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?

IAU: The singular future of astronomy

The Hubble Deep Field

The Hubble Deep Field

For many centuries, astronomy has been a powerful inspirational force driving people to look further, build bigger, go deeper. Indeed, other physical sciences, mathematics and engineering have benefited greatly, and continue to benefit, from astronomical research. At the IAU general assembly I heard many speakers comment on the “Golden Age” of astronomy we currently finding ourselves in. But as one speaker argued, when was astronomy not in a Golden Age? An entire 4-day session at the GA was devoted to the topic “Accelerating the rate of astronomical discovery”, which had some fascinating talks about the way astronomical discoveries are made and how technological changes underpin progress in astronomy.

An important theme running through many talks in the session was the power of the individual in astronomy. The balance between the individual and the crowd has always been a delicate one. Many early scientists faced disbelief or even wrath from peers and society for their discoveries, from Copernicus‘ “heretic” claims of a heliocentric universe to the initial rejection of Saha‘s equation of ionisation equilibrium by the 1920′s scientific establishment. Several talks were love stories to the mavericks whose doggedness, eccentricity and creativity changed the face of astronomy, culminating in Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell‘s wonderful own account of her discovery of the first pulsars in the 1960s.

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Gender bias in peer-review: the final word?

It’s a much-quoted argument by advocates of “equal opportunities” in science that scientific papers written by female authors are consistently ranked lower in peer review than those of their male colleagues. Indeed, several studies (Bornmann et al, 2007; Budden et al., 2008; not exclusively in physics & astronomy) have appeared to indicate that women authors don’t fare as well in peer review, be it for papers, grant applications or fellowship proposals. It’s a popular topic of discussion in the “Women in Science” circles as a clear-cut, proven area where discrimination on the basis of gender takes place. [Read more...]

Maybe an Exoplanet, but Hold Your Horses

I was just about to publish a long post about this story that has appeared on various news websites (also here) and blogs (here). But then I read to the end of the press release and decided to have a look at the paper which was posted to the preprint server astro-ph – as astronomers usually do with new publications.

It says ‘Submitted to ApJ Letters‘. Ha.

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