Sunday, 10 October 2010

Why aren’t we Hungary for science?

Following what could be the most substantial environmental disaster for the next decade, why weren’t the papers quick to pick up on its potential effects or, more importantly, its actual fallout? Politics, probably.

Less than a week ago a reservoir in Hungary, not too close to the capital Budapest, which contained a huge amount of toxic material, burst its banks and spread across the western part of the country. The coverage didn’t focus too heavily on the damage that was done (4 dead within a few minutes), but more the graphic pictures of a red-sludge covered countryside, because that’s eerie and something that people here could grasp as we too have fields that have been flooded when rivers burst their banks, and that the deluge may reach the Danube and accordingly affect other countries.

The other countries, though, were not in Western Europe, as the Danube doesn’t flow that way from Hungary, and the material didn’t flow directly into the river as the subsurface flow, through the soil over a long period of time, as is most common, would be the manner in which more of the toxic stuff will begin to poison fishes. (Fish have already been falling out of the tributaries, but they don't have a big fishing industry in Hungary so it's not a big issue, despite being one of the few things that people immediately visualise after these sorts of disasters. Their farming, however, will be seriously troubled as the soil is unlikely to be able to produce much over the next few years.)

That’s not to say that the coverage was perhaps insignificant; page 31 in the Metro and page 35 in the Daily Mail, for example, on Friday was exactly what you might expect of it. However, given that Hungary will require a lot of investment from the EU to cover the costs of the damage, one would have thought the Mail in particular would have bumped it up the agenda.

But it coincided, unfortunately, with some major domestic politics (it was Party Conference fortnight), some miners in Chile finally getting their escape tunnel built, the Commonwealth Games and, perhaps more importantly, X-Factor and the hot topic of Gamu’s potential deportation. I can guarantee you that in ten years time this Hungary thing will still be an issue, at least for more people than will have been affected by the other things.

Is it because we don’t want to hear about science at the moment? We’re as interested as ever, and it’s the Royal Society’s 350th anniversary, we had the Nobel prizes this week (3 British-based winners), Kew Gardens is producing a definitive guide to the world’s plants, institutes across the globe are collaborating to survey the ocean species and we continue to strive for the ultimate ‘make me better without giving me an erection...necessarily’ pill. But these are not going to take the front page. Instead, thanks to The Times, the science we have spread across our papers is more about cuts to scientific research.

But no one hears about the research. Either the media’s not deeming it ‘in the public interest’ ahead of stories involving celebrities and their viewpoints on shoes, or the scientists aren’t selling their findings well enough. Perhaps that’s just because no one’s doing anything exciting. And, at the end of the day, when the media is there to make money as much as it is to get the crux of the story, if the truth is boring then why will people buy into it?


Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Indian Vegetables (not just the officials in Delhi) - Comment

(Most of what follows, and what preceded it, is likely to have been sourced from the BBC website.)

In an age where the climate change is not the next big thing, it has been and has since become probably the most heated (excuse the pun) debate among scientists, the media and the ubiquitous 'man-on-the-street'.

So with a worldwide decline in bee populations, noted in India in the Science and Environment section of today's updates, I would personally like to know what links there are to climate change, if any. It could well be symptomatic of Jerry Seinfeld's famous 'Bee Movie', where mid-way through the film the bees defeat humans in court, claim back their stocks of honey and subsequently no longer need to work, so pollination of plants doesn't take place and the world slowly dies. I somehow think there may be a 'better' explanation.

Drop 'Bee decline climate change' into Google and you'll immediately come to the Wired website. Yet phrases such as 'climate change may be to blame' and later 'the exact explanation has continued to stump scientists' retain an air of mystery that helps no one pinpoint anything closer than mere speculation. Which, luckily for you guys, is about all I'll be good for at the moment!

How anyone worked out that pollination is worth £141bn globally (£200m in the UK in 2009) is fascinating, but that's by-the-by. Not only is climate blamed, but more efficient methods of farming too, which have ironically removed many of the flowers from fields which would traditionally be useful for pollination. No doubt GM crops will have to take some stick, especially from HRH Prince Charles and his cohorts, while perhaps those foreign, disease-ridden bees who travel around the world like gypsies, stealing pollen from those who have used it for years and leaving the environment in tatters, may have to be extradited back to where they came from. If indeed they could be found.

