral load. So even if a vaccinated person gets infected, they’re likely to have lower amounts of virus in their nose, mouth and throat over the course of their illness and shed less virus for a shorter period of time.

That makes it less likely they’ll infect someone else.



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8. Use rapid antigen tests

You might also want to consider rapid antigen self-testing to reduce the risk for everyone.

You could ask all guests to take one, and receive a negative result, before coming to your event. These don’t guarantee there will be no infections, but do provide an added layer of protection.

Have a happy (and infection-free) festive season!



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Taking your first rapid antigen test? 7 tips for an accurate result

Thea van de Mortel teaches into the Graduate Infection Prevention and Control program at Griffith University.

Content from confrontation: how the attention economy helps stoke aggression towards retail workers

Originally published on theconversation.com

Shutterstock

A Melbourne bookshop worker shoved down an escalator. Another scalded by a cup of hot coffee thrown at them. A trolley thrown at yet another.

These are three of the more shocking incidents in what Australian retailers and unions say is an epidemic of abuse and aggression directed towards retail staff.

The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association says 59% of frontline retail workers have experienced some form of abuse in 2021. The Australian Retailers Association says thousands of incidents reported to it include “many acts of significant violence”.

We shouldn’t assume this is all down to people angry about rules to do with masks, QR codes and vaccination checks. Abuse of retail staff has been a problem for years.

But there have been enough incidents to show resistance to pandemic rules is a big part of it, with the retailers’ association saying aggression has been particularly bad in Victoria, where the government has threatened to exclude the unvaccinated from non-essential shops and other venues till 2023.

But why get angry with low-paid retail workers? They’re not responsible for rules in their stores, much less in their state.

The reasons are likely complex, but two interlocking contributors seem clear.

Angry and even violent rhetoric has been normalised in the echo chambers of online platforms. So too have confrontations with shop staff by “digital soldiers” looking to publicise their cause, and themselves, on social media channels.

For most the rhetoric doesn’t move beyond bluster. But for some it inspires real-world aggression, with retail workers too often copping the brunt of it.



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Seeking attention

Remember “Bunnings Karen”? She was the woman who in July 2020 went viral globally after she filmed herself confronting staff over wearing a mask as a condition of entry.

She threatened to have them “sued personally for discriminating against me as a woman”.

“You’re discriminating against me”: a video filmed and uploaded to the internet by the woman widely dubbed ‘Bunnings Karen’.

There have been hundreds of thousands of views of various versions of that video. Although much of the “mainstream” commentary ridiculed her, within anti-lockdown and conspiracy-minded chat groups there was also admiration for her courage – and perhaps even more admiration for how much the attention she gained. There have been plenty of emulators since.



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“Look at me! Look at me!”

The idea of the “attention economy” was first formulated by US economist and computer scientist Herbert Simon in a 1971 paper discussing the downsides of an information-rich world.

A wealth of information, Simon said, meant a scarcity of what information consumes – the attention of its recipients:

Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

That is, time is finite, and when you give your attention to one thing you can’t give it to something else.

While this economic lens is by no means a complete explanation for what drives social media, it is useful for understanding core “selling points” of the very American-sounding “freedom movement”.

If you watch mainstream television and movies, you have less time for social media. So social media activists/influencers have a vested interest in telling you the mainsteam media is lying to you, and telling you you’re special, because you’re “awake”.

Why Karens (and Darrens) get the attention

But how to keep your attention? A lesson easily learned from commercial media is that people are drawn to watch conflict and drama – especially where they aren’t a participant. This is the reason we rubberneck at car accidents, where the drama is obvious.

Drama plus conflict is even more riveting. One way to do this on social media is to stoke an “us against them” mentality, joining an existing battle.

The narrative of a heroic “out group” fighting for freedom against an evil oppresser is a shorthand most of us understand immediately.

In fact, research published in June by University of Cambridge psychologist Steve Rathje and colleagues found

out-group language is the strongest predictor of social media engagement across all relevant predictors measured, suggesting that social media may be creating perverse incentives for content expressing out-group animosity.

Doing their Kardashian

In a sense the social media influencers who are the default leaders of this vaccination “resistance movement” are simply keeping up with Kim Kardashian.

