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Category: Science & Technology

British Science that hasn’t gone to TED

We have TED.  And we have people who have not got to TED yet.

On Wednesday, I went to Birmingham for the first time in 25 years.  When I was there last, I was using a handful of mainframe computers at Birmingham University and their linguistic computing programs to compile a corpus of Zimbabwean English (which I duly took home on computer tapes about 30cm wide).

On Wednesday, my digital interests took me back for a workshop on publishing Kindle (more later).

A co-creator of the workshop was Kate Cooper of the new optimists. Kate has rallied the scientists we probably haven’t heard of – the guys and women who are doggedly working in laboratories solving riddles with science and who haven’t popped up at TED.

The New Optimists is a compendium of 80 short essays about the scientists “view [of] tomorrow’s world & what it means to us.”

I’ve just got started and of course read the psychology first.  The piece by Michael West on positive organizational scholarship is spot on and that has encouraged me to read what scientists think in fields where I know very little about their frontiers.

Kate and co will be bringing it out on Kindle – so if you only read on holiday – look out for it.  But if you want to find out what is happening in our laboratories, grab a paper copy. The merit is that you use the margins to make notes and draw diagrams of stuff not familiar to you.

Here’s the link.

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UK economy watch: Plastic Electronics

Industry: Plastic or Organic Electronics

Market Size

2010 . . .USD2bn (GBP1.3)

2020 . . USD120bn (GNP80.2)

Growth = 60x or 6000% in ten years

Government Subsidies

#1 8 projects to build the supply chain and “overcome barriers to UK exploitation of plastics electronics technology”

GBP7.4m including CBP800K from Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC

#2 5 projects to develop commercial prototypes

GBP1.0m by Technology Strategy Board

Two of the projects

Announcement from  COI


Circuits are printed cheaply onto rigid or flexible surfaces and rival silicon-based electronics in lighting and solar panels.


As at July 2010

David Willetts, Universities and Science Minister

Iain Gray, CE of Technology Strategy Board



Technology Strategy Board

Announcement from January 2007

British Interests

Plastic Logic (with Merck in Dresden and management in Mountain View

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Noteworthy nugget: Eye to brain to computer screen

As we approach the end of 2008, yes, Japanese neuroscientists are able to recreate what we see from activity in our brain.

Here is  a link to what people were looking at and what the computer recreated. [Link broken I think.]

If you are into neuroscience, you might also enjoy this TED lecture on learning from watching our own bran scans.

2017:  Has this moved forward?

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Were your grand-parents Luddites? And do you take after them?

Are you like your grandparents?  Or are you very different?

I’m quite excited by all the new science that is going on: biological engineering, nanotechnology, the particle collider, and so on.  We seem to be on a cusp of new age of technology.

Many people are very disapproving, of course.  And they probably think the internet is dangerous as well!  I wondered today.  Do you think their parents were Luddites?  Do you think their grand parents were Luddites?

I am not saying the twins separated at birth are likely both to be Luddites or both not to be Luddites!   But I did wonder if families have a tradition of welcoming technology, or treating it with raucous disdain?

Is your approach to new science and development similar to your grand parents?

I’d love to know!  Luddite or not? And does Ludditism run in your family?


Scientists ARE using social media

Parallel Session II: Making science public: data-sharing, dissemination and public engagement with science


Ben Goldacre, Open blog

Cameron Neylon, Bad Science blog & Oxford University

Maxine Clarke, Nature

Chair: Felix Reed-Tsochas, Oxford University

Journals and peer-reviewed publications are still the most widely used channels through which research is disseminated within the scientific community and to a broader audience. However, social media are increasingly challenging the supremacy of editors, reviewers and science communicators. Blogging about science has become a new way of engaging ‘the public’ directly with researchers whilst researchers are increasingly using blogs within their own academic communities for peer-review purposes. Panellists will give their perspective on how social media have changed the nature of the scientific debate among scientists, and how they have impacted on engagement with the public understanding of science.

1. (Observation last night.) Two of the panelists list their blog as well as their academic affiliation. But are they academics too? Or borrowed for the occasion?

