Archive for the Uncategorized Category


Posted in Uncategorized on August 24, 2016 by telescoper

Rather later than originally planned I’ve finally got the nod to be a guest of the National Health Service for a while. I’ll therefore  be taking a break from blogging until they’re done with me. Normal services will be resumed as soon as possible, probably but, for the time being, there will now follow a short intermission.


Poll – Do you Listen to Music while you Study?

Posted in Uncategorized on August 22, 2016 by telescoper

A propos de nothing in particular, the other day I posted a little poll on Twitter inquiring whether or not people like to have music playing while they work. The responses surprised me, so I thought I’d try the same question on here (although I won’t spill the beans on here immediately. I’ve made the question quite general in the hope that as wide a range of people as possible (e.g. students, researchers and faculty) will feel able to respond. By “study” I mean anything that needs you to concentrate, including practical work, coding, data analysis, reading papers, writing papers, etc. It doesn’t mean any mindless activity, such as bureaucracy.

Please fill the poll in before reading my personal response, which comes after the “read more” tag.

Oh, and if you pick “Depends” then please let me know what it depends on through the comments box (e.g. type of music, type of study..)

Continue reading

An American doctor experiences the NHS. Again.

Posted in Uncategorized on August 21, 2016 by telescoper

Remember that story a couple of years ago by an American doctor about her experiences of the NHS? Well, here’s a sequel…

Dr. Jen Gunter

WIth my cousin WIth my cousin

Two years ago I wrote about my experience in a London emergency department with my son, Victor. That post has since been viewed > 450,000 times. There are over 800 comments with no trolls (a feat unto itself) and almost all of them express love for the NHS.

I was in England again this week. And yes, I was back in an emergency department, but this time with my cousin (who is English).

This is what happened.

My cousin loves high heels. As a former model she makes walking in the highest of heels look easy. However, cobblestone streets have challenges not found on catwalks and so she twisted her ankle very badly. Despite ice and elevation there was significant swelling and bruising and she couldn’t put any weight on her foot. I suggested we call her doctor and explain the situation. I was worried about a…

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Transitional Arrangements

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on August 17, 2016 by telescoper

I hope you will excuse a short personal message.

I’ve noticed that quite a few people are emailing me at my Sussex address and are getting a message that I have left (which I have).

I am in fact currently on a month’s (unpaid) leave so that I can deal with a number of personal things. After that, from 1st September, I’ll be rejoining the School of Physics and Astronomy at Cardiff University.

My new email and other contact information should be set up shortly. In the meantime I am reading my email at Sussex, but only replying to very urgent messages. I am, after all, on leave.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

Anyway, it seems I picked a good time for for a holiday, as the weather in Cardiff is lovely!

Here for no particular reason is a photograph I took of a heron on the battlements of Cardiff Castle.


Universities must do more to stop violence

Posted in Education, Uncategorized with tags , on August 15, 2016 by telescoper

I’ve thought very hard over the last couple of days about whether to comment on the shocking case reported by the Independent last week of a (male) senior lecturer (Dr Lee Salter) at Sussex University who beat up a (female) student with whom he had been having an affair. In the end I decided that I had to comment, as the case raises some very important questions.

I didn’t know anything about this until last week so I have nothing to add to the account of the events and subsequent criminal conviction given in the newspaper and suggest you read the details there. I will restrict my comments to the wider issues.

On Friday 12th August, shortly after the news broke of Lee Salter’s conviction, the University released a statement which I thought raised more questions than it answered. It  subsequently updated the statement to say that Dr Salter was no longer an employee of the University. Whether that means he was dismissed or that he resigned is not clear.

Among the statements made by the University in its press release is the following:

The University does not tolerate violence of any kind. However, in cases involving criminal charges, it is important that such matters are dealt with by the police and the courts, which take precedence over employment procedures. Pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings, the University kept the situation under review and monitored and assessed any risk to its students.