A popular meme among those opposed to masks, lockdowns, vaccine mandates and government generally.
CC BY

Like the Kardashians, they have found a way to make content and attract attention by creating theatre out of their everyday existence. In the case of a minority of anti-vaccination protesters, this includes going to the shops to record a confrontation with staff.

Combined with rhetoric about the majority of people being compliant “sheep” complicit in ushering in tyranny by following the rules, it’s a potent mix.

This anger with their fellow citizens never gets beyond talk for most. But it still normalises the idea that it’s acceptable, indeed heroic, to take online invective into the real world.



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So what to do about it?

That’s a hard question. We may need specific penalties to deter those who exploit and endanger others for the purpose of attracting online attention.

The one piece of advice I can give you is that you can’t fight ire with ire. Take a cue from the staff who dealt with Bunnings Karen. Be firm, but remain calm and reasonable. De-escalate as much as possible.

Particularly if your harasser is brandishing a mobile phone. The last thing you want to do is help them create content.

Nathalie Collins does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Ever wondered who would win in a fight between a dingo and a wolf? An expert explains

Originally published on theconversation.com

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

This article is part of the “Who would win?” series, where wildlife experts dream up hypothetical battles between predators (all in the name of science).

Imagine two of the world’s most iconic canids – a dingo and a wolf – head to head in a fight. Who would win?

Before we examine the combatants in more detail, we need to answer an important question first, which wolf and which dingo? Taxonomy – the way we describe, name and classify Earth’s biodiversity – remains contentious for both animals.

Dingoes are recognised as a species in their own right by some, but not others. And, dingoes are quite different in their size and appearance, depending on whether they live in Australia’s alpine and forested areas, deserts, or tropical regions.

As for wolves, there are North American (“Grey”), Mexican, Eurasian, Himalayan, Asiatic, Indian and Tibetan, Red, African golden, Ethiopian and even “ghost wolves” – yes, ghost wolves! Ghost wolves are species we can recognise from the past using genetic information, but they no longer survive and no fossils are known to exist.

And then there are “wolves” that aren’t wolves at all: the fox-like maned wolf in South America, and the gargantuan, now-extinct dire wolf.

The maned wolf is a canine from South America, but is neither a wolf nor a fox.
Shutterstock

For the purposes of this battle, let’s assume it’s between a grey wolf and an alpine dingo.

Why do dogs, dingoes and wolves fight?

For wild canids, fights occur for many reasons, within and between species when they overlap. Wolves and dingoes fight for mates, to attain dominance within packs, and to establish and maintain their territories.

So, let’s get to know each opponent a little better.

Dingoes and wolves are both social and intelligent species, capable of complex behaviours and problem solving.

Grey wolves are what we call hyper-carnivores, feeding predominantly on other animals, in many cases large prey such as deer, elk, moose and bison.

Dingoes are omnivores with a broad, varied diet. They eat everything from fruits, to invertebrates, to small and large vertebrates – think lizards, birds, wombats, wallabies, possums, kangaroos, and feral animals like goats and deer. Dingoes will also scavenge food and carcasses.



Read more:
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Prior to European invasion, dingoes likely occupied all of mainland Australia.

Aside from humans, it’s thought the grey wolf was once the world’s most widespread mammal, where it, and its subspecies, occurred across much of Europe, Asia, and North and Central America. But, like with dingoes, humans have caused substantial population and range decline of wolves.

The battle: terrain is crucial

The terrain of the arena for our combatants would be crucial. Dingoes and wolves are capable of moving at great speeds, sustained for long periods of time, especially in open country. Both can reach top speeds in the range of 50-60 kilometres per hour!

Aside from humans, the grey wolf may once have been the world’s most widespread mammal.
Milo Weiler/Unsplash, CC BY

However, dingoes arguably have the advantage in tight spots, in terms of their much smaller size, greater agility and flexibility, and climbing abilities. Dingoes typically weigh between 15 and 20 kilograms, while grey wolves are usually in the range of 30-65kg, and up to around 80kg for some males.

Dingoes have been recorded vertically jumping 2 metres and climbing fences, making them quite cat-like in many respects. So, if the battle occurs among many obstacles and on steep terrain, this will give dingoes an edge.

