Sunday, June 22

The power of FUD

There are plenty of people out there who like the status quo - largely because their current power relies on it - and who will view those who would change the status quo as their enemies, even if a change is necessary and indeed inevitable.

So it's a shame to see that one group of these people - those who wish to give the impression that scientists are divided over anthropegenic climate change, or that scientists are somehow much less trustworthy than the market and big business *coughsubprimecough* - seem to still be having rather a lot of success.

This is a bad thing because, of course, reality isn't democratic. You can't change the laws of physics, or their complex interplay, just because you don't like them or understand them. And a lack of action now will make things worse later.

Thursday, June 19

Too many academics?

A letter in today's Nature magazine suggests one solution to th ecurrent UK grant funding problem - less academics.

universities currently have the freedom to over-staff and are rewarded for doing so under the present system.

Uh... really? Are we really over-staffed (uh.. I mean in the teaching and research positions, not the central facilities)? If so... who are the buggers who aren't doing anything, and why can't we get them to take on the surplus work of those who are working overtime to raise funds, do research, write courses, mark, etc. etc. etc.?

To me, it would appear that problem would be not that there are too many academics, but that there are too many members of staff at universities who are meant to justify their existence by research activity when they actually have to spend much of their time teaching. A greater acceptance and acknowledgement of the role teaching has in universities is perhaps required.

Wednesday, June 18

Royal Bank of Scotland to customers - you may now panic

The Royal Bank of Scotland has looked at the state of the world's markets and declared - the sky is falling. Yep, the market's belief that it can create wealth and fortune just because, hey, it's the market! has been shown to be a load of steaming gubbins, and the artificial bubble they've created is about to burst. Down go the stocks, down go the shares, hide in money and hope you don't lose your job.

If I sound remarkably callous about the whole thing, it's because I'm in one of the jobs that actually does create future wealth and fortune, albeit not for me. Research scientists actually do enable the development of genuine new products that people will want or even *need*. You know, like ways of generating and storing energy without hoping Russia won't shut down their pipelines. But the market madmen have taken to believing that they are the ones who create wealth. Fat lot of chance getting them to declare that they've caused the crash, though.

Hich released!

Hicham Yezza, the University of Nottingham employee and peace activist ludicrously arrested on anti-terrorism charges, then re-arrested on immigration charges when even the government realised the anti-terrorism charges were so ludicrously stupid that they wouldn't manage to make them stick, is finally out of detention. Granted bail following an immigration hearing, Hich now gets to defend his immigration status by due and proper process, rather than fight against fast-track deportations and paranoid knee-jerk terrorism charges.

Money where your mouth is

Nice to see some people value education - I mean really, really value education.

Cambridge colleges do like their alumni. They're not, on average, as generous as Ivy League alumni are in the US, but they do tend to supply a fair chunk of money. New Hall College, part of the University of Cambridge, are particularly delighted with one of their old girls, though. Ros Smith, after graduating, began working with an IT consultant called Steve Edwards. They later married and set up a company that is now a world leader in telecom billings systems, Geneva Technology. Smart people. They sold out in 2001 (see what I mean by smart people?) and although their shares, assuming they held onto them, will have taken a dive since, the Times estimated their net wealth as 70 million pounds.

Well, make that 40 million. They've just given 30 million pounds to Ros' old college. As "New Hall" was the name of the college while it waited for a donor, this is a big enough gift to rename the college. In this case Murray Edwards College - Murray being the late Dame Rosemary Murray, who originally founded the college in the 1950s.

Things that continue to puzzle me in no particular order

No particular order to this, just observations of long-running things that I just don't get:

#1 - I continue to be puzzled and perplexed as to how exactly gay weddings undermine marriage in a way that Las Vegas does not.

Tuesday, June 17

MCC says excitement is OK

English cricket, despite being the inventors of Twenty20 cricket, has a reputation for being old fashioned, conservative and backward thinking. As the conservators of the laws of cricket, they certainly should maintain the historical strengths of cricket that has made it a successful sport in parts of the world. But it's also good to see that they are looking to how they can expand these strengths to broaden the interest in cricket around the world.

Take Kevin Pietersen's switch-hitting - changing from a right hand stance to left to face the bowler, and hitting him for two sixes by doing so. Some would complain that this is unfair - against the spirit of the game. After all, the bowler has to inform the umpire how he will be bowling, and can't suddenly change hands halfway through his run-up.

The MCC, however, have ruled sensibly. It's a tricky but exciting tactic, and within the rules of the game.

I'm aiming to go to a Twenty20 match next week, and I'd be interested to see if anyone gives this tactic a go. I'm sure they'll be plenty of batsmen practising it in the nets this week.

Saturday, June 7

Tories in more sleaze accusations

...Except this time, I'm not sure it's fair. Conservative Party chairman Caroline Spelman is on the receiving end of accusations that she was wrong to use her MP's parliamentary allowance to pay her children's former nanny. She says the money was for the secretarial work the nanny carried out, even though the nanny says she didn't do much.

Here's the thing though - why shouldn't a working mother MP get a full allowance for the costs of a nanny in the first place? After all, politicians are meant to represent women as well, so if this was set up perhaps it would help the male-female imbalance in the job.