Approximately two years ago I happened to catch a documentary called The Autism Enigma on the ABC’s Four Corners. Having worked for some time as a carer for people with autism I found the documentary fascinating, and was inspired to do some follow-up research and develop a research summary for the parents of autistic clients at my place of work. The following is an abridged version of the summary. I obviously need to need to stress that I am not an expert in these things, this is just something I became interested in and did a little research on.

The Autism Enigma: Gut bacteria and the brain

Every human being houses an enormous number of bacteria living in our intestines. These bacteria form a complex ecosystem, numbering around one hundred trillion and made up of somewhere between 300-1000 species.[1] Modern science is far from understanding everything about these bacteria, but it is now believed that under normal circumstances they play an important role in the healthy functioning of our bodies. Under some circumstances, though, they can do us serious harm. The theory presented by the documentary ’The Autism Enigma’[2] suggests that some cases of autism may be related to gut bacteria producing behavior-altering neurotoxins.

Ellen Bolte’s theory

This theory was developed by an American woman named Ellen Bolte. When Bolte’s son Andrew was around the age of two, he was put on a long course of antibiotics for an ear infection. After this point, he began developing severe autistic symptoms as well as severe gastro-intestinal problems.

After trying many unsuccessful therapies and treatments for her son, and worried that he was near to losing the opportunity to learn language, Bolte embarked on her own research. Followed an intuition that her son’s gastro-intestinal symptoms were somehow connected with his autism, she gradually developed her theory. Andrew’s antibiotic treatment before the age of two, she believed, may have killed off certain bacteria in his gut but left others to flourish and dominate, and now these dominant bacteria (she suspected a group called ’Clostridium’ as they were resistant to the antibiotics her son had been on) were responsible for her son’s autistic symptoms.

Ellen Bolte and her family

After finding a doctor who agreed that her theory was worth testing, Bolte put her son on another antibiotic named Vancomysin known to suppress Clostridium. On Vancomysin, her son’s autistic symptoms disappeared, and he began making eye contact, achieved toilet training and began using language (her video footage of her son while on Vancomysin is astounding and can be seen in The Autism Enigma). Read the rest of this entry »

Research has identified a number of psychological barriers that can prevent people from believing in or acting on messages about climate change. Luckily, it has also suggested strategies for overcoming these barriers. (Originally published on Climate Code Red)

1. Climate change activists are pretty decent social psychologists. Social psychologists are terrible activists.

Most climate change activists I know are at least to some degree also social psychologists. They constantly consider questions like ‘how can we change the way people think’, ‘how can we make people care more’, and ‘what is the sound bite that is going to be most effective for this campaign?’. Generally, they hold reasonable theories about human psychology and societies. And for the most part, they’re willing to revise these theories as experience dictates. Every email to supporters, every rally poster, and every social media post functions like a mini-experiment, the results of which are carefully analysed. Maybe, for example, more people showed up to the rally that had the funny poster. But maybe that was due to the nicer weather. More data is needed. And so on. This isn’t science, obviously. But it’s also not far away. Moreover, as we’ll see below, most climate change activists are already intuitively applying much of the advice the research has to offer for them. In my experience, then, as amateur social psychologists go, climate activists are actually pretty passable.

Social psychologists, however (and I include myself in this category), are terrible activists. The majority of them, admittedly, are driven by sincere desires to change the world for the better. They want to uncover important knowledge, and they want this knowledge to be applied in the world in salubrious ways. Yet typically, their lives consist of nothing but slaving away in laboratories, designing studies, poring over data, and investigating super specific questions. If they’re lucky, these answers will get published somewhere, presented to other academics at a conference, and they’ll keep their jobs a little longer. And normally, this is where the story ends. Rarely, if ever, do they take time out from academia to communicate their findings with the public. The result is knowledge that never makes it out of the ivory tower, and all of their good intentions amounting to little practical impact on the world.

One story I heard recently gave me a stark reminder of this. A journalist friend of mine met a young PhD candidate at a climate change adaptation conference. When he asked her about the importance of her work, she swiftly responded that there were a number of groups who could utilise and benefit from it. But when he asked if she had been in touch with any of these groups, she could only mumble something, about the work being available in journals.

I had two responses to this story. The first was no, lady. People are not going to just go out and find your work. People are busy. Moreover, people have never even heard of your ‘journals’. And even if people did somehow find your work, unless they were connected to an academic institution (which most people are not), they are not going to pay the $30-40 most journals charge for a measly PDF download. Seriously. It’s not going to happen.

My second response, however, was a painful realization that I am just as guilty. Last year, I spent a huge amount of time scouring databases for research related to climate change communication for my psychological honours thesis. As a result, I now have a fairly good grasp of the scientific literature in the area. I also happen to know many climate change campaigners who would love this knowledge shared with them. One of them, in fact, co-directs of one of Australia’s biggest climate campaigning groups, and even asked me specifically if I could produce readable research overview of the area.

Yet despite this, I have still managed to continually find excuses not to do it. And quite easily, too, I might add. I was busy. There were other people more qualified to write it. None of it would markedly change practice anyway. Generally, I want to move on to doing more research, rather than spend time regurgitating what I already know. And focusing on new research is a much better way of advancing one’s own academic career than reaching out to the public. All of these, I believe, are key reasons why academics often fail to take time to communicate their knowledge and research findings with the world outside academia.

