Newsletter Digest: A new ancestor, blood alcohol and online enforcement

New human ancestor discovered

A team of scientists, including three Australians, have uncovered the skeletal remains of a new species of ancient human. The researchers suggest the species – named Australopithecus sediba– could be a direct ancestor to Homo erectus, the predecessor of modern humans. The two partial articulated skeletons of an adult female and child were found in miners’ debris in South Africa in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site in 2008 by Professor Lee Berger from South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand.

Australian scientists Dr Andy Herries from the University of New South Wales, Dr Robyn Pickering from the University of Melbourne and Dr Paul Dirks from James Cook University were part of an international team that identified and dated the fossil as being around 1.95 million years old. This places the new species at a transition point in our evolutionary story from small brained bipedal apes to larger brained human ancestors. Two papers describing the discovery and dating procedures have been published in the journal Science.

The AusSMC wrapped up comment from the scientists and reaction from other experts in the field. Contact the SMC if you would like to see the research.

Scientists on the blood alcohol limit

Most newspapers and radio and TV news shows have this week featured reports on the carnage on our roads over Easter and focused on our high road fatality rate compared to that of Australia’s.

One measure Cabinet will consider this month to try and change that is a reduction in the legal blood alcohol limit for drivers. Scientists featured in an SMC online briefing for journalists this week outlined the changes that a reduction in the limit from 80mg/100ml to 50mg/100ml would bring about.

You can listen to the scientists’ presentations here. The SMC also created an infographic clearly laying out what a reduction would mean for drinkers and alcohol consumption. If you would like a high-resolution copy of the infographic for use in your publication or website, log into the SMC Resource Library or contact the SMC.

Online enforcement in spotlight

Tomorrow will see InternetNZ hold PublicACTA, a public conference examining the ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) to which New Zealand is party to which has caused much controversy.

InternetNZ, which has in the past undertaken research on everything from broadband to the National Library’s annual “web harvest” of online content has raised concerns about ACTA.

“The underpinning assumption is that the Internet allows infringement of existing rights owned by copyright holders, and so those rights need to be more firmly enforced,” InternetNZ points out on the PublicACTA blogit has set up.

Among the issues that will be raised tomorrow, according to InternetNZ, are the lack of transparency around the negotiation of the trade agreement, how digital rights management will be applied and liability for individuals under ACTA.

Keynote speaker for publicACTA is R. Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law.

PublicACTA: 10 April, all day, Wellington Town Hall