Dingoes are perfectly adapted to Australia’s conditions.
Shutterstock

But if the fight is in the open, the much heavier, taller, and longer wolves will be too much for dingoes. They also pack a heavier bite quotient (bite force relative to body mass) of 136 as compared to the dingo’s 108.

Having said that, wolves are much taller than dingoes, around 65-80 centimetres and 45-60cm at their shoulders, respectively. So it’s possible a wily dingo could dash under the legs of a tall wolf and launch an attack on the vulnerable underbelly.

What about pack vs pack?

The final factor to consider is whether the fight is simply one dingo vs one wolf. Both can occur as individuals or in packs.

Grey wolves can be in packs with 20 or more individuals.
Eva Blue/Unsplash, CC BY

Dingoes are typically found alone, in pairs or in small packs of a few individuals, but occasionally can be found in much larger, less socially cohesive groups of ten or more when food resources are plentiful.

Wolves, on the other hand, are often found in groups of between five and ten, but much larger packs of 20 or more can also occur.

I spoke to Lyn Watson, who runs the Dingo Discovery and Research Centre. She says dingoes are “flight, rather than fight, canids”. This is wise behaviour, as dingoes are small in number and size and can’t rely on a large pack, like wolves sometimes can, to substitute them should they become injured in a fight.

She goes on to say that from her 30 years of observations, female dingoes are particularly deadly.

While dingoes are small, bonded pairs will fight in a coordinated way. Males fight in traditional neck and throat grabs, or “elbow”, but their bonded other has a completely different mode – and it’s deadly.

The female will stay at the periphery then dart into the soft parts of the combatant that is threatening her mate. She aims to maim – and does so, targeting the most “sensitive” of areas, enough said!

So if it’s pack vs pack, wolves will be far too strong. But if a single wolf was unlucky enough to come across a pack of dingoes, the tide could turn strongly in favour of dingoes.

Female dingoes aim to maim when they fight.
Angus Emmott

Learning to live together

Even though wolves and dingoes fight in the wild, despite common perceptions, they generally pose a very small risk to people, especially if we adhere to advice such as not feeding them.

Domestic and feral dogs pose a far greater risk to us. It’s estimated that around the world, dogs bite and injure tens of millions of people annually. In the US alone, it’s thought around 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year.

Of course, in reality wolves and dingoes will never fight each other in the wild. The greatest threat they both face is the ongoing destruction of their habitats and widespread direct persecution from humans (trapping, poisoning, shooting, and exclusion from areas), often aimed at protecting livestock.

Like other apex predators, dingoes and wolves have critical roles in our ecosystems and, in many cases, have deep cultural significance for Indigenous people. We must find more ethical and sustainable ways to share our world.



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Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, Australian Government Bushfire Recovery program, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, WWF, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.

Meet Katsura Niyō: the young female rising star in the traditionally male Japanese art form, rakugo

Originally published on theconversation.com

Rakugo is among Japan’s more humble performing arts: a solo performer, dressed in traditional kimono, sits on a plush cushion and narrates stories lasting twenty or thirty minutes, assuming the roles of every character. A simple folding fan and handkerchief stand in for anything from a writing brush to a roasted sweet potato.

While rakugo has been described as “sit-down comedy”, it’s far from an Eastern analogue of what we know as stand-up comedy. It is an orally transmitted art with a much longer history. With two distinct traditions based in Osaka and Tokyo, rakugo as we know it dates back about 150 years, but precursors go back centuries.

Today more artists than ever (around 850) call rakugo their occupation. Respected as knowledgeable conveyors of history and cultural heritage, many are also on radio and TV. But it has always been a traditionally male art form. The first woman, Tsuyu no Miyako, joined the profession in 1974, and still today women make up only 7% of rakugo artists.



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A young apprentice

Women began to gain a quiet presence in the art form in the 1980s.

In the 2000s, there was a surge in new rakugo performers, notably women. This was partly thanks to books, movies and TV shows spotlighting rakugo, some, such as Life’s Like a Comedy and Rakugo musume featuring women undertaking arduous apprenticeships to a happy end.

