Archive for the Uncategorized Category

An interview with Alfredo Carpineti

Posted in LGBT, Uncategorized on April 29, 2016 by telescoper

Ooh. I’ve just noticed this so thought I’d reblog it.

Dr Carpineti did the London Marathon last weekend too!


Current Job:  Science JournalistAlf

Scientific Discipline/Field: Astrophysics

Country: UK

Pick some letters (L,G,B,T,Q etc.): G


What does your job involve?

I work for ‘I fucking Love Science’. I write three articles a day about new research being published, mainly on physics and astrophysics.

How did you get to this job (education etc.)?

I have a B.Sc. from La Sapienza, Rome, an M.Sc. in quantum fields and fundamental forces and a Ph.D. in astrophysics both from Imperial College London.

Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions?

Yes, I felt I couldn’t really be myself in Italy so I decided to move to London to continue my studies.

Have you had any reactions from colleagues about being LGBT, either good or bad?

The reactions to my sexuality have mostly been good. I’ve never had a bad reaction personally, but I know of somebody, another Ph.D…

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Happy Retirement, Diane Greening!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 29, 2016 by telescoper

Yesterday’s retirement do reminded me that I had neglected to mention another retirement, this time from the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

Diane Greening is retiring at the end of this month from her position at STFC where, among many other things, she provided valuable support and guidance to the Astronomy Grants Panel. I’ve served on that panel myself and I can tell you it’s no picnic, not least because there’s just not enough money to go around so many applicants are bound to be disappointed. Those long and difficult meetings in Swindon would have been even tougher without the patience and good humour of the office team, especially Diane.

I’m sure I speak for everyone in the UK Astronomy community when I say thank you to Diane for her sterling service at STFC and wish her a very long and very happy retirement!


Fear and Loathing at Frontiers

Posted in Uncategorized on April 21, 2016 by telescoper

Here’s a truly scary inside story about the behaviour of one of the, sadly many, predatory open access journals out there.

For Better Science

Many scientists have been receiving unsolicited emails from the Swiss publisher Frontiers, with invitations to submit papers or become peer review “editor” with this Open Access (OA) publisher. In fact, the Holtzbrick-owned Frontiers are occasionally criticized for these activities, which were compared to spamming. These “spam” emails however are not written by robots, but by actual human beings, usually interns. Many of them do not seem very happy about their jobs with Frontiers, as one can read at the employer-evaluation portal Glassdoor. Most of the criticism is directed against middle management, who, as I have previously shown, sometimes nonchalantly manage academic topics way outside of their professional competence.

Now, you can learn what goes on inside the Frontiers “spam” factory from a first-hand source.  I was approached by a reader of my website, who turned out to be a former full-time employee at Frontiers. This person…

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Essay Introductions: Opening Sentences

Posted in Uncategorized on April 20, 2016 by telescoper

It is a fact universally acknowledged that it’s often difficult to find a good opening sentence. My only tip is that it’s probably best to write the first sentence last. For other suggestions, read on…


There’s no shortage of advice on how to tackle writing a tricky opening sentence. At least, not if you’re a novelist, short story writer, journalist, or even a blogger. But what about for those writing essays?

‘The Throes of Creation’ by Leonid Pasternak

It’s something we don’t talk about very often because it seems somehow petty. It’s not something that’s likely to lose you marks. The advice you get from tutors will probably focus instead on the reading you’ve brought in, the evidence you’ve assembled and the argument you present. Those are things you’ll be penalised for getting wrong. A howler of an opening line will be overlooked if you’re solid on those, which is why so many howlers go without comment.

So, what do people get wrong? Common mistakes often boil down to writing the opening to the essay before you quite know what you want to say, over-complicating in an attempt…

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Why EU funding is so important for UK science

Posted in Politics, Science Politics, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on April 12, 2016 by telescoper

One of the figures bandied about by the Leave campaign and in particular by the strangely litigious group  that calls itself “Scientists for Britain” (which has only six members that I know of, not all of them scientists) is that the EU is not important for British science because it only funded 3% of UK R&D between 2007 and 2013). They’ve even supplied a helpful graphic:


The figures are taken from a Royal Society report and are, as far as I’m aware, accurate. It’s worth noting however that the level of funding  under the FP7 “Framework Programme” which funds research is much smaller than the current Horizon2020 programme.