2. Missed opening remarks as struggled with weak internet connections here.

3. Now Cameron Neylon. Scientist – using social media as his lab notebook. No peer review. Ppl could steal data. But could [crowd-source] review. Then discovered other scientists using social media to “do science”. Maxine Clarke of Nature said few scientists use social media but it is a rapidly growing community.

Exp – publicize details – ask people to take mmts.

Describing typical 7 year cycle of a research project.

Who funded the prizes (journal subs) for students. Completed project in 6 mo with invited paper and publication. Much more efficient.


FRT: How much has interaction changed?

Ben Goldacre. Journos often get issues wrong and dumb down issues. Does journo science news inform people with science degrees who work in a variety of roles? Blogs can be niche (mindhacks on neuroscience and psychology). Imagine 2000 science blogs with 500 readers each talking to 1m people.

Royal Society Prizes for science books recently – 20K in prizes an more in admin – books selling 3000 copies only. Science Minister [google the spat] – committees have no new media experience.

Blogs encourage us to be clearer and sounder about what we write. Link culture. Journos don’t want you to know they’ve copied and pasted from a press release. Cited an example of not checking primary sources. We link to primary sources.

FTR: [Will blogs kill science journalism?]

BG: Old science journalism is dumbed down for us. We need a patchwork with better stuff for people who are informed.

FTR: Danger of sloppy journalism. But issue of quality and trust.

BG: Journos say internet is undistributed mush. Need to learn to use internet. Easy to tell when something is [rubbish]. Lots of dodgy stuff everywhere. Want more and let the street [filter].

Maxine Clarke: As editor, don’t equate blog in that way. But likes blogs and interaction. Nerdish quality – correct – find niche. Look for Open Lab.

BG: Disintermediation – 70% of science words on BBC Radio 4 are spoken by scientists themselves. Shepherded and coached to be clear – but speaking. Look at Radio 4 for examples.

Cameron Neylon. Abandon term public – don’t distinguish between public and scientists. Engage people with the scientists. Let people contribute to science – even be authors.

BG: Interdisciplinary communication. Semi-professional communication promotes . . . Need a place between newspapers and journals.

FTR: Will social media allow us to differentiate public?

Cameron Neylon: Arrogant and lazy toward non-scientists. Need not to be [snobbish]. Get support for funding.”public


Dussledorf: What keeps scientists from using Web2.0?

BG: Younger people use Web2.0? Get RAE to reward unmediated engagement with “public”. And pay or allow people to split jobs.

Maxine Clarke: Generational issues for journals like Nature. Friendfeed heated discussions about science.

Camero Neylon: Only just starting to explore social media for public and for science (see Friendfeed). New things are high risk strategies and they keep high risk behaviour for science. Won’t be taken seriously if you are out on a limb. People who are using Web2.0 are trying to get a tenured position. Some senior ppl involved. But 10 years in – more cautious.

BG. Use blogs as [scribble-pad] in lost cost threshold.


❓ Time to read academic reports. Likes Nature for summary. Few Twitters using service. How are inst. like Nature making money out of it.

Maxine Clarke. Highlights from Nature very popular. Making money isn’t a serious concern for making money online – still experimental. Lack of time – Nature Network – some blogs to work out problems but also just about lab life. Social not about scientific work itself. Scientists are cerebral – therefore enjoy blogs.

OII: Fighting against moral panics? Rapidity of moral panics in journo. How does peer review play into process? Blogging about something published is out of step with production of work – time gap huge.

Cameron Neylon: 6.5bn spent on science. 80% of cost is peer review – count peer review ideas by 95%. Small proportion of important ideas – use traditional methods. Straight out of instrument and blogged if need for instrument.

Ben Goldcre. Peer review is best of bad lot. What is a scientific publication. Document of record. Methods and results to be published. Different types of publications. Need to recognise two types.

Maxine Clarke. Peer review increases quality. 95% of biological papers are rejected and some passed on to other journals. Cited a journal that publishes online with peer reports – need tagging system.