These no doubt enticed some of the young adults weighing their options as Japan’s “lost decades” – or decades of economic stagnation – idled on.

When she was in her early 20s, Nishii Fumi saw a famous rakugo artist on TV and went to see him in a live show. She knew nothing of rakugo at the time, but kept going to shows until she determined she wanted to be the one making audiences laugh.

After veteran rakugo artist Katsura Yoneji agreed to take on Fumi as an apprentice at 24 in 2011, he followed convention by giving her a stage name: Katsura Niyō. For her, rakugo seemed like the perfect job: it would allow her to play the clown full-time.

“I was always a joker when I was small and aspired to bring that into my adult life”, she told me this weekend.

But Niyō understood women behaving improperly isn’t something that Japanese society looks highly upon: “Men act like fools all the time, and get applauded for it, but not women”.

She viewed rakugo as a road to freedom, to be herself. Yet, though a handful of women had been on stage for decades prior to her beginning, she wasn’t blind to the fact women were rarely viewed as true artists.



Read more:
Japan’s gender-bending history

A man’s domain

Niyō asked to work with Yoneji because she wanted to do “real rakugo”. The art form’s first professional woman, Miyako, had formed a growing school of female pupils, but Niyō didn’t want to be identified as a woman storyteller. She wanted to be seen as a rakugo artist, full stop.

She faced numerous hardships during her training. Everyone training in rakugo must memorise long stories, but Niyō also faced the perceived “awkwardness” of a woman playing in a man’s domain. Some were awfully explicit with their view that women have no place in rakugo, but Niyō refused to give up.

Rakugo artists establish authenticity and advance their careers in various ways, including winning televised contests and receiving honours from local and national government.

Early on, Niyō began entering contests to challenge herself and assert her legitimacy. Last year she was a finalist at the influential NHK Newcomer Rakugo Awards, and this year, with the traditional story Long-Nosed Goblin Hunting (Tengu sashi), she took the Grand Prize over 106 other professionals from Osaka and Tokyo.

She is the first woman to win the award in its 50 year history.

The new face of rakugo

Niyō is now upheld by NHK as the “new hope for the rakugo world”.

Her perfect score at the contest seen as nothing short of monumental, drawing even The New York Times to interview her over several days, to Niyō’s surprise (and honour). The Hanjōtei, Osaka’s premier rakugo hall, will honour her with a full week of shows from January 31.

Niyō’s success is noteworthy for other reasons. Unlike some women who came before her (whom she thanks for opening doors), she insists on performing rakugo without modifying repertoire pieces or changing male characters to female. “It made me pretty happy that I could win top prize doing that” she told me.

Niyō has been told time and again women don’t have what it takes to perform traditional rakugo, but this only convicted her further. Having received such an esteemed prize, there’s no question she has changed some narrow minds.

Off stage she’s relishing the fact she could do something to face down gender bias. And to her detractors, she has one thing to say: “Did you see what I just did? Eat that!”

M.W. Shores does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Our research shows public support for a First Nations Voice is not only high, it’s deeply entrenched

Originally published on theconversation.com

Much has been written about why Indigenous recognition is important. Such recognition would be a legal change to address the dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their lands and rights, and the widescale damage to Indigenous lives and culture.

At the top of the recognition agenda is a national First Nations Voice to Parliament. This would be an advisory body made up of Indigenous Australians that would interact with parliament and review bills affecting Indigenous people.

Currently, the reform enjoys support from both the federal government and opposition, though exactly how to achieve this reform remains a point of contention.

If the Voice goes ahead, one big question is whether the change should be made via the Constitution – and the level of public support for such a change.

Our research suggests support for legal reform on Indigenous issues is not only high, it’s also durable. Public attitudes have shifted to such an extent in the last 40 years, there is little reason to think a constitutionally enshrined Voice wouldn’t pass a referendum if it was held today.



Read more:
Why delaying legislation on a Voice to parliament is welcome — it allows more time to get things right

Governments believe public support for change is weak

The views of both the Turnbull and Morrison governments have been that the Voice to Parliament needn’t be enshrined in the Constitution.

However, this view goes against the advice of experts, who strongly favour enshrinement to give the Voice stability – especially to prevent its disbandment, as happened with past Indigenous governing bodies. The Voice may also need constitutional status to have a genuine impact on law-making.

