Archive for BBC Radio 4

The Great Science Publishing Scandal

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , , on May 1, 2019 by telescoper

There was a programme broadcast on BBC Radio 4 yesterday called The Great Science Publishing Scandal. It is now available on the interwebs here, which is how I listened to it this morning.

Here’s the blurb that goes with the programme:

Matthew Cobb, Professor of Zoology at the University of Manchester, explores the hidden world of prestige, profits and piracy that lurks behind scientific journals.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of articles on the findings on research are published, forming the official record of science. This has been going on since the 17th century, but recently a kind of war has broken out over the cost of journals to the universities and research institutions where scientists work, and to anyone else who wants to access the research, such as policy makers, patient support groups and the general public.

Traditionally journals charge their readers a subscription, but since the start of the 21st century there’s been a move to what’s called open access, where the authors pay to get their articles published but anyone can read them, without charge. In Europe Plan S has called for all research funded by the public purse to be open access, by 2020. If and when this is implemented it could have downsides on learned societies who depend on income from journal subscriptions to support young researchers and on scientists in the less developed world.

Some universities, and even countries, have recently refused to pay the subscriptions charged by some of the big science publishers. This has lead to some scientists using a service run by a Russian hacker, which has effectively stolen the whole of the scientific literature and gives it away, free, on the internet.

Matthew Cobb looks back at how the scientific publishing industry got to its current state and asks how it could change. He argues that scientists themselves need to break their addiction to wanting their articles to appear in a few well known journals, and instead concentrate on the quality of their research.

I think this programme is well worth listening to as it makes many of the right criticisms of the status quo. I did, however, find it very frustrating in that it doesn’t really even touch on any of the viable alternative ways of disseminating peer-reviewed scientific research. I didn’t expect a mention for the Open Journal of Astrophysics specifically, but this is one model that at least tries to challenge the status quo. I’m assuming that at least part of the reason for this is the presenter Matthew Cobb works in Zoology, and that is a field that perhaps does not have the established practice of sharing papers via repositories that we have in physics and astronomy via the arXiv. Anyway, it felt to me like he missed an open goal…

Stephen Hawking’s Reith Lectures

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on January 8, 2016 by telescoper

Yesterday I took off early from work to head up to the Royal Institution in London to attend a recording of the Reith Lectures, this year given by Stephen Hawking.

Here’s a rather crappy phone pic to show I was there.


In fact they recorded two of this year’s lectures, as well as a lengthy question-and-answer session. The talks and answers to audience questions did of course have to be pre-loaded into Stephen’s computer before delivery which necessitated some pauses for uploads. This together with the recording of various intros, outros and idents made for quite a lengthy event but I found the whole process fascinating and didn’t mind that at all. I did have three glasses of wine at the drinks reception before the show, however, so was in quite a relaxed frame of mind generally.

In charge of the whole thing was the inestimable Sue Lawley who did her job brilliantly. On a few occasions, Stephen Hawking’s computer had a glitch and made a spontaneous interjection in an inappropriate place. Sue Lawley proved  completely unflappable.

The topic for the series is, not surprisingly because it is what Hawking is most closely associated with, Black Holes. The lectures were enjoyably sprinkled with some very witty asides, but I did get surprisingly technical at a few points; the audience members beside me were visibly baffled on more than one occasion. See what you think yourself when the lectures are broadcast, the first on 26th January and the second a week later, both at 9pm on BBC Radio 4. They will also be broadcast on the BBC World Service.

The Reith Lectures are open to the public. Apparently over 20,000 applied for tickets to attend last night, such is the draw of Stephen Hawking. The capacity of the Royal Institution lecture theatre is only about 400 so many were disappointed. Fortunately for me, owing no doubt to some form of administrative error, I was an invited guest. I was however somewhat relieved to find I was only on the B-list so although I got to use the VIP entrance I didn’t have to sit among the big nobs at the front in reserved seats.

For Your Listening Pleasure…

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on November 12, 2009 by telescoper

Well, this is blogging made easy. I’ve just cut-and-pasted the following item directly from the School’s news page with very few alterations, but it’s all done for a good reason, so please read on:

A leading member of the School of Physics and Astronomy at Cardiff University, whose research helped create one of the most powerful and ambitious astronomical satellites ever made will feature in a two-part Radio 4 programme.

The Herschel Space Telescope is a two-part series to be aired on Radio 4 on Wednesday 18th November, 11:00-11:30am and Wednesday 25th November, 11:00-11:30am. BBC science reporter Jonathan Amos follows the engineers and scientists working on the SPIRE instrument for the European Space Agency’s Herschel satellite. Herschel is one of the most important missions in the history of European spaceflight and was launched successfully on May 14 this year.

The SPIRE instrument was built by an international team led by Professor Matt Griffin, School of Physics and Astronomy. The programme tells the story of the UK SPIRE team, including several members from Cardiff, as they prepared for the launch of Herschel and as the first results came in.

