Science Philosophy: A Collaborative Learning Tool

Science Philosophy: A Collaborative Learning Tool

Science is a collaborative endeavor. It takes many smalls steps, by a great number of people for a major discovery to occur. So, in the spirit of collaboration I have set up an open science philosophy timeline project, which people can either just take a look at or contribute and add more events to. 

I find that being able to see the rise and fall of different theories in relation to each other very useful. If you click on the image below it will take you to the timeline. Each little date entry contains a link to the book/video in which the theory was outlined. You will see that this is very much a work in progress with lots of important dates and theories missing, so please feel free to add them. This was made with a program called Dipity which is a very cool tool for communicating data.

Click to view interactive timeline

P.s. Apologies for lack of posts recently, it is revision time currently. Normal writing will be resumed in not too long.

This is not a pyramid scheme….

This is not a pyramid scheme….

Fun in the sun... (pic courtesy of David Robertson)

Over the last few days (and most likely over the next couple of weeks) I haven’t been able to blog as much as I would like. The factors currently considered top suspects are the nice weather and impending exams.

So, today I thought I’d write a quick post about some of my favourite things written/produced by other Imperial Science Communication students…several of whom you can see in varying states of panic in the photo above!

Starting from the bottom of the pyramid there is this post by James which features an amazing and beautiful photo from the Chapada Diamantina National Park in Brazil. Also on the bottom row are Andrew, Andy and myself. Andrew  recently wrote a very interesting article on the increasingly discussed topic of women in science blogging, whilst Andy  was in this very entertaining episode (along with several other very talented people) of the Radioshow Science at 1.

Moving up and from left to right, we have Dave (my blography nemesis), Charlie and George, who are all excellent writers. I had to suppress a ‘blog post jealousy’ when reading a really good recent article by Charlie on human reactions to ‘robot nurses’ as I was intending to write about the same research!

Changing opinions on climate change is something that is talked about a lot and, to be honest, can get a tad tedious. But, I found George’s recent article on the use of video games to educate about climate change a really refreshing look at the issue from an unusual angle.

Dave is a very prolific blogger but, instead of choosing some of his photography or writing I thought I would share this very impressive stop motion animation  he produced with Nils and Morag:

On the penultimate layer of the pyramid is Lizzy and Camila.  Lizzy writes very engaging articles, my favourite of which is this one on the science of sleep deprivation and grouchiness.

I swear that every year when I go on holiday I hear a different reason why mosquitos ‘like’ some people and not others (my favourite being that mosquitos hate marmite and wont bite people who eat it!), which is why I found Camila’s most recent post on the actual reason for the differences such an interesting article!

Standing proud on top of the pyramid is Thea. As a self-confessed, well publicised, against rehab film geek I found her article on the science behind the brilliant film ‘Never Let Me Go’ a really good read.

I will also give a ‘shout out’ to a few other people who decided they valued their health and did not participate in the human pyramid:

Anna (who was involved in other pyramid makings but not the one in the photo) and her pursuit of someone in science communication with a worse moral standing than James Delingpole is well worth a look.

Also, not having studied much to do with non-human medical conditions I found Chloe’s article on Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumour very interesting, it also has a brilliant title!

The I,Science podcast is also another great thing to listen to, featuring and produced by lots more very talented science communication and science media production students (including Tom who is hiding at the back of the pyramid).

So, there we have it. Lots of lovely science reading/listening/watching, enjoy :)!

The Science Network: Bloopers

The Science Network: Bloopers

Yesterday I posted up mine, Katya and Polly’s science parody of the social network. Today, I give you the treat of our bloopers reel.

Here are the blogs of some of fellow science communication students who featured in the film:

David Roberston – Christy – Aka the crazy boyfriend

George Wigmore – Divian Narendra – Aka freind of twins

Charlie Harvey – Winklevi Number 1

Camila Ruz – Winklevi Number 2

Thea Cunningham – Member of administrative board

Chloe McIvor – Member of administrative board

Anna Perman – Film board clapper operator

James Pope – Man at computer

And also

Lizzie Crouch – Who wasnt in the film but has helped promote it!

