Posted tagged ‘science’

Mystic energies, holograms and more unicorns: Part 1 (or why you shouldn’t blog when hungry)

July 2, 2010

Not so long ago, I blogged about Powerbalance bracelets- incorporating holograms treated with special frequencies to improve peoples’ energy flow, balance, athletic performance, and all-round well-being. I took a fairly scathing view, since to most scientists it’s clearly nonsense salad served with a garnish of pseudo-scientific parsley.

Parsley is not actual food, but it makes it look like you’ve made an effort. Actually it sits alongside celery in terms of gastronomic value. It’s not obvious to a lot of people that the salad isn’t a proper meal, and that we really need is some proper scientific meat.

Like veal calves, researchers have suffered in the darkness for the delicious benefit of the greater body of scientific knowledge. But for someone raised on a diet of leaves and twigs, the suffering has been in vain.

What the hell am I talking about? Ah yes… powerbalance… (more…)

Why I’m not spoofing Jenks, part 2

June 30, 2010

In a radio interview last year, prime minister to be David Cameron made an on-air “gaffe” when asked about whether he was on Twitter. He said,

The trouble with twitter, the instantness of it is, is, I think that too many twits might make a twat

Of course the apologies followed, with the wafer-thin excuse that he didn’t know what the word “twat” actually meant. I guess an Etonian education isn’t what I think it is. Anyway, in case anyone has been living in a cave called denial for the last few weeks, DC went on to become prime minister. (more…)

Why I’m not spoofing Jenks

June 28, 2010

In a way, I’m a fan of Simon Jenkins’ work- it always provides easy blog fodder whenever he ventures into science commentary. His latest piece on the BBC’s Reith lectures painted a patently ludicrous comparison with a Soviet Academy, while the safety fears over flying through the Icelandic ash cloud were reminiscent of a McCarthyism of fear. Thoroughly daft exaggeration in my humble opinion, and worthy of a little satire.

The physicist Jon Butterworth is clearly of the same opinion, and posted a spoof Simon Jenkins piece on his Life and Physics blog, which then inspired Jennifer Rohn to declare Monday “Spoof Jenkins Day”- which quickly spread around the sciencey areas of the twitter-sphere. There is a summary of the resulting posts on Jennifer Rohn’s blog.

I know it’s intended as fun, but it just doesn’t feel right. One spoof post, if done well, is fine, but I firmly believe in attacking the ideas, rather than the people behind them. This post on the In the Dark blog is just unpleasant.

Satire takes skill and subtlety. This mass effort, though producing some gems, smacks too much of personal vendetta to my taste. Sorry folks.

Creativity vs Management Jargon Bullshit

May 20, 2010

I’ve spent most of this week at a management and communication training course. It’s the kind of thing designed to give researchers more broadly applicable skills for when we venture away from the ivory towers and out into the real world.

Generally, I’m fairly cynical about these sorts of things; team building and management exercises involving flip charts, post-it notes and brainstorming sessions (or whatever they call them now, thought showers or mind orgies or something like that). My irritation threshold is very low.

So unfortunately it came as little surprise that the course was about as much fun as being force-fed blocks of Lego. While achey breaky heart plays on a constant loop in the background. In a room that’s slightly uncomfortably too warm. (more…)

Killing creativity, ruthlessly and systematically

May 11, 2010

I’m a big fan of TED talks. In my view, they’re among the best things on the net (which is the whole point), along with xkcd (the ultimate webcomic for nerdy sciencey types). In the latest TED talk I’ve come across, Sir Ken Robinson asks whether schools kill creativity.

It’s an excellent talk, delivered with superb comic timing, and has struck a definite chord with me.

He makes the point that in every education system around the world, there is the same hierarchy of subjects, with science and maths at the top, then languages, and humanities and the arts at the bottom. So, someone who has a natural talent for dance, but can’t sit still in a maths class could be considered not only as an academic failure, but also a disruptive influence on others. There’s no reason why their natural creative talent shouldn’t be considered of equal value and equally nurtured. (more…)

Evidence based policy: what are we really talking about?

May 6, 2010

Anyone interested in science and the general election will probably have seen Martin Robbins’ litmus test series for The Guardian, in which the respective political parties were asked a series of specific questions on science policy.