Yet those bees are in demand, and much like cheap labour, they're necessary for the economy to buck its current trend across the globe. If they're fit and able to pollinate, let them run free. Sure, it's a travesty that grey squirrels out-competed the red ones here in the UK for the most part, but it's survival of the fittest, and if we're to remain the dominant force in the food chain then there needs to be food below us! Hence any bees will do.

There is, of course, the chance on some minute level that non-pollination may come back to enhance the effects of climate change by leading to crop failures, release of carbon and not removing it from the atmosphere. Though perhaps far-fetched, it cannot be ruled out and accordingly there'll inevitably be studies into pollination-linked deforestation, particularly in areas where aggriculture and cultivation are so prominent.

This doesn't get us any closer to the answers, though. Bees are dying, the seas are losing more fish stocks every day (although that one can be blamed partly on commerce), the deserts are encroaching ever further onto the once-fertile plains around their fringes, the sun's getting hotter, the seas are getting choppier...everything that could go wrong is doing just that.

But help is on its way - perhaps we can simply suck the CO2 out of the air .

It's not an outrageous idea, and provided it is fuelled responsibly and doesn't cause more harm than good, should we consider looking into it as a possible future alternative? Much like the episode of Futurama where they fire a giant meteor of garbage into space to rid the world of its waste, perhaps there's a lot of vacuuming (and vacuum-filling) to be done.


Thursday, 23 September 2010

This is Science

(Should that be with or without a capital letter? Discuss.)

So in a change from what I may have previously brought you, this blog shall now divert weirdly into the socially questionable, and probably factually dubious, updates on science in the media, or perhaps something more - how it should be portrayed.

I'll set out from the start: I have only just started my course here in the MA Science Journalism at City University London, so possess no great claim to know what I will likely cover in any more detail than the sources from which I aggregate the information. Additionally, if you're looking for someone to offer something opinionated on the subject then I fancy those days are now behind me, in the quest to become a better, streamlined, more professional supplier of information.

And that's all I plan to do; give the science I see to the people who want to see it, without any further investigation unless it is absolutely warranted. Many may well discuss the irresponsibility of some media in which controversial topics become marred in simply that, but not necessarily covering the public's desire to read the stories. In the current culture it is apparent that doom and gloom, while perhaps not promising for the advancement of society, is what people depressingly care about reading. Cynicism is healthy, though many people actually feel empowered by not believing everything they read in the press - accordingly, if reporting can be managed without any immediately damaging or distressing side-effects, the patience (if afforded) by the consumer will benefit them.

I'm no academic but it'd be rich to suggest I know what people want to hear about. I'm more consumer than provider, and for a good while I'll be in front of the page rather than behind the story, but in time I hope this will change and I can bring my legions of follower to think similarly.

The aim - to acquire the skills to help me bring more of the truth to light in the public eye.

The fall-back option - get most of the skills and contacts and get into journalism, with the hope to one day start exerting any shred of influence.

The inevitability - pass shorthand, be okay with most of the technical stuff, try to get a job in a large production company and play the game, hoping to one day win the lottery or get picked up by someone's rich and well-connected parent.

This is Science, I think.


Thursday, 19 August 2010

The onset of m'laze

I don't go so long between blog entries on purpose. I don't think it adds anything to only update once a month, it's just I have for so often sought to find something else in my life. This isn't because the last one became a diary, a place for my thoughts which started to alienate me from the world, began to remove me from living with people who existed beyond words alone. But that could be a good reason all the same.

We'll find out whether I can still use those words for good; I've found limited necessity to be creative over the last three months as not only have I no academic work to currently occupy myself, but only a handful of match reports for baseball and no press for QMessenger to be getting on with. I trust this is a period that'll pass.

In the meantime I have come to understand how much of an effort everything can be, provided that you fall into the trap of supposed reality.

