Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Trump the Child-catcher

Posted in Uncategorized on June 16, 2018 by telescoper

The above cartoon, protesting against ‘President’ Trump’s policy of forcibly separating young children from their parents and detaining them in cages, got the artist Rob Rogers fired from his job at the Pittsbugh Post-Gazette.

It seems fairly mild to me, given the enormity of what is going on, so I thought I’d share it here.


Advice to anyone thinking of travelling with Eurowings

Posted in Uncategorized on June 16, 2018 by telescoper

Auf Wiedersehen, Bonn

Posted in Uncategorized on June 15, 2018 by telescoper

So here I am in Cologne-Bonn Airport waiting for my flight back to London Heathrow. The meeting carries on today with a ‘Garage Day’ but I’m skipping that because I don’t have a car.

Inevitably with Eurowings, my plane is delayed by over an hour, which means I’ll be very late back to Cardiff as I’ll miss the bus I had planned to get.

Update: The plane is now delayed by 2 hours and 10 minutes (and counting..)

The Rolling Stones are on in Cardiff tonight and the flight delay probably means I’ll be arriving exactly at the wrong time, when most of the city centre will be sealed off.

I’ve definitely learnt my lesson with Eurowings on this trip and will not be travelling with them again.

Anyway, the delay gives me an opportunity to thank all the organisers of the 2018 Euclid Consortium meeting, which was very well run indeed!

R.I.P. Bepi Tormen (1962-2018)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on June 12, 2018 by telescoper

Once again I find myself having to use this blog to pass on some desperately sad news. Giuseppe Tormen, universally known as Bepi, passed away on Sunday 10th June at the age of 56.

I knew Bepi mainly from the many visits I made to Padova in the 1990s and early 2000s. As well as many other useful and enjoyable interactions I had with him, Bepi also helped enormously in proving detailed comments and numerous corrections for the book I co-wrote with Francesco Lucchin. His contributions to cosmology were many and varied, but were always characterised by the same very high standard of integrity, insight, diligence and careful accuracy. He was widely admired as an excellent scientist and splendid colleague.

Bepi had been bravely fighting cancer for some time, having defied a very poor prognosis for several years with the aid of experimental treatment, but most recently he developed a brain tumour which sadly proved terminal. My deepest condolences go to his family, friends and colleagues.

Rest in peace, Bepi Tormen (1962-2018).

Yet more sexual harassment in Astronomy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 10, 2018 by telescoper

Yesterday I saw a thread on Twitter commencing with the following tweet by Dr Emma Chapman (now of Imperial College):

You can find the whole thread here; and here is one of the documents that have now been published:

I have met Dr Chapman and knew that she had endured sexual harassment in the recent past, but did not know any of the details of her case because they remained confidential until yesterday. They relate to sexual harassment by her PhD supervisor, Dr Filipe Abdalla of University College London (whom I don’t know personally). It has taken Dr Chapman two years to get documents relating to this case disclosed publicly. I also didn’t realise that episodes of harassment of other women were involved or that Dr Abdalla, who remains in post at UCL, has apparently been indulging in retaliatory behaviour towards those who have made complaints against his conduct. I am given to understand that Dr Abdalla is on a final written warning for his conduct.

I suggest you read the whole thread and form your own conclusions.

For what its worth, although I find it very hard to avoid the conclusion that University College London has handled this case abysmally at an institutional level, it is important to realise that failure to tackle sexual harassment properly is a systemic problem not confined to that particular institution. I know that the Department of Physics & Astronomy at UCL has fought very hard to tackle sexual harassment and discrimination, but efforts at such a level are not always helped by the attitudes of those in higher places.

I would like to take the opportunity to praise Emma Chapman for having the determination to get this out in the open (at considerable personal cost) and her legal advisors for finding a way through the wall of silence.

I have blogged a number of times before about sexual harassment cases, but I’ll take this opportunity to repeat what I said in an earlier post:

Failure to act strongly when such behaviour is proven just sends out the message that the institution doesn’t take sexual harassment seriously. In my view, confidentiality is needed during an investigation – to protect both sides and indeed the person doing the investigation – but if the conclusion is that misconduct has taken place, it should be acknowledged publicly. Justice has to be seen to be done. Sexual assault, of course, is another matter entirely – that should go straight to the police to deal with.

I’ve talked about protocols and procedures, but these can only ever apply a sticking-plaster solution to a problem which is extremely deeply rooted in the culture of many science departments and research teams across the world. These tend to be very hierarchical, with power and influence concentrated in the hands of relatively few, usually male, individuals. A complaint about harassment generally has to go up through the management structure and therefore risks being blocked at a number of stages for a number of reasons. This sort of structure reinforces the idea that students and postdocs are at the bottom of the heap and discourages them from even attempting to pursue a case against someone at the top.

The unhealthy power structures I’ve discussed will not be easy to dismantle entirely, but there are simple things that can be done to make a start. “Flatter”, more democratic, structures not only mitigate this problem but are also probably more efficient by, for example, eliminating the single-point failures that plague hierarchical organisational arrangements.

We are very far indeed from eliminating harassment or the conditions that allow it to continue but although cases like this are painful, I think they at least demonstrate that we are beginning to acknowledge that there’s a problem.

I think we’re now long past the point where acknowledgement is necessary. It’s now time to take action against the individuals and institutions responsible for perpetuating the problem.

Why you should proofread your emails before sending them..

Posted in Uncategorized on June 9, 2018 by telescoper

If you have any amusing email gaffes to report please do so through the comments box. I have a few.

My favourite was from a (female) astronomer who replied to decline an email invitation to give a seminar because she was “too busty”.

There was also a “here is the reviled version of our paper”.

I also liked the one that included the phrase “your model has many appalling features”..

Lá Saoire i mí Mheitheamh

Posted in Biographical, History, Maynooth, Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 4, 2018 by telescoper

So here I am, in Maynooth, on my birthday. I’ve made such an impression here in Ireland since I arrived that they’ve declared this day a national holiday so I’ve got the day off.

The June Bank Holiday (Lá Saoire i mí Mheitheamh) in Ireland is actually the equivalent of last week’s late May Bank Holiday in the UK, in that both have their origin in the old festival of Whitsuntide (or Pentecost) which falls on the 7th Sunday after Easter. Because the date of Easter moves around in the calendar so does Whit Sunday, but it is usually in late May or early June. When the authorities decided to fix a statutory holiday at this time of year, presumably to reduce administrative difficulties, the UK went for late May and Ireland for early June. Whit Sunday was actually on 20th May this year.

Incidentally, when I was a lad, ‘Whit Week’ was always referred to as ‘Race Week’. Geordie Ridley’s famous music hall song The Blaydon Races begins “I went to Blaydon Races, ’twas on the 9th of June, Eighteen Hundred and Sixty Two on a summer’s afternoon…”. Easter Sunday fell on 20th April in 1862, so Whit Sunday was on 8th June. After raucous scenes at the Blaydon Races, they were scrapped and replaced with a Temperance Festival on the Town Moor in Newcastle which evolved into one of the largest open-air funfairs in Europe, The Hoppings.

Anyway, with this birthday, I have now reached the minimum retirement age in the UK university pension scheme, so I could start drawing my pension when I leave Cardiff University next month. For a time I was planning to do that, but Ireland has given me a new lease of life, so to speak, so thoughts of retirement have receded.

Today also represents a short hiatus before our formal Exam Board meeting tomorrow, then I’ll be back in Cardiff for exam business there. And next week I’ll be in neither Cardiff nor Maynooth…