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Motu researchers on a forest-eating coalmine, cheating on exams, scootering drunk or stoned, treating cannabis addiction, and the best sort of team for initiating new ideas…

Motu researchers on a forest-eating coalmine, cheating on exams, scootering drunk or stoned, treating cannabis addiction, and the best sort of team for initiating new ideas…

This week’s Top 5 comes from Bronwyn Bruce-Brand, Sophie Hale, Dom White, Shaan Badenhorst, and Ben Davies of economic research institute Motu.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to

And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 5 yourself, contact

1. The coal mine that ate Hambacher forest.

More than a third of Germany’s electricity is produced by burning coal. The trees in the Hambacher Forest, in the West of Germany are at risk from one of the largest coalfields in Europe. Only 10% of the forest remains and to protect this dwindling ecosystem, there are a growing number of environmental activists living in the forest. After conflicts in 2018 between police and activists, a temporary tree-felling ban was imposed on conservation grounds, but felling could start again in October of 2020. Along with the forests, the mining operation has slowly encroached on nearby villages, causing people to relocate. Even though there have been negative impacts on both their homes and the environment, villager’s opinions towards the mines are mixed because of job security.

2. Tempted to cheat on a written exam? Artificial intelligence is 90% certain to nab you.

Educational institutions often use a computer-based platform to check if students’ work is plagiarised, but if a student enlists another to write an assignment for them, these platforms can’t detect it. Now computer scientists at the University of Copenhagen have used AI and a dataset of 130,000 written assignments from 10,000 high school students to try and fix this. Their programme was able to detect cheating with 90% accuracy. The programme compares students’ assignments against their previously submitted ones and looks at word length, sentence structure and the usage of words, such as whether a student writes ‘for example’ as ‘e.g.’ or ‘ex.’ Such technology has wide applications and has already been used to analyse tweets to see if they were composed by actual users, paid imposters or robots.

3. Copenhagen police crack-down on drunk and stoned scootering.

Topical now in Wellington as well as other NZ towns, 28 were people arrested in Copenhagen recently for operating the electric scooters while either drunk or stoned. This carries a hefty fine of about NZ$450. Due to problems with poorly parked scooters and the high number of pedestrians in the central city, the government has moved to cap the number of scooters at 200 in the city centre and 3,000 across the city as a whole.

4. Cannabis treatment counters addiction.

The non-binding cannabis referendum is looming in New Zealand and many concerns about the legalisation of the drug have yet to be addressed in the eyes of critics. One such concern is the increased prevalence of addiction which is likely to follow increased accessibility. This article cites an Australian study which has identified a method for treating addiction. Using a randomised control trial they studied the effect of providing small doses of cannabinoids to users, much like nicotine replacements, and found that the treatment may be effective in reducing dependency.

5. Small research teams ‘disrupt’ science more radically than large ones.

Citations are the currency of academia, and recent years have seen rising interest in understanding factors that contribute to citation accrual. One such factor is team size: publications with more co-authors tend to attract more citations. This paper, by researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, explores the complex interaction between team size and citation patterns. They find that large teams tend to consolidate existing ideas, whereas small teams tend to introduce new ideas.

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Still don't get why anyone thinks it a good idea to legalise cannabis. Why don't we ask the question; why do so many people need to ingest a foreign substance to feel good about themselves? Let's address the standard of parenting, the perpetually increasing demands on people at work in the quest for evermore growth, a fundamental fallacy in a finite world. We have enough problems with the damage from tobacco and alcohol, and irrespective of the arguments as to which is more or less damaging, why would we want to add to that mess? We are just going to have more people rocking up to mental health institutions with screwed up minds.

it comes down to cost, how much time and money do our police, courts spend each year on dope against how much revenue the government can recover if they legalise

Yep you are right. Legalisation will not fix the human nature of risk taking, pleasure seeking, and susceptibility to depression. Also it will not reduce the cost of living to a level where everyone can move to a 30 hour working week.

I guess the real argument is, does prohibition cause more problems than it solves. It is far from the straight forward argument like you suggest. And there is plenty of detailed discussion and articles on the internet about it, if you are inclined to seek it out.

The discussion is about keeping society safe, nothing else. that is why we have laws. The question is is society going to be safer with legal cannabis consumption or not? I suggest not. The use of alcohol and tobacco already proves that. There is plenty of evidence already around the consequences of drugged driving, the impact of mental health through the consumption of drugs and the flow on from that. Then there will be the consumption of health dollars as the effects of increased usage starts to bite. The cost of policing is a specious argument as a means to divert from the real impacts. Does the cost of policing other aspects of our society prove to be cost effective? Where do we draw that line?


