Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Things That Obviously Aren’t True, No. 387

Posted in Uncategorized on December 9, 2016 by telescoper


“There’s no way it’s real”

Posted in Uncategorized on December 5, 2016 by telescoper

Interesting “inside” story by a student of the discovery of gravitational waves, from the Classical and Quantum Gravity Website.
Professor Stephen Fairhurst (mentioned in the post) is a member of the Gravitational Physics group at Cardiff University, and Director of the Data Innovation Research Institute.


Written by Samantha Usman, who is currently pursuing an MPhil at Cardiff University, UK under the supervision of Prof. Stephen Fairhurst. She graduated in May 2016 with a BS in Mathematics and Physics at Syracuse University. While at Syracuse, Usman worked with Prof. Duncan Brown on improving LIGO’s sensitivity to gravitational waves from binary star systems. In her spare time, Usman trains in Brazilian jiu jitsu and Muay Thai kickboxing and enjoys walks with her Australian Shepherd, Marble.

The discovery of gravitational waves from an undergraduate’s perspective

Author Samantha Usman training for competition in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Author Samantha Usman training for competition in Brazilian jiu jitsu.

The first time I learned LIGO might have detected a gravitational wave, I was listening in on a conference call on September 16, 2015. Two days earlier, ripples in the fabric of space from massive black holes crashing into each other at half the speed of light had passed through the…

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Bullying and Sexual Harassment at CSIRO

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 22, 2016 by telescoper

No sooner has the deluge of emails I’ve been receiving about the Case of Bode versus Mundell started to dry up when I hear about another alarming story revolving around sexual harassment in Astronomy.

This time the revelations concern the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), the federal government agency for scientific research in Australia, and specifically relate the organization’s handling of  numerous instances of  sexual harassment and bullying that have driven several female astronomers out of the organization’s Division of Astronomy and Space Science (CASS). You can listen here listen to a radio programme about this that was broadcast last Sunday on the Australian station ABC. It’s not an easy thing to listen to, but I urge you to make the effort.

Once again one of the key issues raised by this is that of confidentiality. As outlined by the official response from CASS, there are indeed very good reasons for respecting confidentiality:

To make details of our individual investigations public, we could prevent people from coming forward in the future or we could lead to situations of trial by the public or media without full information or a proper process.

Fair enough, but confidentiality cuts both ways. Once again I quote the official response:

Around 200 people on average work in the astronomy and space science business unit. In the past 8 years we have had 16 formal allegations of inappropriate behaviour within this business unit. The cases varied in their degree of seriousness and all of the allegations were investigated. Three of the allegations were of a sexual nature, with two of these three allegations upheld.

Two cases of alleged inappropriate behaviour per year for eight years seems rather a lot for a unit of this size. Granted that isn’t known how many of those are genuine, but in my view even one case is one case too many. However, what is really worrying is that two of the allegations that were “of a sexual nature” were upheld but the outcomes of these investigations were not made known to staff in CASS. I’m all for confidentiality and due process, but if one thing is going to stop people “coming forward in the future” it’s the perception that nothing will be done if they do. There just has to be a better way of dealing with misconduct allegations than what CSIRO (and all organizations) I’ve worked in do now. I hope we’re past the stage of denying that there is a problem. The question is how to make things better.

I’ve thought a lot about this since I blogged about the Bode versus Mundell case (here and here). We should all agree that we need to strive to create working environments wherein harassment and bullying simply do not happen, but sadly they do and until that changes we need to find ways of dealing with the perpetrators fairly but firmly and promptly.

I have two concrete suggestions to make.

The first is that organizations of a sufficient size to bear the cost should have independent misconduct investigators rather than relying on staff from the same workplace. This role could even be fulfilled by someone from a different organization altogether. Universities, for example, could set up a shared resource to deal with this kind of thing. Such a move would avoid any perceived conflict of interest but, more importantly, a dedicated investigator could carry out the work much more quickly than a senior academic who is busy with many other things.

The other suggestion is that confidentiality agreements covering disciplinary should become void if an employee leaves the institution, whether that is as a result of dismissal or because they leave before investigations are completed. That would put an end to the game of “pass the harasser”.

There are probably serious problems with both these suggestions and I’d be happy to take criticism through the comments box below.

Beard of the Year 2016 poll: Gary Lineker leads longlist of contenders named

Posted in Uncategorized on November 12, 2016 by telescoper

I voted for Moeen, but there’s still time to nominate your favourite for Beard of the Year 2016!

Kmflett's Blog

Beard Liberation Front

Media Release

11th November

Contact Keith Flett 07803 167266

Beard of the Year 2016 poll: Gary Lineker leads longlist of contenders named


The Beard Liberation Front the informal network of beard wearers has announced the longlist for the Beard of the Year 2016 poll.

Broadcaster Gary Lineker leads the longlist of contenders

In 2015 Weird Beard brewer Bryan Spooner won the vote.

The campaigners say that the award is specifically not about who has the best or most magnificent beard. Rather it focuses on the beard wearer who has made the most positive hirsute public impact during the year.

With the rise in hirsuteness there is now a longlist poll to prune down the contenders to 10 for the final vote which starts on 25th November. The winner is announced on 29th December.

BLF Organiser Keith Flett said, there is a greater diversity than ever on the…

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That Was The Data Innovation Day That Was

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 7, 2016 by telescoper

Time, methinks, for a quick work-related post. You may know that my current appointment is in association with Cardiff University’s Data Innovation Research Insitute, and it’s that part of my job that is taking up most of my time at the moment. Last Friday (4th November) we had our first Data Innovation Day, the aim of which was to encourage collaboration between Schools and Research Institutes in the area of Data Science.

To this end, on Friday morning we had a dozen short(ish) talks on data science aspects of all kinds of subjects, from neuroimaging to gravitational wave research to healthcare to biosocial computing to statistical modelling and so on and so forth. It was a fascinating mixture of presentations and about 75 people attended, which was a pretty good audience. After lunch we broke into groups to develop specific research projects and establish what the Data Innovation Institute can do to help foster collaborations across disciplinary and administrative boundaries. That’s much harder than it might sound, and is certainly harder than it should be in modern universities. We had no shortage of ideas, and let’s hope we can turn them into concrete projects.

Anyway, one of my contributions to the day was to set up a Twitter account for the Data Innovation Research Institute together with a logo:


We currently have a princely 37 followers. Feel free to follow if you’re on Twitter and interested in Data Science!

Enemies of the People

Posted in Uncategorized on November 6, 2016 by telescoper

I found this on Facebook and I think I’ll just leave it here…


The Heavens Themselves…

Posted in Uncategorized on November 6, 2016 by telescoper

The heavens themselves, the planets and this centre 
Observe degree, priority and place, 
Insisture, course, proportion, season, form, 
Office and custom, in all line of order; 
And therefore is the glorious planet Sol 
In noble eminence enthroned and sphered 
Amidst the other; whose medicinable eye 
Corrects the ill aspects of planets evil, 
And posts, like the commandment of a king, 
Sans cheque to good and bad: but when the planets 
In evil mixture to disorder wander, 
What plagues and what portents! what mutiny! 
What raging of the sea! shaking of earth! 
Commotion in the winds! frights, changes, horrors, 
Divert and crack, rend and deracinate 
The unity and married calm of states 
Quite from their fixure! O, when degree is shaked, 
Which is the ladder to all high designs, 
Then enterprise is sick! How could communities, 
Degrees in schools and brotherhoods in cities, 
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores, 
The primogenitive and due of birth, 
Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels, 
But by degree, stand in authentic place? 

Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, Act I, Scene III.