Archive for Twitter

The Open Journal Tweets!

Posted in Open Access with tags , on October 19, 2018 by telescoper


I’ve got a busy day today with teaching and other things so I’m just taking a brief moment to let you know that the Open Journal of Astrophysics now has Twitter account which, if you are so minded, you can follow here

 

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LGBT+ History Month and the Royal Society

Posted in Biographical, History, LGBT with tags , , , , , on February 23, 2018 by telescoper

You may or may not know that this month is LGBT+ History Month for 2018, and, to mark it, the Royal Society has been marking it on Twitter by celebrating LGBT+ scientists.

I am very proud to be included among those featured on Twitter, although slightly disappointed that no mention was made of my greatest achievement, namely the Beard of Winter 2018 award.

I can’t show all the people in the Twitter thread produced by the Royal Society because there are too many of us, but I will mention two people that I know personally.

The first is radio astronomer Rachael Padman from the University of Cambridge:

Among other things, Rachael recently won an award from Gay Times magazine. I worked quite a bit with Rachael when I was External Examiner for Natural Sciences (Physics), a job I did from 2014-2016, as she was heavily involved in the administration of the examinations process at Cambridge during this time.

The other person I’d like to mention is Tom Welton, who is Professor of Sustainable Chemistry and Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Imperial College in London.

I especially wanted to mention Tom because he and I were contemporaries at the University of Sussex way back in the 1980s when I was a research student. I hadn’t seen him since I moved from Sussex in 1990 until two years ago when we were both panellists at an `Out in STEM’ event run by the Royal Society.

I know some of you will be asking whether the Royal Society should be getting involved in LGBT History Month. Some people commenting on the Twitter thread certainly think it shouldn’t.  I think it should, in order to demonstrate that a person can be openly LGBT+ and have a successful career in STEM.  If being visible in this way helps just one career feel more comfortable in themselves and in their career it would be well worth it.

 

A Problem with Spitfires

Posted in Cute Problems, History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on July 25, 2017 by telescoper

This problem stems from an interesting exchange on Twitter last night, prompted by a tweet from the Reverend Richard Coles:

I think his clerical vocation may be responsible for the spelling mistake. The answer to his question doesn’t require any physics beyond GCSE but it does require data that I didn’t have access to last night.

Here’s a version for you to try at home with all the necessary numbers (though not necessarily in the right units):

A model of a Mark VI Spitfire showing its two 20mm cannons.

A Supermarine  Mark VI (Type 350) Spitfire fighter aircraft weighing 6740 lb is initially travelling at its top speed of 354 mph. The aircraft is armed with two Hispano-Suiza HS.404 20mm cannons, one on each wing, each of which is fed by a drum magazine containing 60 rounds. Each projectile  fired from  the cannon weighs 130 grams, the rate fire of each cannon is 700 rounds per minute and the muzzle velocity of each shell is 860 m/s.

(a) Calculate the reduction in the aircraft’s speed if the pilot fires both cannon simultaneously until the magazines are empty, if the pilot does nothing to compensate for the recoil. Express your answer in kilometres per hour.

(b) Calculate the average deceleration of the aircraft while the cannons are being fired, and express your result as a fraction of g, the acceleration due to gravity at the Earth’s surface which you can take to be 9.8 ms-2.

(c) A Mark 24 Spitfire – which is somewhat heavier than the Mark VI, at 9,900 lb (4,490 kg) – is armed with 4×20mm cannons, two on each wing. The inboard cannon on each wing has a magazine containing 175 rounds; the outboard one has 150 rounds to fire. Repeat the above  analysis for these new parameters and comment on your  answer.

Answers through the comments box please!

 

 

 

Yes, science produces too many PhDs

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , , , , on February 19, 2015 by telescoper

I came across a blog post this morning entitled Does Science Produce Too Many PhDs? I think the answer is an obvious “yes” but I’ll use the question as an excuse to rehash an argument I have presented before, which is that most analyses of the problems facing yearly career researchers in science are looking at the issue from the wrong end. I think the crisis is essentially caused by the overproduction of PhDs in this field. To understand the magnitude of the problem, consider the following.

Assume that the number of permanent academic positions in a given field (e.g. astronomy) remains constant over time. If that is the case, each retirement (or other form of departure) from a permanent position will be replaced by one, presumably junior, scientist.

This means that over an academic career, on average, each academic will produce just one PhD who will get a permanent job in academia. This of course doesn’t count students coming in from abroad, or those getting faculty positions abroad, but in the case of the UK these are probably relatively small corrections.

Under the present supply of PhD studentships an academic can expect to get a PhD student at least once every three years or so. At a minimum, therefore, over a 30 year career one can expect to have ten PhD students. A great many supervisors have more PhD students than this, but this just makes the odds worse. The expectation is that only one of these will get a permanent job in the UK. The others (nine out of ten, according to my conservative estimate) above must either leave the field or the country to find permanent employment.

The arithmetic of this situation is a simple fact of life, but I’m not sure how many prospective PhD students are aware of it. There is still a reasonable chance of getting a first postdoctoral position, but thereafter the odds are stacked against them.

The upshot of this is we have a field of understandably disgruntled young people with PhDs but no realistic prospect of ever earning a settled living working in the field they have prepared for. This problem has worsened considerably in recent  years as the number of postdoctoral positions has almost halved since 2006. New PhDs have to battle it out with existing postdoctoral researchers for the meagre supply of suitable jobs. It’s a terrible situation.