In my role as a Head of School at Sussex (a job I left just a couple of weeks ago), I had to deal with some disciplinary matters  so I’m very familiar with the content of the relevant procedures. In fact I did more of these than you’d probably imagine, though I can’t write about the details because they are bound by confidentiality.

It is indeed the case that if a disciplinary case involves criminal elements then the established practice is to let the courts decide first before continuing with the disciplinary investigation. For one thing, a conviction in a criminal case usually makes the subsequent internal investigation simpler.

Acquittal in a criminal case does not mean dropping the disciplinary, however, as the standard of proof in a criminal case (“beyond reasonable doubt”) is stronger than that of an internal investigation which is that of a civil court (“on the balance of the evidence”). It is quite possible for the latter standard to be met when the former is not. So it was reasonable for the University to wait for the outcome of the criminal trial before proceeding.

However, the University of Sussex’s own disciplinary procedure also states:

“The University will take disciplinary action in accordance with its procedures against anyone who behaves in a violent manner including, should it be necessary, the immediate exclusion of the perpetrator from the campus.

Based on the account given in the Independent I find it difficult to understand why the University did not take this course of action in this case.

Of course a suspect is innocent until proven guilty, but suspension (paid) and exclusion from campus would not, in my view, have been unnecessarily prejudicial given the seriousness of the charges. Salter would not have been able to do teaching, but could have carried on research from home. The University’s failure to take this step is extremely worrying as in my view it gives inadequate consideration to the effect on the victim of the continued presence of the perpetrator.

For the record I should state that I have very good reasons for having zero tolerance to any form of violence, whether committed by staff or students or political protestors or security guards. You can read why here.

I’ve blogged before about the difficulties surrounding confidentiality and other issues disciplinary procedures in the context of sexual harassment. In that piece – which was actually about science departments – I tried to stress the importance of sticking to proper procedure, but I also explained that dealing with such matters after the fact is never going to provide a fully satisfactory remedy. What is needed is to change campus culture to ensure that abusive harassing and violent behaviour doesn’t happen in the first place. But applying procedures properly would at least be a start…





Everything is fucked: The syllabus

Posted in Uncategorized on August 12, 2016 by telescoper

The course to attend…

The Hardest Science

PSY 607: Everything is Fucked
Prof. Sanjay Srivastava
Class meetings: Mondays 9:00 – 10:50 in 257 Straub
Office hours: Held on Twitter at your convenience (@hardsci)

In a much-discussed article at Slate, social psychologist Michael Inzlicht told a reporter, “Meta-analyses are fucked” (Engber, 2016). What does it mean, in science, for something to be fucked? Fucked needs to mean more than that something is complicated or must be undertaken with thought and care, as that would be trivially true of everything in science. In this class we will go a step further and say that something is fucked if it presents hard conceptual challenges to which implementable, real-world solutions for working scientists are either not available or routinely ignored in practice.

The format of this seminar is as follows: Each week we will read and discuss 1-2 papers that raise the question of whether something is fucked. Our focus…

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Brexit: Enough David Brent, this is serious!

Posted in Uncategorized on August 10, 2016 by telescoper

Interesting discussion of the complexity of the task facing BrExit negotiators. It will probably take a very long time even to work out what we want, let alone finalise the details. Perhaps in that time as the economy slides further into recession the good folk of the UK will realise it was all a very bad idea. But will we ever get the chance to reverse the referendum result?

Flip Chart Fairy Tales

A few years ago, I was listening to a talk by a coach and motivational speaker who was extolling the virtues of positive thinking and the new empowered, non-hierarchical, collaborative workplace. I said that, while I loved his wonderful image of the future of work, I didn’t see much evidence of a trend in that direction. We had been talking about these things for twenty years, yet command and control was still the norm in many industries and technology was making some workplaces more regimented than ever. Not to mention the people on various forms of precarious contract at the whim of their managers.

His response was that, by choosing to focus on such things, I was displaying my negative mind-set. I was filtering information according to my preconceived ideas and refusing to allow in the positive and hopeful future. See what he did there? He turned his complete lack of supporting evidence for…

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