Community highlights

The Conversation receives a lot of comments each day and you can’t read everything. That’s why we occasionally end the week with a selection of community highlights: comments we enjoyed or thought discussing.

Eddie McGuire, Caroline Wilson and when ‘playful banter’ goes very, very wrong

Kate Seear is a co-host of the podcast that kick-started the wider discussion about Eddie McGuire’s comments towards Caroline Wilson. Her article expanded upon her thoughts and looked at the questions this event raised about football culture.

First, what might this “casual sexism” and “blokey banter” tell us about the culture of AFL football specifically, and society more broadly? Wilson has herself suggested that it’s a rebuke for being a strong, opinionated and tough woman who routinely holds the big boys of AFL to account.

The impact on Wilson is clear – she is hurt and offended. But on radio talkback and social media around the country she is already being criticised for lacking a sense of humour and for “bringing it on herself”. This is language that bears dangerous and uncomfortable parallels with victim-blaming language so often used in the context of rape.

Language matters. As Our Watch points out, there are important links between the use of disrespectful language towards women, the language of violence, and the occurrence of violence.When prominent men with a major media platform use disrespectful language towards women, it risks reinforcing the notion that women are inferior to men.

Vanessa Hamilton asked about Tony Shaw making similar comments as Eddie in Caroline Wilson’s presence. She wondered if they were that different to Eddie’s.

Vanessa Hamilton:

Hi Kate, Thank you for the article, I had much interest from parents when I recommended they watch this video from the White Ribbon Website that explains that people like Eddie need leadership training.

Kate could you please comment on the incident where Tony Shaw - a friend and colleague of Caroline’s made the same comments… along the lines of I will hold your head under… on 3AW in her presence, directed to her in light hearted banter about the incident. I’m torn because really - that constitutes casual comments about violence in a joking manner and Caroline has dismissed it? He was extremely remorseful but did he do the same thing as the others? I can clearly see the difference of the circumstances and context such as tone and her being present in the room? But the same words were still spoken on radio and she laughed. I’ve had some members of the community say to me - same same??

Kate Seear:

Hi Vanessa,

Thanks for your interest in the article and great question.

I’m with you. I agree that those comments were really unhelpful and that there were many uncomfortable similarities with Triple M’s broadcast. As you know, Caroline Wilson spoke about this yesterday (including on Footy Classified last night) and was far less concerned with it.

I think it’s very important that we respect her own views and experiences in this instance and her particular take on it. She doesn’t feel hurt and feels the context is different. I want to acknowledge her views (as they should be paramount in my view).

That said, I didn’t feel particularly comfortable with them and would obviously like to see an improvement in the general/overall tone of sports commentary in this country. I was really impressed by what Tony Shaw had to say yesterday: itw as raw, real and sincere, and suggested that he was grappling with the complexity of the language he’d used and the possibility that although he hadn’t intended harm, words could have harmful or damaging implications. So I loved that.

I also think we need to go back to the wider context to understand why Wilson seems more aggrieved by Triple M’s broadcast than the 3AW one of which she was a part. I gather that she feels offended by this in part because of her history with McGuire and the fact that he has previously called her a perfume scorpion (and then a “black widow” - in the full Triple M audio - if you have not heard it). She said last night that she feels the critiques are about her as a journalist and that she simply wants to be able to perform her job without fear or favour, and without the criticisms she’s received that are so clearly gendered. That seems to be a part of the wider context that shapes how she understands things.

I hope that answers your question. Like I said: it’s a complex one.

Thanks again for being a part of the conversation today.


Thank you to everyone who participated in the discussion in a constructive, respectful way.

Health Check: what is the common cold and how do we get it

Peter Collignon’s article explained the common cold and, in doing so, dispelled a common myth:

It was, and is still thought by many, that exposure to cold temperatures, especially in winter caused the common cold. By itself this does not appear to be true. The common cold is caused by viruses. One needs to catch one of these viruses to get a cold – just exposure to low temperatures won’t do it.

Zeke Tinley was curious about that and had some follow-up questions, to which Ian Mackay, an academic at The University of Queensland, had answers.

Zeke Tinley:

I enjoyed this article and have a question. You say that the ‘cold’ is not a result of low temperatures. What is it when you get a runny nose and start to sneeze when you are cold then? When this happens to me I seem to wake up the next day with a sore throat and am sick for a few days with the symptoms of a ‘cold’. Is this something different all together? Or is it that I already have a virus in my system and the temperature somehow magnifies its’ effects on me.

Ian Mackay:

The runny nose is a sign that you already had an active infection in this case. A lot of colds do happen in the cooler months. A major cause of colds and asthma attacks are 150 or so ‘human rhinoviruses’ which are very active in spring and autumn.

There are over 200 distinct viruses that can cause colds. Even a mild case of influenza virus infection can loo like a cold.