FTR – audience separating production and differentiation. [lost question]

Maxine Clarke. More journals publishing peer reviews and opening up articles for comment. People tagged by subject. People don’t comment. Scientists conservative – assessed by publications. Power issues inhibit comment.

FTR- can social media change scientific debates.

Maxine Clarke. Widgets in newspapers to follow conversations – find hard to follow. Nature also makes txt accessible in “accessble” format. Conversation too fragmented.

Cameron Neylon. Publicatation is too high risk to be the place to innovate. . . online material not indexed by medline. Conversations in different part of research cycle.

BG: Structural issues. Draw strands together about topic – can it be open. Wiki-professionals – micro-credits for helping on something.

Maxine Clarke: Micro-attribution is growing topic. Av no authors is 6. Some consortia iare 100 or so.

Can contributions be attributed to you – technical issue.

FTR: open source modes of science. Triggers of open source science.

CN: Science is the great open source endeavour. What can we do that is useful? If cannot be replicated and cannot check details, not science.

Bill Dutton: Peer review publications – wrong place to look. Other phases of research process – lot going on. Less collaboration less at publication, high status, older people.

Maxine Clarke. [Internet playing up]

Question: Radio 4. Book only sold 3000 copies. Wonderful to have well written science blogs. Few ppl capable to of writing good science blogs. Problem is not quality but problem of selling stuff to consumers.

Ben Goldacre. That’s why good

Lost a bit here – Said Business School’s internet connection is scribbled.

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Recession opportunities: green our offices

The seriousness of the recession is exaggerated and underplayed!

All around us, we hear the doom and gloom of the recession and I think this talk is both exaggerated and underplayed  Indeed, it is exaggerated because it is underplayed.

The economy needs structural change

The economy has not been strained like the plant on my desk that will bounce back with a little water.  The economy has been strained like the continous salad on the window sill that needs to be replaced.

Britain has a long tradition of science

Such stress in the economy would be a disaster if there was no way of replacing it.  But we only have to watch TED talks to know we are on the cusp of major technological changes and though Britain does not contribute as much to the R&D efforts of the world as the US, we are up there and have a long tradition of serious science.

How will technological change open up jobs for you and me?

I am making it my business to look out for the job opportunities of the future and TED once again obliges with a future opportunity that does not require a PhD in science, though it is certainly based on science.

Green offices!

We are going to green our offices to jungle proportions.  Yep, you will work in a thicket and the last thing you will do every night before you go home is wipe the leaves of 10 bushes very carefully!   Once a quarter, you will pop your plants outside and bring in another set!

And for greening your office, you will

  • Save 15% of power and this is pretty important because 40% of the world’s energy is put into airconditioning.
  • You will feel heaps better and be ill less often
  • You will have 42% chance of an increase of 1% oxygen in your blood.
  • You will be 20% more productive.  That’s a lot.

So where is the opportunity?

In plant growing and tending of course!

I wonder how many people who run nurseries have been scribbling figures on the backs of envelopes.

  • How many airconditioned buildings are there in UK?
  • What is the capital cost of equipping the buildings with a new set of plants?
  • What will be the knock-on effect on air-conditioning businesses and power companies?
  • What would be the projected power decrease and how would it be offset by increased fumes as we ship plants across UK on our inefficent road networks?
  • Who else is effected?  Well, HR and productivity specialists are put squarely in their place at a 20% productivity increase!

What other side effects can you think of that I haven’t thought of?

And here are the details for the greening of your office from Kamal Meattle speaking at TED

Areca Palm

  • Co2 to Oxygen
  • 4 Shoulder high plants per person
  • Hydroponics
  • Wipe the leaves daily in Delhi or weekly in less congested place like Milton Keynes
  • Outdoors every 3 to 4 months