It’s never easy to change the Constitution. It requires a referendum, with 50% of voters and 50% of the states voting “yes”. Of the 44 referendums since 1901, only eight have been successful.

Recent governments have argued public support for constitutional enshrinement is too weak to lead to success in a referendum.

But here’s what the polling says

The government’s pessimism here is belied by recent polls suggesting very high support for Indigenous recognition.

In the Australian Election Study surveys conducted by the Australian National University, around three-quarters of voters were prepared to support a change to the Constitution to recognise Indigenous Australians in both 2016 and 2019.

However, recent polls tell just part of the story. Our study of several decades of Australian Election Study polling shows not just transient support for Indigenous recognition, but something potentially deeper.

There has been a gradual firming up of positive attitudes towards legal reform for Indigenous people overall. Because of this, support for a constitutional change is unlikely to collapse in the course of a referendum campaign.

In surveys over 40 years, the results tell a remarkably consistent story. Though it would have been unthinkable in the 1980s, the clear trend since then is towards more favourable attitudes on Indigenous issues.

In the early period of the surveys in the 1980s, only one in five voters thought support for Indigenous Australians – whether it was land rights or assistance from government – had “not gone far enough” (see graph below).

In 1987, voters who thought that land rights had “gone too far” outnumbered those who thought they had “not gone far enough” by almost five to one.

By 2019, however, those believing support for First Nations people had “gone too far” and those believing it had “not gone far enough” were almost equal. This shows a considerable decline in voter hostility towards Indigenous affairs.

Notably, the consistent upward trend is also “secular”, meaning it is unrelated to whichever party is in government and the policies they promote. The long-term change in public opinion seems to rest instead with long-term social and economic changes and a gradual liberalising of attitudes in the country.



Read more:
Most Australians support First Nations Voice to parliament: survey

Why have attitudes changed?

Since the 1960s, attitudes towards a wide range of social issues have become more liberal in almost all established democracies. Numerous studies show dramatic changes on issues associated with equality, such as women’s rights, same-sex marriage and abortion.

The causes of these long-term changes in attitudes are often traced to shifting value systems creating a more tolerant and egalitarian society. Underlying this fundamental shift are unprecedented increases in economic prosperity, physical security and educational opportunities.

We assessed several factors in our study. One possibility is younger generations are more likely to vote “yes” to constitutional reform than older generations. Older generations tend to prioritise physical security and economic well-being as opposed to equality and personal fulfilment.



Read more:
Indigenous recognition is more than a Voice to Government – it’s a matter of political equality

Our data show, however, that factors such as age were not necessarily significant. There were other explanations for the shift in people’s attitudes that were stronger.

Especially significant was whether a person has pursued higher education – a category that, since the 1960s, includes many more Australians than before. Australia has been a world leader in the expansion of higher education. In 2018, just over half of 25- to 34-year-olds had a tertiary education.

A greater proportion of people are now better educated, meaning they have received training in the cognitive skills needed to evaluate complex political issues and come to a more considered personal view on Indigenous issues.

Lessons for referendum design

Importantly, education does not take place in schools alone. Some referendum processes do more than others to inform voters through things like online tutorials, televised (including reality-style) programs and “voting advice applications” (like smartvote). This may counter some of the lack of knowledge among voters.

Citizens’ assemblies are another possible tool. These involve recruiting randomly selected citizens as decision-makers and thoroughly informing them on the issues so they can take the lead in writing referendum ballots and information materials.

Our results suggest cautious optimism should replace cynicism about the prospects of constitutional recognition. Unprecedented rises in educational attainment may have brought Australian voters at least part way towards a more nuanced and open-minded understanding of Indigenous affairs.

Referendum education programs in the lead-up to the vote itself may take Australians even farther along this path.

Ron Levy has received funding from the Australian Research Council.

Ian McAllister receives funding from the Australian Research Council

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Adam Bandt on hopes for a dozen Greens senators and a ‘power-sharing’ parliament.

Originally published on theconversation.com

Greens leader Adam Bandt is hopeful his party could have 12 senators in the next parliament.