I haven't touched the stuff since I was a youth in the 90's but there's a multitude of reasons to legalize it. Off the top of my head:

1) It's already widely used (hate to break it to you).
2) If it's legalized it can be taxed so at the country stands to benefit from this revenue.
3) Currently gangs are the one who reap the profits from supply.
4) Frees up Police and justice system time to concentrate on more serious crimes.
5) It's easy to access now and there's often no age restriction.
6) The drug itself is relatively low risk.
7) In countries who have legalized there's been very little increase in use, in fact in certain places use has in fact dropped after legalization.
8) People under the influence of cannabis are pretty mellow and usually just want to 'chill' as opposed to causing antisocial behaviour.
9) It's fun.

See my response above;
1) just because it's widely used does not make it safe or beneficial to the individual or society.
2) More money for politicians? They struggle to spend what they have now wisely.
3) Gangs will find other ways, potentially worse to make their money, this is irrelevant
4) So lesser crimes are not worth investigating? Are you calling for vigilante justice? i suggest the police do not spend a lot of resource worrying about cannabis consumption now. they are more interested in growing and supply.
5) when I see a 13 year old smoking cigarettes today, I doubt any age restriction on cannabis will have much impact.
6) Just plain BS. I have worked in the Health system, and have seen different.
7) Evidence? Besides it is too early to definitively say this. And just because other countries jump, why should we?
8) But what about the paranoia and other health issues when the longer term usage starts to bite?
9) There are many things that people would argue are fun, but are definitely not good for society. another BS excuse.

1) But is prohibition any better? I'd argue (and so does current addiction research) that it is not.
2) More money = better infrastructure/services or lower taxes. How you frame this as a negative is beyond me.
3) It's not irrelevant. How is reducing gang revenue a bad thing?
4) Cannabis use is hardly a crime. Policing it is such a stupid waste of resources that surely you can see they'd be better off policing violent crimes where there is actual significant harms to others.
5) So you're extrapolating that just because you've seen one 13 year old smoking means all age restrictions are pointless? I'll tell you what, when I was a teen, the gangs certainly didn't give a shit about our age when we wanted to access cannabis. Alcohol was always much harder to get our hands on precisely because there was no equivalent of a 'tinny house' due to it being legal and restricted.
6) Funnily enough so have I (and do currently).
7) You can read the latest findings in a recent excerpt from the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics here which says:

A 2018 meta-analysis concluded that the results from previous studies do not lend support to the hypothesis that MMLs increase marijuana use among youth, while the evidence on the effects of recreational marijuana laws (RMLs) is mixed

Consistent with the results of previous researchers, there was no evidence that the legalization of medical marijuana encourages marijuana use among youth

8) The paranoia is mainly an issue in those with a predisposition to schizophrenia. One of the points of legalization is to restrict the access of youth to cannabis by eliminating the black market that currently exists. Again, this a a harm reduction approach.
9) How is an adult consuming some cannabis at home and listening to some tunes or watching a good movie 'harming society'. God, you sound like a wet blanket (and I thought I was getting old!)

Logic is not going to convince those opposed to cannabis legalisation. Paranoia, fear, drama and their belief in their superiority (e.g. "Drink your drug like a normal person" (said with a hillbilly accent)) are the driving force behind their illogical opposition.

In my opinion the most important reason it should be legalised is that "who the **** are you to tell me what I can do with my own body?". If the answer is I have a big stick so I am the boss (i.e. police force (gang) and jail (punishment which includes physical violence and restraint)) then that is tyranny.

pretty much - it's a personal rights issue. So uncivilized and downright thuggish to impinge on the personal rights of others.

Agreed, and the hypocrisy is through the roof. "**** off stoners while I get smashed on alcohol and inhale all the nicotine I can get my hands on!"

If you drink or smoke and oppose the legalisation of cannabis then you should be ashamed of your hypocrisy. Alcohol is by far the worst drug out there and is the cause of 1/3 of all crimes in NZ and costs NZ billions in health, criminal justice and social costs every year.


People that don't drink and smoke and seek to have those vices criminalised are still wannabe tyrants with a stick up their **** but at least they're not hypocrites.

Great news. "The work “almost eliminated a notoriously difficult-to-control vector mosquito from the test sites”, Peter Armbruster, a mosquito ecologist at Georgetown University in Washington, wrote in a commentary. He said the research represents “a substantial advance and demonstrates the potential of a potent new tool in the fight against mosquito-borne infectious disease”."

Really nice to see a Top 5 that isn't a piece written about the Chinese economy, One Belt One Road or some other pro Beijing b/s. Top job guys, long may this new subject matter continue.

BBC is about on a par with Zerohedge. Sometimes brilliant, sometimes awful. The article about coal mining made no attempt to put the scale of destruction in context. How many hectares of forest destroyed, how many have been re-forested would be nice to know. Instead it is just destructive propaganda.

I grew up in this coal mining region, not far from Coalville:
If even the Brits have figured out how to drive a dozer and plant a few trees, I'm sure the Germans have too.

Having been through the drink & the drugs I know which one I prefer. But that has since changed to neither these days. I must be getting old.