Stray Thoughts

What scientists need to know about talking to politicians

My article in Physics World (August 2015) with John Tesh, formerly of the UK Cabinet Office, giving 12 tips for scientists to have effective dialogue with politicians. Here is the original draft: How Do Politicians Think? Practical Tips for Communicating Science...

The f-index: Measuring Your Twitter Performance

Are you a successful tweeter? Here's how to work it out scientifically. There is an ongoing debate about how best to measure research performance, if indeed it can be measured, and if the measurements actually mean anything. I have had my fair say on this, and argue...

Let’s get REAL science on the public agenda

My friend Philip Ball has written an excellent post on the difficulties of communication at the journalist/scientist interface (philipball.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/silence-of-geronotologists.html …). But Philip is being too modest in describing himself simply as a...

Pluto, Asimov, Hawking and you

Stephen Hawking is in the news again. He has been congratulating NASA’s New Horizons team on the successful flyby of Pluto, which produced some spectacular images, while simultaneously warning of us of the dangers of science to the future of human race, particularly...

The secrets of cooperation

Several years ago (well, OK, in 2012) I did an interview for “Nature and Health” on the subject of cooperation (http://www.natureandhealth.com.au/news/create-cooperation). Looking back, I am very impressed by how the interviewer paraphrased what I had to say, and I...

Why science writers write

Why do writers write? Is it, as Edward Gibbon claimed , to seek immortality, or is there some other reason? Charlotte Bronte said that she wrote because she could not help it. George Orwell put it more strongly when he said that “Writing a book is a horrible,...

The impostor syndrome: are you a sufferer like me?

The impostor syndrome is the feeling that you are a fraud. That you’ve slipped through the system undetected, and any minute now someone is going to find you out. That on the surface you may look deep, but deep down you know that you are shallow. It’s a feeling that I...

The awesome power of multicrastination

Stanford philosopher John Perry was awarded a spoof IgNobel Prize for his theory of “structured procrastination.” It took the organizers fifteen years to get round to awarding him the prize, but finally happened in 2011. Now I am getting around to writing about....

How To Eat Your Mummy

I am a regular speaker at the annual Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, where famous food writers, food historians, and other food enthusiasts share their ideas and experiences in the cloistered dignity of St. Catherine’s College, Oxford. Well, it would be...

TV interview: We need to fund diverse networks of science

The Australian ABC television programme Lateline is a unique news analysis and investigative programme, somewhat akin to the BBC's Panorama except that it is on every weeknight. Following my Ockham's Razor radio programme "Precious Petals," where I criticized...

Linking science solely to practical outcomes misses the point

My latest "Ockham's Razor" talk on Australian ABC radio contains a very important message about how science works and how it needs to be supported. I argue that Australia (and the world) need two types of science in order to flourish. The first must be concerned with...

FIFA and Tosca: Two dramas with the same plot.

The dramatic events at FIFA have some very interesting parallels with Puccini’s opera Tosca. Tosca, the heroine of the plot, is faced with an unenviable choice. Her lover Cavaradossi has been condemned to death by the corrupt police chief Scarpia. Tosca is left alone...

87. Earth viewed from Mars and the Total Perspective Vortex

NASA has produced the first picture of the Earth taken from Mars (http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA17936). The very insignificance of our planet is overwhelming, and reminds me of Douglas Adams’ invention of the Total Prespective Vortex in The...

The world’s most evil scientific paper

 A 33-page paper that gives a refined estimate of the mass of the Higgs boson to ±0.25% has just been published (Aad, G. et al. (ATLAS Collaboration, CMS Collaboration) Physical Review Letters Vol. 114 191803 (2015) 191803. The work itself, some of which was done by...

Game theory and our future: The Glugs of Gosh

Few people outside Australia will have heard of the Australian poet C.J. Dennis, creator of that wonderful rough diamond “The Sentimental Bloke”. But Clarence Michael James Stanislaus Dennis wrote one of the great social parodies in his set of poems “The Glugs of...

Altruism: the key to our future

There is much debate about altruism. Does it really exist? Why should it exist? If it does exist, is it really disguised self-interest (Mother Teresa once claimed that her main motivation was looking after her own feelings)? Or does it have a genetic/Darwinian basis,...

Sardonic laughter: a modest proposal

Scientists are often seen as having a sardonic attitude towards ordinary mortals. Seeking an origin for the word "sardonic", I came across this from Vladimir Propp's "Theory and History of Folklore"...

Demise of Lomborg “consensus centre”

May 8, 2015 Bjorn Lomborg's "consensus centre" at the University of Western Australia, intended to provide academic respectability for a preconceived position held by the Australian Government, is dead. I had been involved with other members of the Royal Society of...

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