Only three of the party’s nine senators are up for re-election (in Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania). So, assuming they hold their seats, with possible wins in South Australia, Queensland and NSW there is the opportunity to bring the total to a dozen, he says.

Bandt says that in 2019, 10% of Australians voted for the Greens and “that is a very strong show of support and one that I hope will grow and that will help put us in a strong position after the next election.”

Given there’s currently a lot of speculation about the possibility of a hung parliament, Bandt says the Greens have “got a real chance of being in balance of power in both houses of parliament.”

With the government talking up a scare about a Labor-Green alliance in government – which Labor says it would not enter – Bandt says if there was a “power sharing” parliament the Greens would seek to work with Labor. But “we would approach that situation with strong principles, but an open mind as to how best to ensure that we have a stable, effective and progressive government to replace the current terrible Morrison government”.

“There will be principles that we have and policies that we want to see enacted. We want to tax the billionaires, get dental and mental health care into Medicare and act on coal and gas. They will be the priorities for us.”

“I think people want to see politicians and parties work together, especially on something so important as the climate. We in the Greens are willing to do that.”

On this core issue for their party, the Greens are firm that “we need to do what the science requires, and it is clear now that after Glasgow, where the world reaffirmed the commitment to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees, there’s no room for coal, oil and gas in that future.

The Greens want Australia’s coal-fired power stations and coal exports phased out by 2030.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art shows how our local differences demand curiosity and care

Originally published on theconversation.com
Yuma Taru
The spiral of life – the tongue of the cloth
(yan pal ana hmali) – a mutual dialogue 2021
Ramie suspended from metal threads / 500 x 250cm (diam.); installed dimensions variable / Commissioned for APT10
Courtesy: The artist and Taiwan Indigenous Peoples Cultural Development Centre

Review: Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art

The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art has earned its rightful place in Australia’s cultural calendar for the ambitious scope of its artistic programming, highlighting the diversity and range of artistic practices across the Asia Pacific region. This 10th triennial, ATP10, features 150 artists and collectives from 30 countries.

The curatorial gambit characterising the triennial since its inception in 1993 has always been highly complex: how to give representation to the region’s complexity, without homogenising or flattening cultural differences?

To answer this question, I would point to two interconnected concerns or themes that distinguish APT10: an emphasis on First Nations’ perspectives and a gentle excavation of underexamined or invisible histories.

Cross-cultural conversations

The extraordinary Yolngu/Macassan Project draws attention to the richness of the cultural, social, and spiritual connections between the Macassan sailors from southern Sulawesi in Indonesia and the Yolngu people of north-eastern Arnhem Land.

For hundreds of years, this pre-colonial relationship was based on the Macassan trading tamarind in exchange for sea cucumbers (trepang), until the practice was banned in the early 1900s. The project includes a Yolngu-crafted Macassan sail, bark paintings and pottery shards and underscores the enduring influence of the Macassan’s visits on the Yolngu people.

Nawurapu Wunungmurra, Dhalwangu/Narrkala people Australia 1952–2018. Macassan pot 2016. Ceramic with earth pigments and polyvinyl acetate 40 x 43cm.
Courtesy: Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, Yirrkala

Co-curated by Abdi Karya and Diane Moon, the richness of the Yolngu/Macassan Project accentuates the crucial educational role played by APT10: by investing in research and collaboration, meaningful cross-cultural conversations are reignited and brought to the attention of broader audiences.

Another important curatorial collaboration is Between Earth and Sky: Indigenous Art from Taiwan. Co-curated by Paiwan artist Etan Pavavalung and Makatao curator Manray Hsu, eight Indigenous artists from Taiwan work across mediums to retrieve cultural techniques and criticise the corrosive effects of colonisation.

Between Earth and Sky: Indigenous Contemporary Art from Taiwan (APT10 installation view). 4 Dec 21 – 25 April 22.
Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane

For over two decades, Yuma Taru has driven the revival of Atayal weaving and dyeing. Seeking guidance from her grandmother and Tribal Elders, Taru established a collective of local women dedicated to preserving traditional weaving practices and techniques.

The spiral of life – the tongue of the cloth (yan pala na hmali) – a mutual dialogue (2021) is a textile-based installation hung from the ceiling and gives visible representation to the Atayal oral language.

