Stray Thoughts

The Great Barrier Reef is in great danger

Here is the self-explanatory text of a letter sent to the Sydney Morning Herald, but not accepted for publication. Perhaps I should have been rougher, because the original draft referred to the exposed backside as being in need of a thorough kicking. "The Government...

Books To Read Before Going To University

Books To Read Before University Thursday, April 14th, 2016 The Times Education Supplement and the Times Higher Education Supplement have combined to produce a feature article on books that students should read before going to university...

Are you a polymath? What’s your Erdös-Bacon-Sabbath number?

Here is my article for the Times Higher Education Supplement on how I worked out the closeness of my creative links to the mathematician Paul Erdös, the actor Kevin Bacon, and the heavy metal music group Black Sabbath, and found myself to be in the same category as...

The real dangers of Australia

Many of our European friends have expressed apprehension at the idea of visiting Australia on account of the ferocious sharks, poisonous snakes, spiders and jellyfish, etc. But the real problems lie elsewhere: Some birds laugh at you: Others look sideways...

Will Turnbull reverse the cuts?

Nov 4, 2015  Here is the text of an open letter (submitted to Sydney Morning Herald but unpublished) to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, drafted by me on behalf of the Royal Society of New South Wales. In a recent speech, Turnbull promised to “invest in...

Avoid major disasters by welcoming minor change

November 4, 2015 My World View article “Avoid major disasters by welcoming minor change” has now been published in Nature (Vol.527, p.9). Here is the link: http://www.nature.com/news/avoid-major-disasters-by-welcoming-minor-change-1.18718 The full article cannot be...

My defense of basic science in the Wall Street Journal

Following Matt Ridley's ill-informed claim in the Wall Street Journal ((“The Myth of Basic Science,” Review, Oct. 24) that basic science doesn't really need government support because most of it emerges from technology anyway, I essayed a rebuttal with my friend and...

The tale of a clever (and vengeful) electric eel

Electric eels are clever sods. Horizontal strands of nervous tissue set up a situation where the head becomes positive, the tail negative, and a potential difference of hundreds of volts in between. A recent paper in Current Biology (cf...

How quickly can Zombies spread?

Here's how quickly zombies could spread across the United States (http://mattbierbaum.github.io/zombies-usa/). It's just a quirky model for the spreading of different types of infection, and you can run the simulation for yourself. Think how good it would be if...

What scientists need to know about communicating with journalists

Several colleagues have drawn my attention to a blog by Pete Warden on how scientists should talk to journalists (http://petewarden.com/2015/09/27/how-to-talk-to-journalists/). Having had the experience on many occasions, and having worked out my own set of rules, I...

The birth of something small

“Whatever happened to colloid science? Has it been totally supplanted by the young upstart known as nanoscience? Or is it still with us, lurking in the background, perhaps even preparing for a comeback?” In my Chemistry World article The Birth of Something Small...

104. Of NASA, knee surgery, and the science of self-repair

In the days when I was an active experimental scientist, one of my areas of interest was in how things stick together – living cells, mineral particles, oil drops, etc. Another of my interests was distance running. Not that I was much good at it, but I did keep on...

Measuring science. REF? QR? A plague on both their houses

My (unpublished) Letter to the Guardian, July 28th, 2015 James Wilsdon writes “In defence of the REF” (Guardian, July 27th (2015)), as opposed to the IEA’s call for quality-related funding of scientific and other research. But neither scheme takes account the known...

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