Developing world science journalists lose out

The organising committee of the upcoming global gathering of science journalists has made sudden changes to the programme last month, cutting several sessions that focused on developing country issues and leaving journalists disappointed. In recent years the World Conference of Science Journalists has attracted up to half its attendees from the developing world. That seems unlikely now.

Developing-world sessions purged from WCSJ2013 programme,  SciDev.Net, 2 April 2013.


I want to be an astronaut

Review of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog at the Night-time, as part of my #100bookschallenge.

During my time as a demonstrator in Oxford’s historic Dyson Perrins lab, I had the opportunity of supervising a student with Asperger’s syndrome. His name is Edward (name changed), and he is one of the smartest and weirdest student I’ve ever taught. Reading Mark Haddon’s book made me realise for the first time what was going through Edward’s mind in all those hours that we spent setting up reactions, distilling compounds and taking various measurements.

Haddon’s book is a strange but wonderful read. It draws you in by starting with a murder of a dog that is being investigated by a 15-year old, Christopher Boone, who suffers from (although it is not stated) Asperger’s syndrome. Written in first person, it gives you a deep insight into what it is to suffer from an autism spectrum disorder. The book has received rave reviews, and, from what I understand, it does a remarkably good job of portraying Christopher’s challenges.

Somewhere in the middle of the book, the storyline becomes predictable. But that is no bad thing. By that time I found myself so engrossed in Christopher’s world that I wanted to know how he experiences the rest of the story.

There are some truths about our human existence that we normal people are too scared to admit. But Christopher’s disability doesn’t stop him from seeing through them and thinking how stupid everyone can be. That constant reminder throughout the books is very humbling.

The book is also, in many ways, a really good example of science communication. Throughout the book Christopher talks about wanting to be an astronaut. For his age, he also shows a remarkable grasp of science and maths, and discusses ideas from relativity to algebra with ease and clarity.

There are many quotes from the book that I’ve marked, but one that struck me the most was: I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.

PS: This was my first fiction book in a long time and it was over in a flash. I’m considering tweaking my non-fiction to fiction ration after this reading!

My PhD described using the 1000 most used words

Challenge set by XKCD’s Up Goer Five:

At the big boys’ school I worked on making really, really tiny things that can help many people not be sick. To do that we spent days reading books and learning how to add smaller bits together, one by one, to make the whole tiny thing. All the things around us are made of these tiny bits held together in different ways. But because these bits can not be held in hands, or seen by eyes, we had to do work with them in ways that would allow us to understand if we were doing it right.

The tiny thing I was making was hard to make. So I had two other people working on it with me. We talked and helped each other to come up with a way to make the tiny thing after three years of trying very hard. We made most of it, but some bits remain on which one person is still working.

After my work was done I wrote a book on it. Now the big boys have read the book and they will ask me hard questions. If I answer them then they will give me a note which will help me go out in the world and get a job that will pay me money and let me do what I want to do.