Science Blogs

25 years in science communication

Sciencebase - 23 January, 2014 - 10:00

I’ve worked in science communication since 23rd January 1989, that’s a quarter of a century as of today, sheesh…doesn’t time fly?

Having set out as a chemist, I quickly realised I was better at the writing up the lab reports part than the rolling up the labcoat sleeves and mucking about with test-tubes. In fact, I never found a labcoat to fit and I used to lose my pens and spatula every time I bent over to pick up whatever it was I’d last knocked off the bench.

Anyway, I spent a few months working and travelling in the USA and on my return did a stint in QA/QC for a food company up north. I landed a job in Cambridge with the Royal Society of Chemistry as a technical editor initially and got a good grounding in working with the scientific literature as well as beating other people’s words into shape. Rattled my way up to what was effectively deputy editor on Chem Comm.

david-bradley-quarter-century

I realised technical editing wasn’t for me and took an extended trip to travel Australia with my (now) wife. On my return, I steadily built up my freelance writing portfolio. You can see a list of past and present clients with whom I’ve worked over the last quarter of a century on my CV page. They range from the daily papers (Telegraph, Guardian) and popular magazines (New Scientist, Popular Science, American Scientist, Focus) to the likes of Science, Analytical Chemistry, Chem Soc Reviews, Nature and PNAS. I’ve written news, views and features, reported from conferences and interviewed many leading scientists as well as working with organisations such as ESF, EPSRC, ANL, NERC and many others on internal reports and brochures.

I’ve contributed to and acted as an editor on various books over the years, but finally settled down with a solo commission from independent publisher Elliott & Thompson in 2012 to write Deceived Wisdom (you can get a digital copy at a knockdown price at that link).

A few awards have been accumulated over the years, although you usually have to enter yourself into the journalism and science communication awards and I’m usually too embroiled in scientific discussion to get to a photocopier. Nevertheless: Winner – 1992 Daily Telegraph Science Writer of the Year, Runner-up – 1995 Chemical Industries Association (CIA) Awards, Commendation – 1997 UK Medical Journalism Awards, Shortlisted – 2001 Pirelli science multimedia awards, Finalist – 2008 weblogawards, Finalist – 2008 – Twitter Shorty Awards, Runner-up – 2010 Research Blogging awards.

Anyway, I hope I’ll still be capable of writing about science over the next 25 years to reach my 50th anniversary, but if it’s not Science, you know it’ll be Songs and Snaps

Portrait by Mrs Sciencebase. Apologies to Peter Gabriel and graphic designer Peter Saville. By the way, I don’t own a cornet so couldn’t do a photo of my blowing my own trumpet…

Meanwhile, this day is the “memory” of my maternal grandmother and of surrealist artist Salvador Dali who died in 1989. Oh, and on a happier note it’s the day I met the then future Mrs Sciencebase (real name changed).

25 years in science communication is a post from the science blog of David Bradley, author of Deceived Wisdom
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Reining in the ads

Sciencebase - 23 January, 2014 - 08:33

For years companies have been tweaking their web sites and advertising algorithms so that they can show you targeted ads. Banners that offer you exactly what you want just when you think you might need it. Search for weightloss on Google and you will likely see marketing for local slimming classes search on Amazon for anything about nutrition and you’ll often be recommended diet books. Use one of those new-fangled, internet-conneted smoke alarms and if you’re house isn’t burning down they advertise insurance against fire and if it is burning down you’ll probably see an ad for fire extinguishers.

They have got so clever, so sneaky, with the cookies they foist on you when you visit a page, all those logins on sites connected to Facebook etc, the credit databases. They know everything about who, where and what you’ve been, what you did and who with and how much it all cost. They could be even more targeted with the ads if they really wanted to and for months a lot of people have been complaining just how creepy it was all getting. Did Facebook really know you were searching for snorkels and flippers but you had no intention of taking part in watersports? What about that the equine interest, were you really looking for stuff related to your My Little Pony fixation or a good time with a stablehand? The sites know.

