Guardian Notes & Theories: Brian Cox is sort of right, but lacks context

A few days ago, the Guardian ran a Q&A session with Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. Cox and Forshaw are professors of physics at the University of Manchester, both involved in research with the Large Hadron Collider at Cern. Cox is of course well known for his wonderful media exploits on the BBC. Forshaw and Cox have written a book together, their second collaboration, which is coming out this week.

I wrote a post in the Guardian’s Notes and Theories blog section today, about science, peer review, blogging and being a decent sort of person who doesn’t screw over their colleagues. Go read it here.

To clarify the title, I understand where Brian Cox’s comments stem from, and I agree that some people just need to write a paper to back their claims, or shut up. I refer to Martin Robbins and Ben Goldacre for more info on that. But outside of that particular context, I felt their comments were a little unfair.

I was thinking a little more about blogging and tweeting from conferences, and how we can allow for a free debate at a conference without the science ending up all over the web the next day if the results aren’t ready for that. Perhaps we should instate a code of conduct for blogging form conferences. That could take a very simple form, such as a traffic light banner that presenters can include on their slides or posters:

  • Red – please don’t tweet or blog, we want to show our results but aren’t ready to discuss them publicly yet
  • Orange – come and talk to me first before you post this online
  • Green – safe for blogging.

All we need is a snazzy design and some different formats to people can easily include them in their presentations, and some publicity about this scheme from, say, the American Astronomical Society in time for their January meeting. Any takers?

JWST in The Guardian

I wrote a little something for the Guardian’s science blogs section on the JWST issues, here it is. I really appreciate all the retweets, facebook posts, emails and comments, and it’s been a nice experience to work with the Guardian Science team.

I’m excited that I’ve been able to help with making James Webb something of a talking point here in Europe as well, although I wish the circumstances were different.

In which I get Celebrated in The Guardian

Amidst the perennial discussion of how to get more women into scientific careers and keep them there, it hadn’t occurred to me that female science bloggers may also be in a minority.

A few days ago, Jenny Rohn posted a graph on her blog, showing the male to female ratio of several science blog networks: the well-established Discover and relative newcomers The Guardian, Wired and PLoS. She didn’t actually make any statement about gender balance or proportionality of representation – that was me – but an interesting discussion followed in the comments. Self-proclaimed “armchair activist” Martin Robbins started a hashtag, kickstarted the hive overmind, and collated a list of women science bloggers over at his new perch in The Guardian.

So that’s how my name ended up in my favourite newspaper. Hurrah.

It’s a really nice initiative to get more attention to us women who write about science. Female role models have been cited as an important factor in getting and keeping more women in science careers, and in that respect increasing the visibility of working female scientists is a great idea.

And yet, and yet. I don’t think singling women out is particularly constructive way to approach a gender balance issue – a gender balance issue that, in this case, we don’t even know for sure exists.

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AstroInformatics II: From public outreach to public engagement
Outreach and education are two areas that stand to gain from developments in semantic astronomy and an increased scientific presence on the web. Big changes have already taken place, driven by a community eager to connect and communicate about the research we do every day. As part of a panel at the AstroInformatics 2010 conference last week, I gave a talk on aspects of science communication and education that are benefiting from the semantic web.

The internet these days is a cacophony of conversations, opinions, visual information (and porn). Many scientists and science enthusiasts write about the stuff that inspires or excites them in blogs, like I do here, which allow them to connect to people they would never have encountered, let alone talked with, in real life. This has led to some great scientific content generated entirely by the science community itself, without intermediate brokerage by communication or media professionals. But in this symphony of chaos, how do we increase the signal to noise? How do we ensure that the best content is heard?

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Women and Science

This article appeared in today’s Guardian, about the reasons why women leave science careers after their PhDs. I take this problem very much to heart and can often relate to the reasons why women quit science – and like most people, male or female, I’ve often considered it myself. But I get so …. tired … with the whole argument. Let’s look at this article more closely.

It’s now a month since Bhatti, 27, took her PhD viva and turned her back on lab work. She has instead moved into science policy and spends her days meeting with politicians and scientists, and drafting submissions for government consultations on anything from biofuels to genetically modified crops.

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