EO Wilson: Letter to a Young Scientist

Friday, June 29, 2012 at 08:29:20

EO Wilson delivers is a simply fabulous lecture over at TED. Titled “Letter to a Young Scientist”, it implores young people to understand the importance of science to our global future, take on the exciting mantle that science offers, enjoy the ground breaking work you can undertake and above all don’t become obsessive about maths. Science is about being creative, finding unexplored regions of (unknown) knowledge (run from the sound of the gun) and working in teams that can crack hard problems. It’s fulfilling and the vastness of scientific subjects means that anyone can find a home.

Finch report has landed

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 08:23:58

Well the Finch report in to increasing access to published research has finally landed. And perhaps the summarised conclusions (need to read in detail!) are none-too-surprising - “Our view is that the UK should embrace the transition to open access.”

This has certainly generated plenty of press today - for example The Guardian, Reuters and BBC.

Interestingly virtually all the press focuses (at least implicitly) on Science - errr, there are a lot of subjects that aren’t pure science and particularly physical or medical sciences. And obviously a lot of journals servicing them. And this is perhaps the crux of the issue that (from my brief scanning) appears to have been lost. Section 9 (Implementation) recognises that many learned societies that currently benefit from publication, reinvesting it in their subject areas, need to consider a phased plan for going OA.

But what about the subjects themselves?

As I’ve noted before, subjects are dramatically different, with some well funded and some…. well not. For those with no grant funding, how do you publish your research? A policy change could have a rapid and devastating effect on the actual subjects themselves. The players in this game are fighting over

1. the freedom of access to information
2. the burden of payment

Currently payment lies with the reader, principally universities. Now that the government no longer funds UK universities, this burden is paid for by student funding and research grants. Clearly universities would be more than happy to shift that cost elsewhere in order to make them more competitive and potentially more attractive (lower cost?) to students. They could also use this process to acquire more research funding from grant bodies to pay for research article submission - a nice double whammy, lose journal subscription costs and get more money from grant bodies!

OK, but what about everyone else actually submitting research articles who isn’t funded to do so? For developing nations a similar “no cost” model (as there currently is for subscription) would need to be considered, whilst for subjects with limited research funding? There then becomes a tension in universities between going for large numbers of high quality outputs which they have to pay to submit in order to target a high REF outcome or….. well, not funding research submission and, by implication, recognising they donot wish to target research. Would we see some subjects become “teaching only” in the UK? Would current research quality in these subjects significantly diminish in the UK?

It’s a tough set of options and I have no doubt the OA will become the de facto publishing model in many subjects (although alternatives are mooted). And maybe we’ll see a far more mixed mode of operation that pays publishers a fair wage for a job well done and supports learned societies and the subjects they serve. Certainly at JoM we offer both subscription and OA models, the latter (perhaps not surprisingly at the moment) not being popular.

Never Second - a soap opera all of it’s own

Monday, June 18, 2012 at 08:17:52

Well the Never Seconds blog continues to make international headlines. It’s hard to imagine how taking a photo of your school lunch can generate such interest, and indeed have such an impact, but it does. Let’s face it, school dinners are hardly known for their culinary quality, although moves in recent years such as Jamie Oliver’s campaign have brought the issue more in to the limelight and there are many schools that work hard to increase quality knowing that it is directly linked to health (and so indirectly to learning). There is (limited) sympathy - dishing up quality can cost more in ingredients, although the key part is quality staff. When you try to do this on an industrial scale then it becomes much harder to maintain that quality across all those staff, particularly when the market is very price sensitive. Sympathy over - there is no excuse really for this type of food.

OK, so as a council what do you do? Well, with a duty of care, improve your service, turn the nightmare of PR coverage (I’m sure this is what Alex Salmond wants to see!), globally, in to a massive success story, invite contacts like Jamie Oliver to help improve this. Shift the focus from crap food, to an improving service and subsequent impact upon real children with real lives.

So what did the council actually do? Errr…. forbid a 9 year old child from taking photos of her school dinner. Hard to imagine a bigger own goal than this…… surely, surely, SOMEONE would have realised this would be absolutely the LAST thing you would do??!!!!! And the take-apart of press release just allows it to get better.

Come on Argyll and Bute - come clean, admit the food is poor, regardless of which EU regulation you are sticking to, and do something about it. Turn the disaster in to something people can talk about and get some good PR. And allow yourselves to focus on delivering your services to the vulnerable in your communities.

Google Maps History and Applications

Monday, June 11, 2012 at 08:16:00

Nice catch from Very Spatial on the recent Google Maps press announcement. Well worth watching at least the first half which gives a great summary of the history of Google Earth (from SGI and Keyhole) and some of the applications of maps. The StreetView Trekker at around 35:00 is really rather cool - have a StreetView device on your back and weighting only ~40lbs. I guess they don’t sell them!!

SpaceX Success

Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 22:06:40

So on the face of it a perfect mission - launch, manoeuvres, docking, unloading, loading and return. I guess once the Dragon gets back to SpaceX and is unloaded they get a better picture. For something so complex, it will never be perfect and the vast amount of data recoded during the mission will be invaluable in nailing the many problems that must have been uncovered. That doesn’t detract from the remarkable achievement - and the almost inevitable $1.6B contract. No pressure then!

Top of Page