Tuesday, March 24

Why are journalists so thick?

Well, not journalists, columnists. You would think they need to be smart, as columnists are the ones who are easily replaceable by bloggers - they don't spend time and effort (and money) researching information, collecting new facts together, sifting through the minutae of complex political, legal, financial or criminal evidence as real journalists do. They just spout off about whatever they feel like.

I mean, so do I, but I'm not really expecting anyone to read this, let alone pay for it.

So, given that they don't make the effort to discover new facts, you'd hope that they at least had the decency to use real and accurate facts to begin with.

Latest example - a Guardian columnist chooses to complain about the tendency for Hollywood to cast women as mothers who are not much older than the actor playing the son. No mention, of course, of, for example, Sean Connery playing Harrison Ford's father, as this article is really meant to malign Hollywood for misogyny rather than ageism.

But she does list two examples that make you think she's never seen the films. Firstly, that the actress playing Michael J Fox's mother was the same age as him in Back to the Future. Well, the title is a clue - Michael J Fox's character goes back in time, to a point where his mother and father were the same age as he is now. As it is rather easier to make a young actress look older than an old actress look young, they naturally cast actors who could at least pass for 19. Also not mentioned - that the actor playing Michael J Fox's father is younger than him.

Second example - Sally Field plays Tom Hanks's mother in Forrest Gump. Those who have seen the film will know that Forrest Gump is not played by Mr Hanks throughout, but is played by a young boy for the start of it. Again, as it is easier to make a young actress look older, it makes sense to cast an actress who can play the age of young Forrest's mother.

Tuesday, March 17

Petition to repeal the EPSRC blacklist

In response to the bonkers EPSRC rules blacklisting scientists for not being permanently among the best of the best, there is now a petition at number10.gov.uk.

Not that I expect this will work - the current government has a great history of listening to everyone's views and then doing what it decided to do in the first place anyway, even if everyone else's views were that it was utterly bonkers.

Thursday, March 12

Non-funding council changes the rules

The EPSRC have announced changes in research funding.

This is seriously worrying to me. Not that it may make it harder for me to get funding - it'll probably make it not much harder but perhaps waste a bit less reviewer time. No, this indicates that the EPSRC do believe that their ranking system is really accurate and trustworthy - and thus are not listening to scientists.

The problem is that the difference in quality of grant applications is hard to judge, and that most of them will be in the middle. A really good grant writer will tend to be near the top. A poor and unsupported one will tend to be near the bottom. The majority will be in the middle.

At the point that you are in the middle, the difference between upper middle and lower middle can be tiny - the random number picked by a referee, asked to judge on a project that they have only tangential interest in. Or, worse, the arbitrary down-grading by a referee who has lost contact with a field, misunderstands, or just plays politics to sabotage a rival. So then it's down to luck whether you're in the top half or the bottom half.

Which means an eighth of the middle rankers will hit the bottom half three times in a row, on average. That the EPSRC says that this arbitrary punishment will only hit 5% of researchers suggests that they expect only a third of researchers will put in a third in two years.

This doesn't make it any easier for scientists. But it does make it easier for the bureaucrats.