Science Short Story – The best laid plans…

Science Short Story – The best laid plans…

So, how do you spend your Sunday afternoons? Lounging around reading the paper, glass of orange juice, bits or no bits, it’s been a while since I knew what day it was. I like to think it’s a Sunday afternoon, that somehow makes me feel calmer.

I don’t recall much before I came to live here, mother’s touch, sibling play fighting. That doesn’t bother me, my life isn’t really defined by my origins. There is no use for sentimentality here, when I first arrived I screamed and screamed yet nothing. Nowadays I don’t scream at all, there just comes a point when you have to accept your life’s lot and get on, nobody likes a whinger.

Whilst, in all likelihood, today is not a Sunday my general routine is likely to remain pretty stuck in the mud. I wake up, might be day time, might be night time, no way to tell. Quick snack, drink some water, do what every creature on this earth has to do and I’m ready to go. Ready for what? Good question! Typically, absolutely nothing. I wander round my little patch and take in the mind numbing monotony. I guess I probably boredom eat a little more than I should, but can you blame me? Some would say that I shouldn’t complain I’ve got food, water, shelter, I should be grateful. It’s hard to feel grateful when you are stuck in a confined area. I don’t buy into any of that Stockholm Syndrome crap. “Oh no I’ve fallen in love with my captor!”, please just give it a rest, Daddy will pay the ransom and you be canonised by Hollywood, while I’m still sat here gnawing on the bars.

Sometimes, I do get out a bit, when he decides I should. My captor and tormenter is this big, bald, overweight guy who speaks a completely unintelligible language. His hands also stink of alcohol sometimes, but I’m not one to judge. Oh and ‘out’ I don’t mean hit the town, although sometimes it feels as though I have. He will inject me with something and then set me some kind of task or challenge.

What that involves varies greatly. One day I’ll be transferred to another area where I am put into a big circular tank with unclimbable sides and left to fend for myself. There is usually a hidden platform I can stand on somewhere in the tank but the first time it took ages to find, really thought I would drown! After that I just used visual clues from outside the tank to work out where it is. Although sometimes I have noticed he will swap or remove these items. I’m not sure if he’s taking the piss or genuinely out to get me.

Another activity they sometimes get me to do which is even more sinister is to just put me in a box and string me up and leave me there. Some days I struggle a lot, somedays I just feel so down or hazed by whatever they have injected me with I just hang there. To be honest, it’s not very fun. The blood rushes to your head and you start to see things, although that could be the drugs. After what feels like an age he usually takes me down and I get returned to my little caged cell.  

Why do all these things? I have my theories. General hatred of others, exercising childhood demons, pure boredom I have considered them all. However, the current one I favour is espionage. Why else would he submit me to torture like exercises? I’m sure I was a good spy so I don’t want to talk. But, I don’t remember who I work for so it’s hard to remain loyal. Although I suppose I am, seeing as anything I would tell him would be lies, not that he’d understand! So you see, I’m in a bit of a tricky situation, an amnesiac spy unable to speak the language of his captors.

I know I ranted before about preppy Dad’s paying ransoms for their kids. But, I am kind of hoping that there will be some kind of swap deal between us and them. Bit of a pipe dream, but I’ve got fuck all else to hope for, I certainly can’t bargain my way out or break out by force.

When the lights are turned off I can hear others, scratching, screaming, crying. Occasionally I’ll strike up a conversation with a neighbour; I can’t see them but doesn’t mean you can’t get some kind of social interaction. We will talk for hours, discussing our situations and what we remember of our pasts, it seems that amnesia is universal here. Then, eventually, usually after just enough time to feel as though you get to know someone they are gone and never return. Where they go I don’t know, will one day they come for me, I don’t know that either. Part of me hopes that they do, just to break the monotony, but let’s be honest the unknown is pretty scary.  