However, as Stephen Curry has pointed out in a typically balanced and reasonable blog post, the impact of a BrExit on UK science is much more complex than this picture would suggest. I want to add just a few  points from my specific perspective as a university-based researcher.

First, the 3% figure is arrived at by a tried-and-tested technique of finding the smallest possible numerator and dividing it by the lowest possible denominator. A fairer comparison, in my view, would just look at research funded by the taxpayer (either directly from the UK or via the EU). For one thing we don’t know how much of the research funded by businesses in the UK is funded by businesses which are only here in the UK because we’re part of the European Union. For another these figures are taken over the whole R&D effort and they hide huge differences from discipline to discipline.

From my perspective as an astrophysicist – and this is true of many researchers in “blue skies” areas – most of the pie chart is simply not relevant. The main sources of funding that we can attempt to tap are the UK Research Councils (chiefly STFC and EPSRC) and EU programmes; we also get a small amount of research income from charities, chiefly the Leverhulme Trust. The situation is different in other fields: medical research, for example, has much greater access to charitable funding.

As it happens I’ve just received the monthly research report of the School of Mathematical and Physics Sciences at the University of Sussex (of which I am currently Head) and I can tell you the EU counts not for 3% of our  income but 21% (which is in line with the proportions) above; most of that comes from the European Research Council. The possibility of losing access to EU funding  alarms me greatly as it would mean the loss of about one-fifth of our research base. I know that figure is much higher in some other institutions and departments.

But it’s not just the money that’s important, it’s also the kind of programmes that the EU funds. These are often to do with mobility of researchers, especially those early in their careers (including PhD students), grants that allow us to exploit facilities that we would otherwise not be able to access, and those that sustain large collaborations. It’s not just the level of cash that matters but the fact that what it funds is nicely complementary to the UK’s own programmes. The combination of UK and EU actually provides a much better form of “dual funding” than the UK can achieve on its own.

Some say that BrExit would not change our access to EU funding, but I maintain there’s a huge risk that this will be the case. The loss of the UK’s input into the overall EU budget will almost certainly lead to a revision of the ability of non-member states to access these programmes. The best that even BrExit campaigners argue for is that access to EU funding will not change. There is therefore, from a science perspective, there is no chance of a gain and a large risk of a loss. For me, that kind of a decision is a no-brainer. I’m not the only one who thinks that either: 150 Fellows of the Royal Society agree with me, as do the vast majority of scientists surveyed in a poll conducted by Nature magazine.

Of course there will be some who will argue that this “blue skies” academic research in universities isn’t important and we should be spending more money on stuff that leads to wealth creation. I can think of many arguments against that, but for the purposes of this post I’ll just remind you that 45% of UK research is done in industry and commercial businesses of various kinds. Where do you think the supply of science graduates come from, what kind of research draws students into science courses in the first place, and where do the teachers come from that educate the next generations?

As a scientist who cares passionately about the sustainability of Britain’s research base, I think we should definitely remain in the European Union.

Captain Black

Posted in Uncategorized on April 8, 2016 by telescoper

Too busy to blog today, so here’s a picture of Captain Black from the popular TV series Captain Scarlet.


If I understand my Twitter feed correctly he was on Newsnight tonight, using the pseudonym Conrad. Earth men, your time is at an end.

A Bridge Question

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 3, 2016 by telescoper


Catching up on all the important journals after a short holiday I found the above deal in the Bridge column of The Oldie.

I’m not sure I would have the courage to bid to 7NT as South – 7♦ seems a more likely contract – but in the game described that’s what happened.

West led the 8♦, which in my view plays directly into South’s hands. Declarer already has 12 tricks guaranteed, and the 13th needed for a Grand Slam comes easily if West holds the Q♣, which is indeed the case. However, South didn’t even need the club finesse to succeed in taking all 13 because East discarded two clubs as South played off the obvious Diamond and Spade winners, so the Queen fell to either the A♣ or the K♣ on a club lead.

My question, though, as a mediocre player, is why did West lead a diamond?  South had opened with 1♦, and North had jumped to 3♦  before South’s slam try with 4NT (Blackwood). Against 7♦ West’s would have been a standard defensive lead of a trump, but in No Trumps surely it is better here to follow convention and lead the 4th highest of the longest suit, ie the 8♥? South would then have to play the Ace from dummy, which at least destroys one line of communication as the A♦ can no longer provide an entry to dummy.

I think Declarer still makes the contract but my question is, against this lead, does South have to try the club finesse?


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