When I first started working for the Students' Union I used to finish my jobs immediately and get on with doing the post rounds as well, extending further to go to the other side of campus on an almost daily-basis. However, something stopped me continuing this. Maybe it was the introduction of the new Sabbs, with whom I didn't wish to miss a beat, or perhaps it was that I felt as though my role didn't extend to that, or perhaps, and more likely, it's because the effort I was putting in wasn't seen to be matched whole-heartedly (and this is merely my interpretation rather than a truth, a reality or statement of fact) that subconsciously had a knock-on effect.

Perhaps it was taking on the responsibilities outside of work, such as the baseball club, which required a substantial increase in time, effort and resources to continue its success (we have somehow made the playoffs now), perhaps it was the extension of my contract (I had initially looked at the brief time I had left and made the most of it, but since I will be here another six weeks and the position is being replaced by another staffer I see less importance, that my legacy will be reduced or at least the work I'm doing will be continued and/or it will lead to that which I most detest), or perhaps it was understanding that life exists outside of the Students' Union (although it's less likely to be that). But something triggered to allow me to become complacent, to become more inclined to the easy option and, more poignantly, to become genuinely lazy.

I don't do much thinking outside of what can be immediately applicable. When I'm in the shower I no longer drift towards the thoughts that haunted me before, about the existence of a life outside our mortal souls and of, somewhat surprisingly, helping those more in need than myself. But I barely think anything other than who I will need to contact to ensure the tasks I'm responsible go ahead. And then start an argument in my mind about where it will lead, so while I'm playing hypothetical mind-chess and getting clean on the outside, the drive, desire and essentially the one thing that defined me 18 months ago (my honest approach to ensuring that everyone I could help could put the weight of the world on my shoulders) has probably disappeared forever.

I'm never on MSN Messenger anymore, something that I used to be on permanently, and I have flaked on plans and reduced the responsibility of arranging them. 2 years ago the notion was unfathomable. Now it's inevitable. Is it growing up?

Surely if you do something every day for the entirity of your life, it's something you'll always be able to do. For example running for the bus, pulling all-nighters, drinking from a beer-bong without consequences. But the moment you forget is the moment you lose. Not because you battle against the onset of forgetfulness, energy and desire from the moment you start something, but because time will always catch up. And it's not something you can ever win. But, readers, you can always try to outrun it. Like the T-Rex in Jurrasic Park.

I absolutely need to get excited for life again, and this may mean making a break of something to restore where I come from and understand where I want to go. Disgracefully I live to work at the moment; I've nothing to do during the week but offer everything I have to the SU. But I will find a reason to exist. And, more importantly, I'm going to find that one thing that I'll be able to do for the rest of my life. Not starting tomorrow. Starting now.

Push-ups. I've never been able to do them, so now's the time to start. 10 a day. Go.


Monday, 5 July 2010

Breathe easy, big man

My clothes are tighter now than ever they've been. The restrictive nature of my growing body is matched only by the overly seasonal temperatures in which my fabrics appear to be washed and dried in during this current warm spell, and what may be comfort eating is in fact lazy nutrition.

All in all I'm now verging on 14st, heavier than I've ever been in my life, but even that extra four or five pounds is having a tremendous impact on my knees and ankles as I run in to bowl or tumble on the floor to field the ball, or even as I hustle to first base to beat out a grounder to short.

I should really keep a better grip on my health, as it is likely that my body will outlast my mind, yet at current pace one may collapse before the other, and my thoughts remain fairly well-conceived.

Deanne and I are currently moving around a lot, which has pressured us into eating whenever we can. With only two evenings per week spent at the flat in Mile End, there's precious little fresh food and so I eat out of the cupboards and the freezers; fat and starch-heavy. At the weekends it is often ready-meals or take aways, which poses similar problems, as again there is only limited fresh food in fridges and as my parents' eating habits have been disrupted by my to-ing and fro-ing, so have their buying habits taken a hit and subsequently reduced healthy variety. That said, I have the chance to cook for myself but often neglect to do so, as I always seem to be in a rush nowadays.