I’ve tried to escape before, it was no ‘The Great Escape’ but I gave it my best shot. One day I was transferred into a large bizarre metal box type thing, don’t really know why. My captor was observing from above, so I ran around to explore what this place was and realised that the walls were just low enough that I could jump and climb out. So, I bided my time and waited till my captor wasn’t watching and made my move. Most of what I know about this place comes from what I saw in my brief dalliance with freedom. It felt a bit like a whirl wind romance, my heart started to flutter and stomach went on a bit of a rollercoaster, but all the time I was very conscious that I was one small step away from screwing it all up and being alone again. I ran hiding behind boxes and obstacles trying to stay as low as possible, but I wasn’t fast enough. He grabbed me and picked me up and threw me back into here. I’ve been here ever since.

What will happen to me now I don’t know, but don’t worry about me. Us spies are a resilient sort, there will be other opportunities to escape, I am just hoping that more of my training will kick in when the time comes…


How much would it cost for you to give up on your dreams? When you grow up as a kid, you want to be anything and indeed could be. I wanted to be a train driver, well a Thunderbird first, train driver second. As the years passed though I went through several different ‘ideal’ professions, ranging from stand-up comic to film director, yet somehow I ended up here. 7 bizarre ideological leaps, the loss of a waistline as well as a head of hair and I’d gone from a Thunderbird to scientist.

Back when I had my bags packed for Tracy Island life was simpler. My only worry was whether or not my friends would come out to play. Mortgage, love life, eating healthy and saving the planet, those are pressures I face now.

I was talked into science by a father tired of the unpredictability of business and a mother who wanted to tell her friends about her son ‘the scientist’. I don’t blame them for it, I wasn’t strong enough to say no. Besides, I always had an interest in science and enjoyed it, but I just never saw it as being my life’s work. Even if I had wanted this profession when younger, my perceptions as a child greatly differed from how research really works. I imagined it as full of explosions and excitement. However, there is a lot of generally nothing happening.

My area of ‘expertise’ is neuropharmacology, which means that I look at the effects of different substances on the brain and behaviour. My general routine is get to work, read some papers, make up some solutions and incubate, read some papers and then test them, read some papers go home. Am I likely to change the lives of average Joe/Jane public, no, am I likely to even revolutionise my own niche field, no. 

The grass may not be greener but I would like to escape this area I seem to have entrenched myself in. Just some variability would be nice, just make a break and run for it before my science background catches up with me! I don’t think I’m brave enough though, maybe a few years ago I could have quit and started up something else but now I’m not so sure. Leaping into the void of potential unemployment and abject failure such a big unknown it scares me.

What of my life outside the lab? Well, to be honest there’s not really a huge amount to tell. I have a good group of friends, I do ok in my love life. Cook Sunday lunch for my parents, take the dog out at 6:45 each evening, I play the Cello. That’s actually when I’m happiest. Picking some obscure and difficult piece of music and spending weeks perfecting it, it gives me a greater sense of achievement than science ever does. After all isn’t that what we want, a sense of achievement, I don’t think that’s too much to want.

Yeah so that’s me, and that’s pretty much my life. If I ever get given the big red book it will be pretty thin and I wouldn’t expect many glamorous celebs walking down the stairs to hug me and tell me how long it’s been. After this moment my life will likely continue as is, I’ve got to get a brain from a mouse I’ve been testing for a while, I hope to find some evidence of structural changes indicating psychosis, and get some good data for a paper. But, as with the rest of life, in research ‘the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry’.

It’s Criminal – Press Release Misrepresentation

It’s Criminal – Press Release Misrepresentation

The PR officer is interrogated for a confession


You are sat at a table in a dark room, handcuffed. One police officer is shouting in your face, swearing and appears very angry. The other is stood in the corner watching and interjects saying that maybe a cup of tea is in order. Who is more likely to make you talk? Well, new research claims to have found the answer, or does it?

I originally intended to blog about the findings by the University of Montreal that ‘Good Cop’ beats ‘Bad Cop’. However, having now read the (quite long) paper I have realised I fell into the trap of a press release that took a bit too much of a license with the research. The press release, which can be found here claims that the research proves that the cuddly approach is more likely to draw a confession than an agressive questioning style. Does the paper support this? No. The variables are so intertwined that drawing a conclusion that remotely resembles the press release is at best lazy and at worst deceiptful.