Then came the NSA scandal. Not only do the commercial concerns know all your who, why, what, where and wahays…so does the American government and it doesn’t really matter whether you’re in one of the 50 States or somewhere else. If you’ve ever connected to the internet, fired up a smart phone or just had a lottamocca skinny sprinkle frappacino with hornbeam syrup in your local cyber cafe they know.

But, tracking, cookies, cross-site logins…all so scary that it seems they’re reining themselves in (pardon the pony pun). I hear reports from lots of people that the ads they’re seeing these days are way off target and they’re getting purchase recommendations for stuff they already bought. What is this, web 1.0 beta again? No, I don’t think so. The companies are running scared in the wake of the NSA spying scandal and have temporarily crippled their advertising algorithms to make it look like they’re not tracking you.

a-loada-pony-trap

Of course, once the tracking dust settles they will come back with a vengeance as they are currently working on even stronger more targeted advertising software that will not only spot your fixation but recommend the right antibiotic cream to treat it afterwards as well as avoiding that particular allergy of yours…you know the one to horse hair…

Reining in the ads is a post from the science blog of David Bradley, author of Deceived Wisdom
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The antipodes, on the other foot

Sciencebase - 20 January, 2014 - 16:55

When I was at school, they used to call Australia “the antipodes”, I suppose they still do, but antipodean to what? It’s certainly not antipodean to Britain. In fact, if you try this tool you can see that the Aussie mainland is diametrically opposite the open waters of Atlantic Ocean.

australian-antipodes

So, what about New Zealand? That, as they used to say is “on the other side of the world” too? It was also apparently “antipodean” despite Wellington, NZ being separated from Sydney, Australia, as London is from Moscow and they’re rarely considered to be near neighbours. North Island NZ is actually antipodean to mainland Spain.

new-zealand-antipodes

So, what place is antipodean to Britain? The South Pacific, it seems, or if you have a boat, the Antipodes a group of islands discovered in 1800 and apparently diametrically opposite Greenwich give or take a bit of rowing.

britain-antipodes

The antipodes, on the other foot is a post from the science blog of David Bradley, author of Deceived Wisdom
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Open your labbook, sign the petition

Sciencebase - 18 January, 2014 - 15:56

A Whitehouse petition that any of us, not just Amercuns, can sign, was published last night. Here’s its mission:

Access to notebooks improves the processes of patenting, inventing & preserving U.S. scientific & medical history. In 2013, OSTP mandated open access for federally funded research articles & data, but excluded notebooks. This petition requests expansion of the mandate. When federally funded research results in a provisional patent application, a digital copy of searchable, full-text notebooks should be required. Why? Without notebooks, recent studies were unable to reproduce journal findings, resulting in serious economic & health implications for products & processes. Notebooks are evidence in patent litigation, so funding USPTO storage prevents fraud. After the life of the patent, notebooks should become public domain with an exclusion allowing transfer of classified materials to NARA.

via Mandate Open Access to Digital Copies of Lab Notebooks Created Through Publicly Funded Research Leading to a US Patent | We the People: Your Voice in Our Government.

Open your labbook, sign the petition is a post from the science blog of David Bradley, author of Deceived Wisdom
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Open your lab book – sign the petition

Sciencebase - 18 January, 2014 - 15:53

A Whitehouse petition that any of us, not just Amercuns, can sign, was published last night. Here’s its mission:

Access to notebooks improves the processes of patenting, inventing & preserving U.S. scientific & medical history. In 2013, OSTP mandated open access for federally funded research articles & data, but excluded notebooks. This petition requests expansion of the mandate. When federally funded research results in a provisional patent application, a digital copy of searchable, full-text notebooks should be required. Why? Without notebooks, recent studies were unable to reproduce journal findings, resulting in serious economic & health implications for products & processes. Notebooks are evidence in patent litigation, so funding USPTO storage prevents fraud. After the life of the patent, notebooks should become public domain with an exclusion allowing transfer of classified materials to NARA.

via Mandate Open Access to Digital Copies of Lab Notebooks Created Through Publicly Funded Research Leading to a US Patent | We the People: Your Voice in Our Government.