According to the Atayal Elders, words must be akin to the cloth’s softness, so thoughts can be conveyed without injury or damage to the listener.

Ideas of scale

Themes of migration and displacement are taken up by Suva-born, Melbourne raised Salote Tawale. Tawale has exploited the scale of GOMA’s dramatic central gallery space by installing a large bamboo raft No location (2021).

Salote Tawale, Fiji | Australia b.1976. No Location 2021. Composite digital image.
Image courtesy of the artist

The raft was inspired by a traditional Fijian watercraft, bilibili, Tawale remembers seeing in the Fiji Museum in Suva as a child. The vessel becomes a metaphor for moving between cultures and the threat of sea-level rise activated by climate change.

Alia Farid, Kuwait b.1985. In Lieu of What Was (details) 2019. Fibre-reinforced polymer. Five pieces: 297 x 100 x 100cm; 280 x 260 x 260cm; 240 x 130 x 130cm; 255 x 123 x 123cm; 240 x 160 x 160cm.
Courtesy: The artist and Portikus, Frankfurt. Photograph: Diana Pfammatter © Alia Farid.

Sitting adjacent is Kuwaiti-Puerto Rican artist Alia Farid’s large-scale installation In Lieu of What Was (2019). Kuwait’s water consumption is amongst the highest in the world, however, it has no rivers and so Kuwait relies on desalination plants and the importation of water.

Farid’s sand-coloured sculptures stand desolately in the gallery space. It is as if they have been excavated from the future as archival “relics” from when the Gulf region still had access to water.

The impressiveness of scale is also at play in Balinese artist I Made Djirna’s installation Kita (2021). Like strings of enormous beads, hundreds of pumice stones hang from the ceiling, evoking an immersive jungle-like experience.

With its textured and layered cascading pumice stones (traces of the island’s volcanic activity), coconut husks and terracotta masks, the spectator’s attention is focused on the installation’s physical and material presence.

I Made Djirna, Indonesia b.1957. Kita 2021 (work in development, artist studio, Kedewatan, Bali) Strings of pumice stone, carved stone and coconut shells. Site-specific installation. Commissioned for APT10.
Courtesy: The artist

Curiosity and care

Cambodian artist Svay Sareth spent his childhood in a refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodia border during the devastating war-ravaged years of the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-79). Sareth has taken up durational performance as a metaphor for Cambodia’s traumatic and violent history.

In the video work Mon Boulet (2011), Sareth wheeled an enormous 80-kilogram metal ball for approximately 250 kilometres. He had no provisions, prompting chance encounters and interactions for obtaining food, water, and shelter with many people over the course of his six-day journey.

An adjacent cinema series Under the Radar highlights film making from across Asia and the Pacific. Combined with a comprehensive children’s program, APT10 promises to provide a range of experiences drawn from both within and around the region over the summer months ahead.

While the global pandemic grinds on in the background, APT10 feels fresh, forward looking and optimistic. After almost two years of closed and restricted borders, the exhibition delivers a poignant reminder: we are all globally interdependent, however, our local differences demand both our curiosity and care.

APT10 is showing at QAGOMA until April 25 2022.

Chari Larsson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Nature is hiding in every nook of Australia’s cities – just look a little closer and you’ll find it

Originally published on theconversation.com

Shutterstock

Thanks to technological advances, citizen science has experienced unprecedented global growth over the past decade. It’s enabled millions of people to get involved in science, whether by gathering data, sharing health information or helping to map galaxies.

And just because you live in a city, it doesn’t mean you can’t observe, learn about and contribute to scientific understanding of the natural world. Sometimes, it just means looking a little closer.

However, our recent study revealed in Australia, the number and diversity of urban ecology citizen science projects is relatively low.

This is despite cities being important places of conservation and discovery. There’s enormous value in citizen science projects that encourage urbanites to learn about what is often, quite literally, on their doorsteps.

Urban citizen scientists are a valuable, untapped resource in Australia.
Shutterstock

Cities are important for conservation

Recent COVID-19 restrictions mean many of us became more intimately connected to the environment around us. But there is still an overriding perception of urban areas as wastelands devoid of rich and diverse species.

