Dear Leaver, your Perfect Brexit is going to be tricky…

Posted in Politics on August 19, 2016 by telescoper

Here’s a very detailed and interesting post about the possible forms if relationship the UK might have with the EU after BrExit. If BrExit ever happens, of course. And if the UK still exist if it does…

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Hi Excited Leaver,

Note: originally this was written during a discussion with a leaver (Rod, I hope you are out there and doing well) but was then turned into a more generic post.

So, you’ve won the referendum and you’re excited about that great new deal we’re going to do with the Europeans. Let’s just recap the deal you’re after:

Access to the single market basically it’s trade more or less exactly like we have now with the EU.  BUT you want to drop some of the extras:

  • No EU contribution
  • No Freedom of Movement
  • No pooled sovereignty

Seems simple enough, just a free trade deal? And of course you’ve been told we’re in a strong position, there’s that huge Trade Deficit as we buy far more than we sell so you’re confident we can drag the EU to the table and get the deal the…

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Clearing Advice for Physics and Astronomy Applicants!

Posted in Education with tags , , , , on August 18, 2016 by telescoper

Today’s the day! This year’s A-level results are out today, Thursday 18th August, with the consequent scramble as students across the country to confirm places at university. Good luck to all students everywhere waiting for your results. I hope they are what you expected!

For those of you who didn’t get the grades they needed, I have one piece of very clear advice:


The clearing system is very efficient and effective, as well as being quite straightforward to use, and there’s still every chance that you will find a place somewhere good. So keep a cool head and follow the instructions. You won’t have to make a decision straight away, and there’s plenty of time to explore all the options.

As a matter of fact there are a few places still left for various courses in the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University. Why should you choose Cardiff? Well, obviously I have a vested interest since I’m rejoining the University this September so I’m biased. However you could take into account that Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff is top of the Russell Group in the latest National Student Survey and that there are wonderful newly expanded and refurbished teaching spaces on site.

For further information check here!

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.


The Integrated Bispectrum and Beyond [CEA]

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff on August 17, 2016 by telescoper

I just came across this wordpress site which automatically posts about new submissions to the arXiv. This has presented me with an opportunity to try it out with a reblog of a recent submission by yours truly!


The position-dependent power spectrum has been recently proposed as a descriptor of gravitationally induced non-Gaussianity in galaxy clustering, as it is sensitive to the “soft limit” of the bispectrum (i.e. when one of the wave number tends to zero). We generalise this concept to higher order and clarify their relationship to other known statistics such as the skew-spectrum, the kurt-spectra and their real-space counterparts the cumulants correlators. Using the {em Hierarchical Ansatz} (HA) as a toy model for the higher order correlation hierarchy, we show how in the soft limit, polyspectra at a given order can be identified with lower order polyspectra with the same geometrical dependence but with {em renormalised} amplitudes expressed in terms of amplitudes of the original polyspectra. We extend the concept of position-dependent bispectrum to bispectrum of the divergence of the velocity field $Theta$ and mixed multispectra involving $delta$ and $Theta$ in the 3D perturbative…

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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…





Simone Manuel and the Racism of Fred Hoyle

Posted in Biographical, Politics, Sport, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on August 14, 2016 by telescoper

Reading just now about Simone Manuel, the first black person to win an Olympic Gold medal in swimming, I suddenly remembered a bizarre event that has been lurking in the back of my mind since 1985.

In September of that year I attended a Summer School for new PhD students in Astronomy, held in Durham. I have posted about this before actually, primarily because it is interesting how many others who attended that School are still around, in senior academic positions.

Anyway, one evening during the course of this meeting there was a public lecture by non other than Sir Fred Hoyle, many of whose books on cosmology I had borrowed from the public library when I was at school and played a big part in encouraging me to study physics at university.

But Fred Hoyle’s talk that evening (to a packed lecture theatre) was not about physics but about his pet theories about the evolution of life, most of which are now generally regarded as nonsense.

At one point in his somewhat rambling discourse he digressed into the subject of the sporting abilities of different racial groups. His first assertion was that black people (by which he meant people of African origin) do not make good swimmers because their bones are too dense and the consequent lack of buoyancy is a significant disadvantage. “Have you ever seen a black swimmer in the Olympics?” he asked. None of us had, of course, but couldn’t that be because of other reasons such as lack of access to swimming pools? No. Fred was adamant. It was down to biology. I assumed he knew what he was talking about, so kept quiet.

He went on to argue that black people were also disadvantaged at tennis – not because of social factors limiting access to tennis courts – but for reasons of “poor hand-eye coordination” which he also asserted to be an inherited characteristic. This time I knew straight away he was talking drivel. The previous summer I had watched the brilliant West Indies cricketers thrash England 5-0 in a test series; their hand-eye coordination certainly wasn’t poor. And neither was that of Arthur Ashe who had  beaten Jimmy Connors in the Men’s Singles Final at Wimbledon a decade earlier,  nor the majestic Serena Williams who is probably the greatest female tennis player the world has ever seen.

These examples left me not only deeply suspicious of Hoyle’s racist attitudes but also staggered by his completely unscientific attitude to evidence. Great theoretical physicist he was – at least early in his career – but being expert about one thing doesn’t mean can’t make an utter fool of yourself if you blunder into another field. Sadly, theoretical physicists do have a greater tendency than most scientists to forget this.

I Journeyed from University to University

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on August 14, 2016 by telescoper

I journeyed from university to university, and I saw everywhere the past rebuilt before the eyes of young men and young women — Egypt, Greece, Rome; language, architecture, laws –saw the earth and sky explained, and the habits of mind and the habits of body —

Everywhere chairs of this and that, largely endowed.

But nowhere saw I a chair of the human heart.

by Max Ehrmann (1872-1945)


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