Another reason is simply that no one pays them to do it. For the most part, academics are paid for their work. But engaging with the public will in most cases be pro bono, which makes it less attractive. Moreover, many academics already feel that they’re earning less than someone of their abilities would earn in the private sector, so in a sense already feel like what they are doing is partly voluntary. This renders it even less likely that they will take on additional tasks outside of their own research and teaching.

But to social psychologists, I say: get out there. If we really are motivated by the desire to have a positive practical impact on the world, then we can and should be doing far more to make sure our work find their way into the hands that will make use of them. And to climate change activists, I say keep reading. I have put together the following research overview for you, and as a sometime climate change activist myself, I feel confident in saying that I think there will be plenty there that will interest you.

2. There has not been much experimental work done on the social psychology of climate change. 

One of the first things I realized when I started looking for experimental psychological research into climate change is that there is actually surprisingly little of it. To be sure, there is a lot of research related to climate change, but the majority of it has to been correlational, rather than experimental. And this is an important difference. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Artwork.

 

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Music + clip by my brother using scenes from his upcoming indie flick Apartmentality (more tracks are here)

 

CODSWALLOP

I released an EP called CODSWALLOP in February this year. It got some kind reviews. You can listen to it and even buy it at my bandcamp over ‘nya. 

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High School Diploma

First single off my CODSWALLOP EP. Had some fun with the video. :)

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                  Had a lot of fun with the artwork too…

:)

 

 

FoE Oxfam Cards

I was recently tasked by Quit Coal with coming up with some kind of certificate for people who buy a Friends of the Earth membership, such that we could try to sell them as Christmas/Holidays gifts and raise funds.

The idea is much like what Oxfam does, selling cards that signify a donation that has gone towards, say, a goat for a family in the developing world, etc.

An example of an Oxfam gift card

So anyway i’ve just completely ripped off the Oxfam shtick, but put it in the context of what Quit Coal and FoE do. Here’s what i’ve come up with:

A bit cheeky perhaps, but we’re 80% sure Oxfam will not sue…

 

Been super busy recently working on a new release for the band. I’ve written, recorded, and mixed the tracks myself and just last week had them professionally mastered and they’re sounding sweet. Here’s a preview of the artwork. The concept and colour scheme came to me in a bit of a rush on a train, and then it took a while to get it looking right, but I think it came up OK. I was thinking a lot about the Stone Roses at the time, which the font may reflect. Three Lions is also quite a British symbol…

Quitcoalapalooza!

I also recently spent a lot of time putting together a fundraiser gig for Quit Coal called Quitcoalapalooza and a lot of time making this poster for it. Seriously, this took for freaking ever. But I larned a fair bit about illustrator in the process, and made a cool poster and had had a cool night and made about $1500 for my trouble, so it was well worth it. Next time I think we’ll have to do it in summer though, it ended up being the coldest most miserable night of the year, and we probably would have made twice as much on a warmer eve. Ah well, you gotta do something throughout the winter months, and who could be arsed organizing a rally that gets rained out? Not me!

Wildcat General Strike has had a pretty big few months. While Liam Jard and Steve were away i Europe, I was busy writing some tracks and figuring out how we were going to sound as a guitar-focused four piece rather than a guitars and synths five piece. It was a cool challenge as a composer and songwriter and so far I’m pretty happy with the results. We’ve been playing a few gigs around and a lot of people have been saying we sound pretty UK 80′s, eg Cure, Clash, Joy Division, Smiths. That’s pretty awesome. I’m a little lost for exactly what I want us to sound like, but those kinds of bands are close to what I want. I think. It’s evolving.

Anyway, this is a demo of one of our new songs, it’s called ‘Young Man’s Pride’.

The idea started as a Joy Division-esque bass line and me really wanting to sing some low baritone stuff for a change. And a big inspiration for the chorus was a great song I found called called The Shore by a relatively unknown UK act called Chapel Club.

So far it’s been getting a good response live. I’m wondering what kind of tricks I can use in the studio to get it sounding really unique. Hm..

Stop HRL Rally Poster

This is a poster I designed for Quit Coal‘s February 1 Rally to stop HRL.

Quit Coal Logo

So I haven’t updated paulconnor.org in ages. I’ve been pretty busy with my climate group, which in the past few months have rebranded ourselves with a new name ‘Quit Coal’. Here’s the logo I’ve designed for us:

On Saturday night, a handful of friends and I went down to City Square to Occupy Melbourne. Like many others inspired by the traction and momentum gained by the Wall Street occupation, we wished to experience its model of protest for ourselves. The experience was fascinating, educational, confusing, inspiring and confronting.

I arrived at City Square around 2pm and began exploring the area. One side of the square was an assembly area hosting an open speaking forum, at which a wide variety of people spruiked various anti-establishment causes to a medium-size crowd. Elsewhere volunteers at an information desk displayed a schedule of workshops. I spent a couple of hours attending a workshop on climate change and then circulating and chatting to people about respective campaigns we’re involved in and how we might be able to help each other.

At 4pm a general assembly was held, at which a large crowd listened to various proposals and voted on them to test for consensus. Few substantive proposals were passed, a notable exception being a statement of solidarity with striking Qantas workers. Happily, some of the more unconstructive proposals, such as the assembly ‘vilifying the 1%’ or being ‘against Capitalism’ failed to achieve consensus. Read the rest of this entry »

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