It’s true that for many centuries, vegetation in urban areas has been removed to make way for buildings, roads and other human structures. In many cases, this had led to a more homogeneous composition of species and, in Australia’s case, a seeming predominance of introduced plant and animal species.

However, recent literature has shown cities remain vital habitats for many native species. This includes threatened species such as the fringed spider orchid, found only in Greater Melbourne.

Recent research found 39 nationally threatened species live only in Australian cities and towns, including the western swamp tortoise in Perth and the angle-stemmed myrtle in Brisbane.

It’s important to preserve native vegetation remnants in towns and cities, as well as traditional urban green spaces like parks, cemeteries and backyards.

But it’s just as important to understand which species call these areas home and why. That’s where citizen science can play a big role.



Read more:
Where the wild things are: how nature might respond as coronavirus keeps humans indoors

The angle-stemmed myrtle is found only in Brisbane.
Logan City Council

What we found

We set out to examine the extent to which urban ecology projects in Australia harnessed the resources of citizen scientists. We did this by analysing the projects listed in the Citizen Science Project Finder, hosted by the Atlas of Living Australia.

Of 458 active citizen science projects, only 19 (or 5.3%) were focused on urban environments. Given the number of urban residents in Australia, this constitutes a significant under-representation of projects tailored for these people.

Most of the 19 projects focused on four major cities – Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide – while other major cities were notably omitted.

Eight projects focused on broad census approaches – essentially ad hoc observations focused on birds or all flora and fauna in a region.
Documenting the presence of various species in urban areas is important. But there’s potential for citizen scientists to help answer more targeted research questions.

For example, grey-headed flying foxes have been documented re-colonising habitat in Melbourne they were once absent from. As cities continue to grow, knowing which species can persist and which have been pushed out is incredibly valuable – and citizen scientists can help in this task.

Also, many of the 19 projects did not provide an easy way to participate, such as easy links to platforms to record and upload data. We were also unable to find scientific papers where results from any of the 19 projects had been published.

Publications would further strengthen the validity of a citizen science approach in urban environments and add another way to measure success.



Read more:
Our turtle program shows citizen science isn’t just great for data, it makes science feel personal

Grey-headed flying foxes have recolonised parts of Melbourne.
Shutterstock

Citizens are good for science

More than 70% of Australians live in a major city. This offers a large pool of potential participants in citizen science projects.

And cities are home to people from a variety of cultures, backgrounds, ages and mobilities. There is increasing acknowledgement that science is enhanced by increasing the diversity of people involved. So a greater number of urban citizen science projects would be good for science.

What’s more, urban projects can provide data from places not typically accessible to professional scientists such as backyards and school grounds. They also allow for the collection of observation-rich and continuous data, which is rare even in professional settings.

And of course, citizen science projects benefit the participants themselves – encouraging people to get outdoors, get active and connect more deeply with nature.



Read more:
From counting birds to speaking out: how citizen science leads us to ask crucial questions

Citizen science can provide data from places professional researchers can’t always access, such as schools.
Australian Museum

A tool for measuring change

Increasing citizen science in cities could help to shift an overriding narrative that cities are not important places for biodiversity. This may in turn afford greater concentrated effort towards conserving remaining urban green spaces.

Citizen science could help answer key ecological questions about urban environments. For example, research last year showed how citizen scientists helped document species seeking refuge in urban areas following Australia’s horrific 2019-20 bushfires. Expanding such an approach could lead to a better understanding of how cities function as biodiversity refuges.

And a greater focus on citizen science in cities would also enable residents to engage in their surroundings, share their knowledge and help inform the management of the environment around them.

Erin Roger is a Projects Manager for the Atlas of Living Australia based in CSIRO Sydney. Erin is also the former Chair of the Australian Citizen Science Association

Alice Motion is an Associate Professor at the School of Chemistry at the University of Sydney. She receives funding from a Westpac Research Fellowship and a NSW Education Grant. She is Deputy Director (Outreach and Training) for the Sydney Nano Institute, Co-Chair of the Charles Perkins Centre Citizen Science Node and a member of the Australian Citizen Science Association Management Committee in her role as host representative.