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Are you grasping for the moon in the water?

die Nacht des Werwolfs by itta mar via FlickrWhat is the moon in the water for you?

My profession is riddled with questions that were once as compelling as the moon in the water.

  • Leaders are born
  • Leaders are made
  • Intelligence comes in bigger and smaller packages.

It took us some time to realise that what we wanted so badly wasn’t unattainable – it was an illusion.

It’s not so bad, though, to lie back on the grass and look at the moon overhead, is it?

We’ve just got to let go and let the universe whisper its secrets to us.


I watch the people in the world

I watch people in the world
Throw away their lives lusting after things,
Never able to satisfy their desires,
Falling into deeper despair
And torturing themselves.
Even if they get what they want
How long will they be able to enjoy it?
For one heavenly pleasure
They suffer ten torments of hell,
Binding themselves more firmly to the grindstone.
Such people are like monkeys
Frantically grasping for the moon in the water
And then falling into a whirlpool.
How endlessly those caught up in the floating world suffer.
Despite myself, I fret over them all night
And cannot staunch my flow of tears.


Taigu Ryokan (1758-1831)

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Give up control to be in control. Make any sense to you?

Yikes, our psychology is old fashioned

Here we are close to 2010, wrestling with philosophy and physics that was well documented half a century ago.

Let’s look at what most of us think of as science.

If I throw a stone, in theory, I can predict where it will land.   I like that. It is certain. I like that I know exactly what is going to happen.

But, of course, I don’t know where it will land.

  • I am no good at throwing stones.  It could go anywhere.
  • My ability to calculate the physics of the trajectory is limited (I’ve forgotten and can’t do it in my head in real time).
  • And other factors kick in such as the wind.

All in all, that stone becomes unpredictable. Oh, I don’t like that.

I don’t like the idea that what I thought was certain is not. It’s as if the earth shook under my feet.

Let’s look at what we think of as weakness of character

I hate it even more when I become unpredictable.  Yesterday, I woke up thinking a project was hopeless.  By the evening, I was so excited about the exact same project that I could not sleep.  My judgement should not swing about like that ~ at least if I am a person of substance, or so we are brought up to believe.

The truth is that nothing is predictable.  Least of all us.

So why do we persist in believing the world is under our control?

This is how it works. We have is a few factors under our control.  When we focus on those factors, we feel calm.  We feel efficacious.  And therefore we persist in whatever we are doing.

It doesn’t mean that we are effective.  It just means that we are willing to persist.  We pay attention. We are more likely to do what we are thinking about than what we are not thinking about. So we get done what we are thinking about.

In a circular fashion, we think we will succeed, we feel in control, so we persist and therefore we try, and sometimes we do succeed.

There is still a huge factor of chance involved though.  There is  so much else happening around us that can affect an outcome.   We’ve simply narrowed the range of outcomes by paying attention.

Is it a good thing to control our attention?

It’s interesting that in the western world that we put such a high premium on predicting results.  We really want to feel in control, of course.  Not be in control, feel in control.

We aren’t really in control. We are just ignoring what is out of our control. We are just writing a story of us in control. It is the story of being in control that we love! Take that away, and we really feel helpless!

You don’t believe  that we just like to think we are in control?

Let’s look at the west. It is more successful than the rest of the world. It is richer.

Yes, it is. And dirtier. Where do the emissions come from? How much energy is used to make this life style?

We are richer because we consume. That’s what wealth means in this sense. We have learned to consume a lot.

And if that is a marvellous thing, then aren’t we are being silly ~ we are destroying the world’s ability to sustain the thing that we say is so important.

Aren’t we just behaving like a person who barges to the front of the queue? It is true we get there. But at the expense of becoming very unpopular.

The point is that we barged to the front of the queue, not because being in the front was important, but because we wanted to feel in control. Now we are in the front, do we feel in control? No we don’t. All those people behind us will get their own back at the first opportunity! We’ve reduced our control.

High control needs

Now I am an in control type of person. Anyone who knows me, knows that. I like being in control. I look for ways to understand the world. I think we do more when we understand the world

But I shouldn’t mistake

  • My desire to be in control
  • The mechanisms that explain the behaviour of plants, animals, things and other people
  • My ability to control all these things

These are three different parts of the system.

Paradoxically, to be in control, I must give up control and join a system in which many mechanisms interrelate.

Oh, I can carry on being me. Enthusiastic, energetic, zestful. But that is just me being exuberant. Exuberant people are part of the universe. Take us into account in your calculations!

But my wish to control does not make things controllable. It means I will spend a lot of time researching what is controllable. I will not stop trying to make things controllable. But that does not make things controllable. I must distinguish my urge from reality.

The truth is that all the forces of the world exist because other forces exist and interplay with each other. I can learn what is humanly possible. I can learn as much as I can of the considerable knowledge of the world that there we have at our disposal. I can try to use the knowledge.

But I should never confuse my need to control with the ability to control. Indeed if I want to be effective, I should stand back a bit and not confuse the tunnel vision of will with the mindfulness when we pay attention to the world around us.

When we enjoy the world, when we celebrate everything around us, we get a lot more done.

Am I making any sense? This is hard to get.


I want a British TED – and a parallel show for Luddites

I want a British TED

The world is divided it seems – in to those who watch TED and those who don’t.

I watch TED because I like positivity – I like my daily fix. And I admire technological advancement. I wish we had a British TED too – the best of science and technology that is coming out of the UK.

But is my wonder of TED shared?

It seems strange to me, but so many people don’t share my wonder.  They aren’t interested.  They even proclaim themselves proudly as Luddites.

What bothers the Luddites?

Of course, the original Luddites weren’t just disapproving of new technology.  They smashed  the new weaving presses too.

The people around us who claim they are Luddites, simply don’t understand the technology they decry.  But they don’t stop anyone else using it.

They share with the original Luddites, though, a sense of disapproval.  Most of all, the new technology threatens their status.

Should we bother with Luddites?

I am impatient with people who are ‘tight’.   But all fear is genuine – sincerely and acutely felt.   And I am willing to spend time to help people find a positive place in the world.

What I am not willing to do is hold up improvements for others while they have a sulk.  That’s not on the agenda at all.

The general class of bereavement counseling

When we are counseling people who are fretting about change, we are working with a ‘general class’ of issue – bereavement at the highest level, and adjournment at the level of group formation.

Because disdain of new technology belongs to broader, general class of situations, we have the know-how and experience to help people.  We work through three broad steps.

1.  Acknowledge the contribution they made to our welfare and celebrate the skills they used.  We do this fully, sincerely and elaborately.

2.  Focus attention on the opportunities that are opening ahead of us, and new patterns of relationships with new people who are coming into view.  We are concrete & specific and we introduce them, in person, to people who work in the new technologies.

3.  Help individuals, one-by-one, to formulate a personal plan.  We get down & dirty, one person at a time.

I think we should be bothered with Luddites.  If they cannot see how technological change will benefit them, then we haven’t worked hard enough to show them around the new world that it is coming.

Better Reality TV?  TED and the parallel program for Luddites?

I want a British TED, because I like to watch science, and I want to know the best of British science, up and down the land.

I’d also like to see a parallel program that offers respect for the work of people in ‘old technologies’ and welcomes them into a world that we find dear.

Shall we put reality TV and our license fees to good work?

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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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