I only have one evening to myself, and over the past month I have tried to fill it with as many people as I can, knowing it won't be long until people disappear again or Deanne and I will be living far away from the norms of the East in the doldrums of the South West. Of London, anyway.

And so I sit here, for the first time in about six weeks, alone without purpose on a Monday night, with no one to share my time with and no revising to be doing. If I were to presume to start my course now then it'd undermine the cost of the thing, so I want to be taught to get value for my money.

What do you do with time? Think? Eat? (That one's been most popular so far) Clean? Desire? Dream? Sleep?

I have half a mind to get stuck back into Robinson Crusoe (not like that) as I help him towards the end of his habitation on the island, but it's easier to stick on a film and watch the night flitter away.

Society has never helped those with determination until they can manufacture an idea that saves other people time. Ironically, then, it's not worth even trying until I can devise a way to prevent myself wasting time creating something that will have been a waste of time to create, unless of course I can save the time I spend working on the thing by utilising it. And even then I break even, temporally at least, and hope to the mighty workings of fate itself that someone else will give it a value worthy of my time.

And herein lies the problem. What worth is time if there's nothing to do with it? Nor anything to achieve by it? Or experience during its passing? What value is money without the time to spend it? What value are possessions without the time to use them? What value is company if it exists in a dimension you are unable to control or join with? What is the point?

I have come to the conclusion, after many minutes of pondering such questions, that it is all about what you make of it. If I clean up then it is not in order to waste time, as in many ways it is deemed productive, but rather that it saves me the effort later when I may not have either the time or the inclination to bother with such trivial matters. If I choose to eat a well-prepared meal rather than a quick-fix to my ravenous body, then the provided the cause is fit for purpose then who should hold me accountable but myself, and it's likely that having already decided it was OK to act in such a way I'll probably fare favourably.

So there are those who claim, or it is claimed of them, to be time-wasters, those who use, or eat, up that most precious of commodities. But who are they who call them such to judge? Have they weighed up all the factors, examined them against themselves, the mean, the average, the range, the mode, the other statistical variants upon which empiricism is based to decide at their response? Probably not, because it would be a waste of time.

Think, dear reader, about the moments that have passed in the creation, distribution and interpretation of this entry. Am I a time-waster? Was it that my ill-prepared dinner allowed me the time to create this piece? Was it that my choices to live, work and play where I have laid my hat did afford me the opportunity to write this article? I ask only because I feel it is worth asking, and that the time taken to consider the answer may help you at a time when such matters are as pressing as the belt around my waist.


Monday, 21 June 2010

The comings and the goings and the fallings and the risings

Guys and girls

It seems as though it's been forever since I last updated, and I guess in the world of blogging (the so-called 'blogosphere'), a month and a half is a long time. During that period a lot has happened, a lot has been said and a lot has been covered, so I'll try to briefly run through the various occurences.

1) Wedding date set. Though we cannot necessarily afford to invite everyone we know, nor everyone we really care about and their plus-ones, we have taken a step towards permanently loving one another alone by booking the prestigious venue for Saturday 31st March, for around 3pm ceremony. Hopefully the sun'll be out so the place will be a little brighter. Save the day.

2) Exams over - I got through all five exams without really hitting any apparent stride, and although results won't be out from this for another fortnight, I am confident that I'll have done enough to secure my position on my masters course for next year. I really need it.

3) Eating out. Deanne and I went for dinner at our first Michelin Star restaurant last month as a joint birthday present. The food was sublime, and though we were absolutely smashed on two-for-one cocktails (working our way towards immortality on the wall of the bar, as well as a complimentary bottle of champagne), we really enjoyed the occasion. Plus tomorrow we have half-price dinner at the sister restaurant, so doubly good.

4) Joint lives. We are now the proud owners of a joint bank account, so if we're to steal it'll only be from one another. That's the real love.