Now the powers that be – in this case the Science and Technology Facilities Council – have consistently argued that the excess PhDs go out into the wider world and contribute to the economy with the skills they have learned. That may be true in a few cases. However, my argument is that the PhD is not the right way to do this because it is ridiculously inefficient.

What we should have is a system wherein we produce more and better trained Masters level students  and fewer PhDs. This is the system that exists throughout most of Europe, in fact, and the UK is actually committed to adopt it through the Bologna process.  Not that this commitment seems to mean anything, as precisely nothing has been done to harmonize UK higher education with the 3+2+3 Bachelors+Masters+Doctorate system Bologna advocates.

The training provided in a proper two-year Masters programme will improve the skills pool for the world outside academia, and also better prepare the minority of students who go on to take a PhD. The quality of the  PhD will also improve, as only the very best and most highly motivated researchers will take that path. This used to be what happened, of course, but I don’t think it is any longer the case.

The main problem with this suggestion is that it requires big changes to the way both research and teaching are funded. The research councils turned away from funding Masters training many years ago, so I doubt if they can be persuaded to to a U-turn now. Moreover, the Research Excellence Framework provides a strong incentive for departments to produce as many PhDs as they possibly can, as these are included in an algorithmic way as part of the score for “Research Environment”. The more PhDs a department produces, the higher it will climb in the league tables. One of my targets in my current position is to double the number of PhDs produced by my School over the period 2013-18. What happens to the people concerned seems not to be a matter worthy of consideration. They’re only “outputs”…

Fox News Facts on Twitter

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , , , on January 12, 2015 by telescoper

The following clip comes from a broadcast on Fox News:

The fact that Steve Emerson’s statement was laughably exaggerated and based entirely on ignorance (in this case of the city of Birmingham) comes as no surprise. After all, this was Fox News – a channel whose drivel-mongering is often beyond parody. It did however provoke two things that were surprising, at least to me.

One was something that is a rare commodity these days: a full and unreserved apology:

apology

It’s better not to say stupid things in the first place, but credit to him at least for doing the right thing. I gather he has made a donation to a children’s hospital in Birmingham. So there’s that.

The other surprising thing was what happened on Twitter. Some genius had the idea of setting up a hashtag called #FoxNewsFacts. The consequences were hilarious, as hundreds of people contributed tweets lampooning Fox News for its ignorance of the United Kingdom and of Islam. You can find some of the funniest ones here.

I even contributed a few myself. This one proved a particular hit:

There was also this:

and this

But my favourite was this:

I thought it was wonderful how Twitter users responded in such an imaginative, light-heartedly humorous, and sometimes downright surreal, way to something which could instead have produced pure bile. Twitter isn’t always like that, but yesterday it was a delight on a dark and stormy evening and a welcome change of mood after the depressing events of the last week. And I’m glad to say #FoxNewsFacts is still trending…so it’s not too late to have a go yourself!

The faces of highly followed astronomers on Twitter

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , on February 28, 2014 by telescoper

On Twitter? Looking for an astronomer or astrophysicist to follow? Here’s a Rogues Gallery…

 

 

The Joy of Pepys

Posted in Biographical, History with tags , , , , on May 3, 2013 by telescoper

Twitter is much maligned by those who don’t use it, and I’d be the first to admit that it has several million downsides, but every now and again you come across something truly wonderful which makes it worthwhile putting up with the dross. Here’s an example. Some time ago, a nameless genius came up with the idea of tweeting excerpts from the Diaries of Samuel Pepys.  Those of you on Twitter can follow Samuel Pepys by clicking here:

For those of you not familiar with Twitter, its main characteristic is that messages posted on it (“tweets”) are limited to 140 characters. To outsiders this seems to imply that all tweets are banal and pointless, but this is far from the case. The strict length limit forces a form of creativity that is both rare and wonderful. The stroke of genius in this case was to realize that the Pepys Diaries could be tweeted in chunks of the right size, in a manner that almost suggests they were designed for the purpose!

Pepys was a high-ranking naval administrator and Member of Parliament so he had detailed knowledge of the momentous political events of his period. He’s currently tweeting from May 1660 (near the start of the diaries), giving a vivid insight into the background to the Restoration of the Monarchy. Parliament should be recalled in a few days time, on May 8th…

Here is a selection of recent examples:
peps

But it’s not just the fascinating political context that makes these tweets so interesting. They also give glimpses of everyday life in the 17th Century. Pepys was in poor health for much of his life, for example, and there are frequent references to various physicians and their quack remedies. He also manages to conjure up in just a few words the extraordinary atmosphere and energy of the London of the period, along with some of its excesses (especially drinking and fornication).

Following Pepys’ Twitter feed opens a window into 17th Century England, and what comes through it is both refreshing and illuminating. The reason I find this particularly delightful is something that I’ve blogged about before, so won’t repeat at length. I was a very late developer from an education point of view until I was helped with my reading and arithmetic by a wonderful old lady who lived next door. She encouraged me to read and, after a big struggle, I eventually got the hang of it. After a time I had caught up with the rest of the class in School and eventually managed to read just about every book the School had to offer, including the Diaries of Samuel Pepys which were for some reason on the shelves in Class 2 and which I was allowed to borrow. I don’t think anyone had read them before so nobody, including the teachers, knew how rude they were in places. The Restoration period was generally rather bawdy, and Pepys’ Diaries reflect that.

I had no idea at that time, of course, that less than ten years later I would be studying at Magdalene College, Cambridge, site of the Pepys Library where the orignal diaries are kept as well as the rest of Pepys’ own collection of rare books and music.