Open your lab book – sign the petition is a post from the science blog of David Bradley, author of Deceived Wisdom
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1+2+3+4+5+6… = -1/12 obviously

Sciencebase - 9 January, 2014 - 17:25

UPDATE: I originally posted this item on 9th January just as the buzz started to build. Lots of other websites have since mentioned it in a credulous way, others have been more critical. It is in some senses correct, but the fact that it works in “String Theory” is neither here nor there given that we have absolutely no beyond-doubt physical evidence for Strings, in the first place. But, there is an assumption in the proof shown in the video that effectively proves they’re wrong and that is the statement that:

S1 = 1 – 1 + 1 – 1 + 1 … and so on forever and that this somehow equals 1/2, as if adding up numbers is somehoq equivalent to their mean average…therein lies the “proof’s” downfall as I understand. Once that assumption is debunked the whole edifice collapses.

Anyway, here’s the guts of the original post and the video:

If you could somehow add up all the whole numbers from 1 to infinitty the answer you would get is -1/12 (minus one twelfth), don’t believe me, here’s the astounding mathematical proof and if it seems absurd, then it’s no more absurd than the idea that you could add up all the numbers to infinity in the first place. Bizarrely, string theory seems to hinge on this bizarre notion…which perhaps isn’t the best of advocates for this being a valid proof. ;-)

1+2+3+4+5+6… = -1/12 obviously is a post from the science blog of David Bradley, author of Deceived Wisdom
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After shortest day sunrise still gets later

Sciencebase - 3 January, 2014 - 11:06

Several people asked me about the odd phenomenon that in these here parts sunrise gets later each day until early January even though the days themselves get longer after the winter solstice.

sunrise

From EarthSky: The winter solstice always brings the shortest day to the Northern Hemisphere and the longest day to the Southern Hemisphere. But, the tardiest sunrise doesn’t coincide with the day on which the sun is above the horizon for the shortest time, least daylight hours; similarly, the latest sunsets don’t happen on the day of greatest daylight.

Why is this? The main reason is that the Earth’s rotational axis is tilted to the plane of our orbit around the sun. If it were perpendicular to the orbital plane we wouldn’t perceive this discrepancy.

A secondary reason is that the Earth’s orbit is eccentric (an ellipse, like a squashed circle, with the centre of the sun slightly off its centre), Earth travels fastest in January and slowest in July. Clock time gets a bit out of sync with sun time – by about 30 seconds each day for several weeks around the winter solstice. Adapted from Latest sunrises for mid-northern latitudes in early January.

Additionally, says Royal Museums Greenwich, the longest natural day is about 51 seconds longer than the shortest. But, for clocks to be useful, days need to be fixed in length. We fix them on the average, or mean, length of a natural day (hence Greenwich Mean Time). By averaging out the length of each day like this, the clock time at which the sun reaches its highest point slowly drifts back and forth as the months progress. There is a knock-on effect on the times of sunrise and sunset. The earliest sunrise occurs a number of days before the longest day and the latest a number of days after the shortest.

After shortest day sunrise still gets later is a post from the science blog of David Bradley, author of Deceived Wisdom
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Reactive Chemistry Feed

Reactive Reports - 16 December, 2013 - 16:10

The Reactive Reports RSS/newsfeed is http://www.reactivereports.com/chemistry-blog/feed

If you are already using that link in your feed reader, then you don’t need to do anything, but if you subscribed to the site via the old Feedburner system then please make the necessary change to maintain access to our free updates! Thanks.

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Between a rock and a Mars place

Reactive Reports - 19 November, 2013 - 08:59

Scientists have the strongest evidence yet that granite exists on Mars. The findings suggest a much more geologically complex Mars than previously believed.

Large amounts of a mineral found in granite, feldspar, have been detected by the spectrometers on board the NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter; the granite is present in an ancient Martian volcano. Moreover, minerals that are common in basalts that are rich in iron and magnesium, ubiquitous on Mars, are nearly completely absent at this location. The location of the feldspar also provides an explanation for how granite could have formed on Mars.

Granite, or its eruptive equivalent, rhyolite, is often found on Earth in tectonically active regions such as subduction zones. This is unlikely on Mars, but the researchers studying the data suggest that prolonged magmatic activity on Mars may well have led to these compositions on large scales.

Evidence found for granite on Mars.

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