As well as Professor Griffin, other members of staff in the School of Physics and Astronomy who contributed to the project are also featured. They include: Professor Steve Eales, Dr Jon Davies, Dr Kate Isaak, and Dr Pete Hargrave as well as post-doctoral researchers Dr Jason Kirk, Dr Michael Pohlen, and Dr Luca Cortese.

Professor Matt Griffin

Herschel carries the biggest mirror ever sent to space and is already giving astronomers their best view yet of the Universe at far-infrared and sub-millimetre wavelengths. It can peer through obscuring clouds of dust to look at the early stages of star birth and galaxy formation; it can examine the composition and chemistry of comets and planetary atmospheres in the Solar System; and it is able to study the star-dust ejected by dying stars into interstellar space which forms the raw material for planets like the Earth.

Professor Griffin said: “With its big telescope and sophisticated and sensitive instruments, including SPIRE, Herschel is a very powerful observatory for many studies from our own solar system to the most distant galaxies. Already we can see that its results will reveal how stars like the Sun are forming in our own galaxy today, how planetary systems can develop from the dust and gas around young stars, and how the galaxies grew and evolved over cosmic time.

“Astronomers from Cardiff are at the forefront in making these exciting scientific discoveries – we are delighted that the work of Cardiff scientists will be featured in such an important radio programme.”

I should also point out that BBC Radio 4 programmes can be listened to online, and are available to download for a week after the broadcast from the BBC website (even to foreigners).

PS. I should also mention that today’s “Material World” (another Radio 4 programme) was a special edition from Cardiff University and also featured an astronomy item. If you missed it, or if you want to hear it again, you can listen to it here.

Ode to the Shipping Forecast

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 16, 2009 by telescoper

It’s broadcast four times a day on BBC Radio 4 and is immensely popular even with those who know nothing about shipping and live miles from the sea. The Shipping Forecast is as deep a part of British culture as cricket and standing in queues, although it doesn’t take as long as either of those things. It’s like a kind of soothing ritual that tells you that the world is still functioning despite all the stresses of the day. It’s predictable, safe and very conventional, like a meteorological version of the Anglican liturgy, but the combination of the mystical names with numbers and obscure formulae gives it a peculiarly pagan dimension.

I have to admit I’m an addict.

The Shipping Forecast is based on the division of the seas around the British Isles into a series of 31 areas, shown on the map, all with wonderfully evocative names. I was born in the Northeast of England so the sequence Forth-Tyne-Dogger always has a particular resonance for me, although living now in Cardiff I now find Lundy-Fastnet-Irish Sea is growing on me. The only problem is it sometimes sounds like Fishnet rather than Fastnet.

The broadcast of the Shipping Forecast always follows a strict format. It always begins with the words “And now the Shipping Forecast, issued by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency at xx:xx GMT today.”, although some announcers may read out the actual date of issue as opposed to the word “today”.

First are the Gale warnings (winds of force 8 or more, on the Beaufort scale), if any (e.g. There are warnings of gales in Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey, and Fair Isle). This sometimes follows the opposite format (e.g. There are warnings of gales in all areas except Biscay, Trafalgar and FitzRoy).

The General Synopsis follows, giving the position, pressure (in millibars) and track of pressure areas (e.g. Low, Rockall, 987, deepening rapidly, expected Fair Isle 964 by 0700 tomorrow).

The forecast for each of the 31 shipping areas shown in the map is then read out. Several areas may be combined into a single forecast where the conditions are expected to be similar.

Wind direction is given first, then strength (on the Beaufort scale), followed by precipitation, if any, and (usually) lastly visibility. Change in wind direction is indicated by veering (clockwise change) or backing (anti-clockwise change). Winds of above force 8 are also described by name for emphasis, e.g. Gale 8, Severe Gale 9, Storm 10, Violent Storm 11 and Hurricane force 12. (See Beaufort scale). The word “force” is only officially used when announcing force 12 winds.

Visibility is given in the format: Good, meaning that the visibility is greater than 5 nautical miles; Moderate, where visibility is between 2 and 5 nautical miles; Poor, where visibility is between 1000 metres and 2 nautical miles and Fog, where visibility is less than 1000 metres. When severe winter cold combines with strong winds and a cold sea, icing can occur, normally only in sea area Southeast Iceland; if expected, icing warnings (light, moderate or severe) are given as the last item of each sea area forecast.

The extended shipping forecasts (0520 and 0048 GMT) also include weather reports from a list of additional coastal stations and automatic weather logging stations, which are known by their names, such as Channel Light Vessel Automatic. These are the Coastal Weather Stations, some of which are actually military bases. These add an additional movement to the Symphony of the Shipping Forecast. I’m a particular fan of Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic. It just sounds so good.

You can listen to an example here.

Deeply evocative, but with a perfect control of form and an economy of structure, the Shipping Forecast is ten minutes of pure poetry.