A running theme is that of evidence-based policy. Though Ben Goldacre has been a vociferous supporter of evidence-based health policy for a number of years, it’s become a deeply important issue in the wider scientific blog-o-circle in the run up to this election.

But what does evidence-based actually mean? (more…)

10minus9 interview: Hilary Sutcliffe (nano and me)

May 4, 2010


A few months ago I came across the nano and me website, designed to provide an impartial source of information for lay audiences on all things nano.

The site was set up as part of a pilot scheme, and with initial funding having run out it’s now under threat. I’ve been thinking for some time about why a well-designed site, both technically supported and praised by some genuine scientific heavyweights, should fail to attract the attention its quality deserves.

There was no coordinated publicity push on general news sites, largely due to the tight initial budget.  This needn’t be a killer, since the internet has it’s own way of doing things which allows a kind of self-perpetuating PR. The problem is that asking for people’s opinions isn’t usually the best way to get them. Neutrality is at the core of nano and me, a laudable principle, but unfortunately not one to inspire (or rather provoke) debate.

There is a need for something like nano and me out there, run by people who genuinely care about emerging technologies and their effects on society, as Hilary Sutcliffe clearly does. I would hope that nano and me gets a second chance, and the opportunity to produce new content that genuinely does get the public involved.

  • Can you describe nanotechnology in one sentence? (more…)

Episode 5: Ted gets himself in a blur (the uncertainty principle)

April 28, 2010

Episodes 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

I was surprised and happy this week to get a twitter mention from proper science  journalist Alok Jha, saying he was enjoying following Ted’s adventures. But it’s just as important to me that non-sciencey types enjoy and hopefully understand what I’m getting at. Thanks especially to Joe Adams and Ian Box for messages of support… much appreciated!

So far Ted’s exploits have touched upon

Probability- the idea that individual events are unpredictable, but taking enough events into account, trends are very predictable if you know the probabilities. So light bouncing off or passing through glass is unpredictable at the single particle level, but with a lot of light it’s very predictable.

“Quantisation” of light: i.e. light comes in lumps which can’t be broken down into any smaller constituent parts.

Superposition of states: it’s impossible to find out about quantum objects without affecting the result. Until you do some test, quantum objects seem to be in two states at the same time.

Quantum nonsense: just because there are strange ideas at the quantum level, doesn’t mean you can extrapolate into other areas of philosophy!

Ted’s story continues after meeting his bearded friend Mike in a pub, having had a frustrating conversation with someone who believed that quantum mechanics explains (it doesn’t) how homeopathy works (it doesn’t).

———-

“How do you explain to someone that their worldview is wrong without sounding like a git?” Ted asked his friend after the homeopathy fan had left.

“Dunno, why does it matter?”

“Because we spend so much time and effort as a species to understand…

“Hang on.”

Mike left Ted steaming in his own frustration while he went to the bar, before returning with two pints and two shot glasses.

“Hang on.”

He returned from his second trip with two slices of lemon and a salt shaker. An unknown number of tequila chasers later Ted found himself standing with some difficulty in another bar, or maybe nightclub… (more…)

Episode 4: Ted and the quantum healer

April 21, 2010

Click here to read from part 1

Ted hadn’t planned for the answerphone. He’d been so worried about rejection that he hadn’t considered the possibility that he might not even get the chance to be rejected.

“So, er, maybe you know give me a call or something sometime if you want… see you… bye”. Ted hung up and sat cringing for a moment. What was about asking a girl out that turned him into a gibbering fool? Standing up to head into the kitchen, he tossed the phone back onto the sofa, only for it to light up and vibrate just as it hit the cushion. (more…)

Episode 3: Ted makes the call (superposition of states and Schrödinger´s cat)

April 13, 2010

So far, Ted´s attempts to find himself a date have led us through the ideas of probability and that light comes in individual lumps known as photons. We left him as he was about to make a call to a girl he had met the night before…

Having finally worked up the courage following his lighting-related procrastination, Ted decided it was time to bite the bullet and make a call to the girl he had met the night before. He knows that confidence is everything, but still it takes him a good fifteen minutes or so of sitting with his phone in hand, thumb hovering over the small green dial button.

He can feel the adrenaline rising with his heart rate, and for some reason his bladder feels much more full than it actually is. He went to empty it anyway, then went back to the phone, took a deep breath, and pressed dial… (more…)


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