5) Success - generally on and off the field we've been doing well, especially in the ol' cricket where I've finally been a contributor at a slightly higher level than usual as we've moved to top of the division in a league, by rights, we shouldn't be in (4th team in 3rd XI's 2nd division). #

6) World Cup. I don't much care for football, and as the form until the last couple of days has shown, that's completely justified as many teams had yet to get going. Portugal's demolition of North Korea may be the start of something new, though. Here's hoping.

7) Work. Fairly easy, well within my capabilities, though very, very interesting to go through records of times gone by and suchlike. Nostalgia is exactly how it used to be, and if anything I'm hoping to make it more so.

And thus concludes most of my life for the last six weeks. I apologise if I've not mentioned you by name, but chances are you've had such an impact I've taken it for granted. I am sure everyone knows their current status in my life, and especially those with a definite chance of the ol' invitation their way to that special day, but I currently only have but one day to myself a week and have rarely chosen to spend it alone. Make yourselves available on Monday evenings in East London and I can make those dreams come true.


Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Hearing the screens shouting back at you

Dear readers, please accept my apologies again for being distracted this past month. Whenever I think for a minute I find something else to do, and I fear you'll probably know that I am updating as I feel I cannot bear to face another moment of revision.

The last two minutes have been hell.

It is a perculiar problem that I continually face, perhaps more apparent now I know that there's a goal that can be easily achieved should I put my mind to the game. But then, getting a grade that I'm not deserving of undermines the entire purpose of a degree, which should be to attain a higher level of education regardless of the outcome. I understand to some extent the necessity of examinations, although I might be more inclined to agree with their implementation if they offered a more holistic approach to interpreting what someone is not only capable of now, but what they've done to be more employable (if that, of course, is what people come to University for) or more rounded, whilst also specialising in one certain aspect of their education.

My greatest strength, in that sense, is by far more of a hinderance than Achilles' fabled heel. I have always associated knowledge with, 'will it come up in a pub quiz?' From a young age I found myself champing at the bit to know things, without wanting to delve too deeply into the hows and whys, because essentially they were just theory, whereas facts are undisputed. And doing a Geography degree, where processes play as much a part of knowing the truth as uncovering exactly what it is we see and interpret, probably doesn't benefit from this rather superficial outlook on life.

But then over the last few weeks, as the election campaign has heated up and for the first time I have actually bothered trying to keep pace with the people rather than the likely outcome, I'm increasingly aware of how insignificant much of this is.

Note, first, that this might also have been influenced by my failure in the Sabbatical elections.

Point 1: What can we realistically hope to achieve individually that isn't taken further by a global or multi-national organisation? If I want something to happen, then it's likely Windows 7 was my idea, or 'Yes We Can' might swoop down and pick me up in its wings. Ideas are no longer individuals' possessions, but rather their corporations' intellectual properties. And that's not a bad thing necessarily, because if it's all about making society that much better we have to accept individually we may be unable to cause a change and subsequently require input from a firm willing to take a chance. The issue will probably become better explained in point 2.

Point 2: There are no borders. Lines in the sand are far gone by now. The Global Financial Crisis, the War on Terrorism, Climate Change/Global Warming. While perhaps locations might be the hotspots for activity, so little is now reduced to a conflict that occurs only between two organisms in one location that it becomes impossible to track changes, let alone causes. So my point comes back to it being not only easier but, perhaps idealistically, more relevant simply to record observations, report facts. 'Truths'.

Point 3: Heart of gold. I may not possess one, but as the world crushes individuality, without removing the entitlement of individuals to enjoy themselves, express themselves or exist as they wish to live, then it will become clearer to those you surround yourself with whether you'll survive it all. You will need a strong mind, perhaps a strong body, but more importantly you'll need the drive and determination just to get over the hurdles, let alone whatever potential impacts getting up and down might then lead to.

Note, again, that this entry comes after 2 months of working in an unnecessarily stressful environment within London, whilst managing to be more in love with my fiance than I ever feared would be possible, semi-running a whole new baseball club which just about has enough resources to survive and finishing my degree.

Nothing can be taken for face value anymore, and I accept this. But until answers might require responses to 'how' or 'why' on the ol' pub quiz, I'm content to see the world and say, 'yes'.