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Motu researchers on the politics of pandanomics, the perils of fruit juice, the perks of deactivating Facebook, the best time to score, and whether weeds can save the world...

Motu researchers on the politics of pandanomics, the perils of fruit juice, the perks of deactivating Facebook, the best time to score, and whether weeds can save the world...

This week’s Top 5 comes from Bronwyn Bruce-Brand, Sophie Hale, Ben Davies, Shaan Badenhorst and Dom White 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 10 yourself, contact

1. Panda-nomics!

Zoos across the globe have pandas on loan from China at no small expense (A$1m per year). These animals often come with strong political ties including the opening of the 2017 G20 summit in Berlin signalling China’s support for Germany as a potential leader of the west post-Trump, trade deals with Scotland in 2011 and APEC negotiations in Sydney in 2007. The “soft cuddly power” of these “furry ambassadors” send a positive message to those countries that China wishes to build relationships with. As an added bonus, the large hire fees support Chinese efforts to bring Pandas back from near extinction in their native mountain ranges of south-central China.

2. Is fruit juice just another sugary beverage?

A common misconception is that fruit juice is inherently healthy because it is made of, well, fruit, and that excess consumption of it somehow cannot be a negative thing. An article by Gausch-Ferré and Hu from Harvard highlights the concerns with the consumption of fruit juice. Discussing why fruit juice is not dissimilar to other sugar-sweetened beverages and the positive relationships its consumption has with mortality and diabetes, they highlight the need for greater education about nutrition to combat effective advertising campaigns.

3. The Welfare Effects of Social Media.

Facebook facilitates inter-personal interactions, which promote happiness and wellbeing. However, these benefits come at the cost of apparent mental health declines and negative political externalities associated with social media use. This paper, authored by economists at Stanford and NYU, discusses a “large-scale randomised evaluation of the welfare impacts of Facebook” based on US users in the lead up to the 2018 mid-term US election. The authors find that deactivating Facebook for four weeks after the election caused subject wellbeing to improve by “about 25--40% of the effect of psychological interventions including self-help therapy, group training and individual therapy.”

4. The perfect moment to score a goal? A football myth debunked.

It is commonly believed that the best time to score a goal in a football match is just before half-time, as it provides a morale boost that increases the team's chances of winning. Researchers from Ghent University (Belgium) analysed 1,179 games played in the UEFA Champions and Europe Leagues between 2008 and 2014 to test this belief, and found that for a given half-time score, scoring a goal just before half-time has no statistically significant effect on the team's chances of winning the match overall. 

5. How weeds help fight climate change.

This article looks at potential techniques to help Australian farmers as climate change increases the pressure of keeping their land fertile and profitable. One of these techniques is natural sequence farming, the brain child of farmer Peter Andrews. Natural sequence farming has four elements: restore fertility to improve the soil, increase the groundwater, re-establish vegetation and understand the unique needs of a particular landscape.

To re-establish vegetation, Peter Andrews suggests the use of weeds can help. This technique hasn’t been universally accepted but in 2016, thanks to evidence from the Mulloon Creek Natural Farms in Australia, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network commended the model of natural sequence farming. Even with such a glowing endorsement, there is still debate over the best farming practices needed to cope with the quickly changing climate.

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Re #4, so when is the best time to score a goal?
I need to let the Spurs players know before the game on 2 June (NZ time).


#3 is about psychology. Everyone wants to be liked, and social media allows them to create a persona that is what they want people to see. Thus any person you meet on-line is fundamentally not real. The only reality, no matter how honest you or they are (or try to be), is the real person in the flesh over a period of time, in a wide variety of situations, including some uncomfortable ones. For people who get anxious when they are not online, this tends to reflect the level of fulfillment they need due to a fear of missing out, and that they tend to be more rooted in reality and normality. Dealing with other people in the flesh tends to show you that your anxieties, insecurities and doubts are quite normal and you are not inferior or different after all.


In rugby one theory is that the team who first scores AFTER half time is the most likely winner.