Mother-in-law’s Tongue

  • Co2 to Oxygen at night
  • 6-8 waist high plants per person

Money Plant

  • Hydroponics
  • Removes volatile chemicals like formaldehydes

Evidence of the benefits of green offices

  • Tried this green formula in Delhi office
    • 50 000 square feet
    • 20 year old
    • 1200 plants for 300 occupants
  • 42% probability that your blood oxygen goes up 1% when you spend 10 hours in the building
  • Reduced incidence of
    • eye irritation by 52%
    • headaches by 24%
    • respiratory illnesses by 34%
    • lung impairment by 12%
    • asthma by 9%
  • Human productivity increased by 20%
  • Reduction of energy requirements in the building by 15% because of reduced air conditioning
  • Replicating with 1.75 million square feet building with 60 000 plants

Importance of greening offices

  • Demand for energy will grow by 30% in the next 10 years
  • 40% of energy is used by buildings
  • 60% will live in cities with population of more than 1 million people

I must get this together before next winter!

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The ONE big reason why I am not worried about the banking crisis

The banking crisis is bad and a lot worse than most people think.  But I am not worried.  And this is why.  On front after front, scientists and science-based professions are making enormous technological advances.

As I am a British resident, I am interested in this:

Who and where are the top scientists and technologists in UK?

Juan Enriquez talking on science at TED (via YouTube).

UPDATE July 2010:  The science appears to be out there but business seems to be sitting on its hands  . . . or on its cash rather.

Business isn’t moving spare cash from old industries to new.  The failure to allocate capital to new productive industries would be catastrophic at any time.

In the midst of a financial crisis, not funding growth will bury us.  Couple the removal of cash from the economy by business with the austerity measures in Europe and by state governmnents in the US, we have a recipe for  a depression – not a double dip recession – a depression.

It’s time to find businesses that are going somewhere and going somewhere despite impending chaos.  Get behind them.  Put all your skill and connections into making them work.

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A big crunch and a big bang

I managed Newtonian physics OK, the stuff you do in high school, but I gave it up before I got to quantum mechanics. I rather suspect that is the same for most psychologists. Around us, our understanding of the world is changing and I wonder whether psychology is keeping up.

Neil Turok, of Cambridge University, won a TED prize this week for his work in mathematical physics and his parallel work setting up the Africa Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Cape Town. Neil was born in South Africa and grew up in exile (is that fair) in East Africa and the UK. So I am motivated to ‘have a go’ and see how much I understand of what he has to say and how it relates to us.

The beginning

Most of us have heard of the big bang. But the problem with the big bang is, what happened before the big bang. Where did the big bang come from?

No beginning

The new theory is that big bangs happen cyclically. They come and go like growth and contraction in an economy. And the big bang is the good part, the part where we expand and be different.

Big bangs are preceded by big crunches, the part signally the end of a phase of contraction in the universe.

Our beginning

So how does this affect us? Is a big crunch imminent? Not as far as I know. As I understand it, we are living in phase when things will go on much as we know them, at least in the grand order of things.

But we may think differently perhaps about our own lives.

A cyclical view of the world considers it quite normal to have good stages in life and bad. To have seasons which are not associated simply with good when you are young and bad when your are old. Bad necessarily precedes good and is therefore one and the same thing. If you want to know how new that idea is in the west, try writing it down in your own words and citing movies and books that illustrate the idea.

A cyclical view of the world suggests that there are many possible futures. We know that. But in psychology we have been trained to predict, in a Newtonian way. If we have these conditions at this time, that is NOW, then this will happen in a few minutes, in an hour, or NEXT. We’ve predicated a whole industry on making these predictions, and possibly a second on promising the world we make them a lot better than we do.

That we have many possible futures means that from HERE and NOW, there are many different routes that we can follow to many different places. Yes, says the classically trained psychologist, but to which one and which one is ‘best’.

To exploit the new model, we don’t ask that question. We ask what are the routes we can follow. Lets just write down the possible routes. Let’s just do that task of showing all the possible ways forward.


World wide telescope being launched in a few months

And it is a free download.

Why is this significant to you and me?  We’ll have fun with it for a start.  You can take an interactive tour of the universe and create your own tour.

The pre-launch at TED also promises to change our view of the universe.  Literally, of course.  Psychologically too. I’ll be interested in your reactions when it comes out.

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