Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Responsible SciComm

Posted in Uncategorized on April 1, 2020 by telescoper

One of the things I’ve written about on this blog quite frequently is how important the treatment of uncertainty is in science, both in the application of the scientific method itself and in the communication of results to a wider audience. This blog post makes a similar point about the presentation of results from modelling the spread of Covid-19.

...and Then There's Physics

Yesterday, a group in Oxford released a paper that implied that a signifcant fraction of those in the UK may already have been infected. This was quickly picked up by numerous media outlets who highlighted that coronavirus could already have infected half the British population. James Annan has already discussed it in a couple of post, but I thought I would comment briefly myself.

To be clear, I certainly have no expertise in epidemiology, but I do have expertise in computational modelling. So, I coded up their model, which is described in Equations 1-4 in their paper. They were also doing a parameter estimation, while I’m simply going to run the model with their parameters.

The key parameter is $latex rho$, which is the proportion of the population that is at risk of severe disease, a fraction of whom will die (14%). They explicitly assume that only…

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R.I.P. Phil Anderson (1923-2020)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 30, 2020 by telescoper

I heard this morning via a friend who knew him personally of the death, yesterday at the age of 96, of condensed matter physicist and Nobel Laureate Professor Philip Warren Anderson. He will perhaps be best remembered known for Anderson Localization but he worked on a huge range of topics in physics and his influence was felt across many branches of science (including astrophysics). It’s too early for obituaries to have been published yet but I will add links when they become available.

Update: here is the New York Times obituary.

R.I.P. Philip W Anderson (1923-2020).

The Open Journal of Astrophysics and the Free Journals Network

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 30, 2020 by telescoper


I am pleased to announce that The Open Journal of Astrophysics is now a member of the Free Journal Network.

We are in fact the 51st member of the network, which exists

…to promote scholarly journals run according to the Fair Open Access model (roughly, journals that are controlled by the scholarly community, and have no financial barriers to readers and authors.

A full list of the illustrious journals belonging to this network can be found here.



The Shell House Raid

Posted in Uncategorized on March 21, 2020 by telescoper

Almost forgot that the grim events described in this old post took place in Copenhagen 75 years ago today…

In the Dark

An early morning walk around Copenhagen this morning reminded me of a longer visit I made here about 25 years ago, during which I rented a room in a nice large apartment on Frederiksberg Allé, which is in a rather posh part of the city called Frederiskberg. The landlord, who also lived on the premises, was a Mr Vagn Jul Pedersen, a nice old man who had lived in that part of the city all his life. One evening we sat talking over a beer or two and he told me of a terrible thing that he had seen during the latter stages of the Second World War when he was a young man, and I thought some of you might be interested to learn about it.

In March 1945, the British decided to carry out a low-level bombing attack on a target in Copenhagen, which was under German…

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The Spread of the Coronavirus

Posted in Covid-19, Uncategorized with tags , on March 7, 2020 by telescoper

I thought I would share the above graphic because provides a simple yet very effective illustration of why
it is so important to delay the spread of the Coronavirus, and why strict precautions are being taken to achive that.

The primary cause of death for patients suffering from COVID-19, the disease carried by this virus is that inflamation of the lining of the alveoli in the lungs makes it harder for oxygen to diffuse across into the capillaries and for carbon dioxide to diffuse out. As outlined in the report I shared a few days ago, severe cases therefore require treatment that involves being supplied with oxygen via a respirator for a long period, perhaps weeks. The number of available respirators and intensive care units generally is likely to prove the factor that limits the capacity of hospitals to cope.

The situation might be worse in England because the NHS only has about 2.3 hospital beds per thousand of the population so the capacity limit may be hit much earlier. For reference, Ireland is not much better on 2.96, Scotland has 4.2 and Germany has 8; see here for OECD figures from other countries.

Delaying the spread of the virus may prevent health services from being overwhelmed by spreading out the peak in the manner indicated in the diagram even if the total number of cases were not to reduce. Pushing back the bulk of the distribution by weeks or months may also help if the virus is seasonal – it may transmit infection less efficiently during the spring or summer than it does during the winter.

In the light of this it can’t do any harm to share the HSE advice for Ireland again.

Now wash your hands please.

Farewell to Flybe

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on March 5, 2020 by telescoper

It had been on the cards for some time, but last night the airline Flybe collapsed and has now gone into administration. Let me just leave this Twitter announcement made in January by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps here:

It seems that Flybe has gone the inevitable way of every Tory promise.

I had bought a ticket to fly from Dublin to Cardiff at the end of next week as the following week is a study break that includes the St Patrick’s Day holiday. As a result I got this email this morning.

Obviously it’s an inconvenience for me as I’ll have to find another way to get to Cardiff, but I’ll probably get my money refunded by the Chargeback scheme so it’s not such a big deal. The same can’t be said of the 2000 people who worked for Flybe who have now lost their jobs, nor the many others whose livelihoods depended indirectly on this airline who may also lose theirs. The impact on some of the smaller regional airports in the UK will be considerable, although some airlines may well step in and take up some of the demand.

As of last year, almost 80% of flights from Belfast City airport and 95% from Southampton were via Flybe

I think another airline might well take up some of the Belfast routes, but I doubt if the same would be true of Southampton. In a way, it’s a pity that these small mainland regional airports are so important, which is partly because regional train services are so poor and so expensive, but I can’t see that changing.

I have actually used Flybe quite a lot over the last couple of years. For a while I was taking weekly flights between Cardiff and Dublin and the service was generally quite reliable. I feel very sorry for the staff who have lost their jobs and send them my best wishes and hope that they can find alternative employment before too long.

The WHO-China Report on Corvid-19

Posted in Covid-19, Uncategorized with tags , , on March 4, 2020 by telescoper

As it is a matter of topical and general interest I thought it would be worthwhile sharing the joint World Health Organization – China report on Coronavirus, which you can find here. There is also a discussion thread on Reddit here.

A key figure from this report shows that the number of new cases of Covid-19 has indeed been declining:

The report indicates why and how this has happened. For example, when a cluster of several infected people occurred in China, it was most often (78-85%) caused by an infection within the family transmitted by droplets and other carriers of infection in close contact with an infected person. Transmission by fine aerosols in the air over long distances is not one of the main causes of transmission.

Do read the report. While not being complacent about the scale of the public health challenge, it is a valuable antidote to some of the scaremongering going on.