Children have many respiratory infections during the year - more than adults - because the young immune response is learning to deal with viruses more effectively when next they meet them.

As adults, we still get infections by common cold viruses that caused us illness as children - but we may not even notice any signs or symptoms because our immune system has been ‘taught’ to overcome the virus quickly, before it makes us ill. They may just be that headache you had for a day that went away, or that disappearing runny nose.

Zeke Tinley:

Thanks Ian, so the temperature doesn’t really have anything to do with it? Or does it lower the immune system?

Ian Mackay:

Cooler temps may affect how well/where in the body the immune response works best.But being cold doesn’t make you more likley to get a cold.

Some details…

… the rhinoviruses like our nose and prefer growing at its cooler temps (cooler compared to our core body temps; study and study)

.. a mouse study (open access) described in 2015 (we’re not mice of course) with 1 adapted rhinovirus dug into this a bit and showed there is a less efficient antiviral defence at cooler temps - maybe rhinoviruses have adapted to that.

In a great ‘old skool’ study (not open access) described in 1967, also found less of a virus-induced rise in neutrophils white blood cell numbers between volunteers made cold for a relevant period and infected with rhinoviruses, versus those that were not cold, but infected

It’s safe to say there is still “more research needed” to look at the finer details and compare between all the very different viruses.

Why so many Australian species are yet to be named

There are thousands of unique animals only found in Australia that don’t have names. David Yeates’s article explains why this is and the problem it presents:

Because almost all of our species only live on this continent, it is up to us to study them. Here is the catch – because this is a large continent with relatively few people, there are also few dollars to fund such discovery research.

Of the estimated 500,000 Australian species, half are insects and only perhaps 20% to 30% of these have been named, so there are at least 100,000 unnamed Australian insect species. These unknown elements of biodiversity represent an almost completely untapped opportunity and resource.

In the comments, a discussion began about the difficulties faced by people trying to work in taxonomy (the branch of science concerned with classification).

Shauna Murray:

I also had a background in taxonomy, but then diversified, as taxonomy is too narrow a field for a researcher in Australia at the moment, in my opinion. I think taxonomists can survive in museums, CSIRO or botanical gardens, which have internal sources of research funds, but would really struggle at Universities.I have extremely rarely seen funding for taxonomy projects from the ARC or NHMRC, even if the species had clear health implications. There seems to be a lack of understanding or respect for taxonomy, even in the scientific community these days, sadly.

David Yeates:

Hi Shauna,

This reply is in response to your comment, and some others who have responded. I don think taxonomy has gone out of fashion - a new bird or mammal species from anywhere in the world will be described in a nanosecond. I think that it is just that the taxonomy of things that are much smaller than us often struggles for relevance.

The Australian funding scene is quite unique - the NSF for example has large programs devoted to furthering out knowledge of taxonomy, faunistics and phylogeny around the world. The trick, as always, is to have a granting body believe that investing in your research will reap strong benefits to a broad community.

I am always amazed that there are perhaps 100 blood feeding mosquitos in Australia that have been recognised but don’t have names. With Zika in the headlines, and new insect borne viruses emerging around the world - is this a sensible position for a first world country with health system largely supported from the public purse?

Shauna Murray:

Hi David,

I couldn’t agree more about unnamed mosquitos. I similarly study small organisms, and know what you mean about a lack of awareness of how crucial they can be. I think your other point about other countries recognising the importance of taxonomy and phylogeny compared to Australia is valid. You mentioned the US, but I have also seen much more understanding and respect for this kind of research in European countries. In Australia, a kind of Karl Popperism philosophy seems to have taken over the thinking in some areas of biology, and everything has to be hypothesis and experimentally based. But to my mind, this ignores the fact that to understand processes, and to develop reasonable hypotheses, you need a certain level of information on which to base them- and in many areas of biology we are far from this level. Hence the reason that essentially descriptive papers of new genomes continue to be published in Nature and Science.

UFOs, climate change and missing airliners: how to separate fact from fiction

If you’re having trouble separating fact from fiction, Michael J. I. Brown’s article can help.

We live in a data-rich world. We can upload camera phone images in an instant, or download data and examine it with a spread sheet. Understanding the origins of what we see is harder. But with a little bit of scientific method we can all avoid the worst attribution errors.

He explains some common attribution errors and how you can avoid them. But Peter Mackenzie wasn’t falling for Michael’s tricks:

I know that this item, and the author, are all part of a conspiracy to try and make me stop believing in conspiracy theories.

MH370, alien craft sightings, various assasinations,gun control etc, immunisations- all linked, all trying to get at “us”.

Peter was, of course, joking. But Michael explained what Peter was doing all the same:

Your first flippant comment refers to what is flippantly known as “crank magnetism.”

Thanks for reading and we’ll see you next week.