Don’t get me wrong it is a good paper which draws interesting conclusions on the role of evidence quality and social factors, amongst others in obtaining a confession. However, the closest it gets to the press release is the following statment:

“It is reasonable to assume that the interviewer’s strategies and abilities in convincing the offender to confess their crime are an integral part of the interrogation outcome.”

Which I dont believe is anywhere near a strong enough assertion to draw conclusions on the differences between being a ‘good cop’ and a ‘bad cop’.

They did find that the officers interogating are likely to behave differently when the quality of evidence varies. However, this is not enough to support the claims made in the press release. Rather interestingly the Daily Mail and Express both ran with the story. Their takes on the story follows pretty closely along with the press release.

I have no vendetta against science PR. Having had a little bit of experience in the area, I know that they do a good job at helping in the flow of science knowledge from research to the public. I just felt annoyed having had my time wasted looking for the data to support the argument that wasnt really there.

So there we have it, I rest my case.  I shall cease being a ‘bad cop’ and be a ‘good cop’ instead, not because the press release says I should, but because I, unlike the press release, have plenty of evidence to back up my claims!


Deslauriers-Varin, N., Lussier, P., & St-Yves, M. (2011). Confessing their Crime: Factors Influencing the Offender’s Decision to Confess to the Police Justice Quarterly, 28 (1), 113-145 DOI: 10.1080/07418820903218966

Adventures in Google NGrams

Adventures in Google NGrams

This has been around for a while, but I thought that for today’s blog post I would have a bit of fun with Google NGrams. For those of you who dont know what it is, Google Books have scanned millions of books dating back a long way and you can look at changes in word usage over time using Google NGrams.

Observe vs Experiment (click on the images to see them full size):

Sex vs Drugs vs Rock vs Roll

War vs Peace (both World Wars clearly visible)

Charles Darwin vs Alfred Russel Wallace

Nikola Tesla vs Thomas Edison



Scientific Collaboration Mapped Out

Scientific Collaboration Mapped Out

If you didn’t believe that science was a international collaborative sport then this should persuade you otherwise. These amazing images show the links between science publications, in the same way that Facebook mapped their friend data a couple of months ago. These were produced by Olivier Beauchesne and Science-Metrix. Click on the images below to see in high res:

Global science collaboration

For a fully zoomable high-res map click here

CaSE’s 25th Anniversary Reception; a review

This was originally written for the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) blog reviewing their 25th anniversary celebrations and was written by myself and Chloe McIvor:

Time changes many things. In the past 25 years we have experienced the birth of the internet, five different Prime Ministers – and the unexpected comeback of leg warmers. However, the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) is still going strong and yesterday celebrated its 25th anniversary at an event attended by the great and the good of British science.

The event, hosted by the Instituton of Engineering and Technology (IET) and sponsored by Nature, was held in Savoy Place with views looking out over some of the city’s greatest science and engineering achievements, such as the London Eye and the Millennium Bridge. It fitted well with the ethos of an evening that not only looked at CaSE’s past achievements, but looked forward to the challenges ahead.

The evening was marked by addresses from highly influential speakers; Professor Denis Noble, Lord Robert May and David Willets MP, warmly introduced by the Director of CaSE, Imran Khan. Professor Noble and Lord May took us back to the mid 80’s and the start of Save British Science. They discussed the similarities between the problems facing science and engineering, then and now.

The speeches emphasised the particular success CaSE has enjoyed this year regarding the spending review, making it a particularly good year to be celebrating their achievements. David Willets was keen to express his intentions to continue working in the interests of scientists, concluding however, that the audience will know doubt judge whether or not he is successful.

Challenges ahead

After the speeches concluded, the guests were asked for their hopes and expectations for British science funding and policy in a further 25 years time. The results painted a picture of high ambition in all areas and although expectations were below hopes, the majority predicted an improvement for science by 2036.

One area where science was seen to be succeeding is education, where the proportion of STEM graduates (currently at 42%) was deemed to be at the ideal level and was predicted to remain so. There was less optimism regarding equality for women in science, highlighting a potential new challenge.

As the night drew to a close the revellers continued to celebrate, safe in the knowledge that CaSE will go on protecting the interests of British science and will have many more candles on its birthday cake in the future.