Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018 scientific society talks in London blog post

Friday, 12 October 2018

A lovely evening #scicomm event at the Royal Geographical Society, marking Galapagos Day

Thanks to a post published to psci-com (a mailing list I run for people involved in public engagement with science / science communication) I went along to an absolutely brilliant event last night (Wed 10 Oct 2018) at the Royal Geographical Society in South Kensington. It was organised by the Galapagos Conservation Trust and the talks were audio recorded (whether they'll be made publicly available I don't know).

Other than Charles Darwin's visit and 'rather big tortoises' it had never occurred to me quite how clueless I was about the Galapagos Islands (didn't really know where* they were, didn't know people lived there but about 25,000 do) so this was a useful crash course in getting a sense of the place and what's being done to protect it. I'm a big fan of the Shipfinder app (see also, FlightRadar24 for aircraft) which lets you 'see' where marine vessels are at any given time - they're using something similar to monitor ships visiting the coastal areas and using the data (velocity, direction) along with videocameras to predict possible activity. Jorge Carrion's team at the Galapagos National Park have used this method to catch a few dodgy ships undertaking illegal fishing. His talk was live-translated from Spanish to English, which was quite a remarkable thing to witness.

(In the picture above Jorge is on the left and the translator is relaying his talk into the lectern mic)

Ellie Mackay pointed out that the ratio of 'time taken for something to be used' to the 'time it take to break down' highlights that single-use plastic cups are incredibly inefficient (I think she said that cotton can break down in a couple of months whereas plastic is still around decades later). Sadly the ocean seems to be pretty full of plastic and polystyrene and with every tide it's tipping some of this onto the beaches around the world, including those of the Galapagos. She's been using drones to take aerial shots of beaches (much more efficient than trudging many kilometres of beach). The photos can then be analysed by humans (Zooniverse citizen science) and machine-learning magic to spot what's plastic and what isn't. We saw a nice little video of the 'pilot study' of a drone in action collecting images.

I also learned that despite being a couple of hundred kilos Giant Tortoises are surprisingly migratory throughout the year making their way from the lowlands to the higher volcanic bits (if the volcano's likely to erupt the tortoises might get airlifted out to safety!) for a change of seasonal food. Migration activity is an indicator of health and GPS trackers are letting Diego Ellis-Soto and colleagues use the International Space Station (in particular the Icarus antenna attached to it earlier this year) to monitor them remotely. Apparently the antenna "can receive data from more than 15 million transmitters worldwide, anywhere on Earth" so it's probably kept quite busy!

Ellie had a rather brilliant suggestion in response to a question about what can tourists do to help which was that perhaps a plastic 'exit visa' could be implemented - when you want to leave the islands you have to 'pay' with a kilogram of collected plastic waste from the beaches!

*having no sense of direction I don't really know where anything is ;)

Dr Jorge Carrion, Director of the Galapagos National Park
Ellie Mackay, Mission Director of The Plastic Tide
Diego Ellis Soto, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, who works with the Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Programme (GTMEP)

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Christmas 2018: How to watch #Elf in London this December

Elf (2003), best Christmas film ever. Rarely seen on regular UK terrestrial television now, due to Sky buying the rights to it in 2013 and now even Sky have lost permission from the studio to screen it as of 2017 (links to The Sun newspaper). Fortunately it is in plentiful supply in cinemas throughout the UK and there are many screenings in London over the Christmas 2018 season.

Table of Contents
  1. Film listings for Elf (this gets added to over next few months)
  2. Organisations / venues screening this year
  3. ...that have previously screened Elf in London
1. Film listings for Elf
Saturday screenings are in bold. Any errors or omissions? Please let @JoBrodie know, thanks! Also if you're just interested in the current week's and the following week (when the Elf season starts!) look at LondonNet's listings for Elf.

Note that some of these screenings are events and so time may be event starting time rather than screening time, check venue homepage if in doubt.

NOV/DEC 2018
  1. Friday 23 November, 11.30am - Backyard Cinema Winterville, Clapham [info]
  2. Friday 23 November, 8pm - Backyard Cinema Winterville, Clapham [info]
  3. Sunday 25 November, 12.30pm - Neighbourhood Cinema Frozen Island [info] family-friendly
  4. Thursday 29 November, 8pm - Backyard Cinema Winterville, Clapham [info
  5. Friday 30 November, 3.40pm - Backyard Cinema Winterville, Clapham [info]
  6. Friday 30 November, 5.10pm - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  7. Saturday 1 December, 12pm - The Gaucho Film Club, includes meal [info
  8. Saturday 1 December, 3.40pm - Quote Along version - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  9. Saturday 1 December, 8pm - Backyard Cinema Winterville, Clapham [info
  10. Sunday 2 December, 1pm - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  11. Sunday 2 December,  4.30pm - One Aldwych, includes dinner + champagne [info]
  12. Monday 3 December, 3.50pm - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  13. Monday 3 December, 6.30pm - One Aldwych, includes dinner + champagne [info
  14. Monday 3 December, 7pm - St Katharine Docks [info]
  15. Tuesday 4 December, 6.10pm - Quote Along version - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  16. Tuesday 4 December, 6.30pm - One Aldwych, includes dinner + champagne [info
  17. Tuesday 4 December, 6.30pm (film 8pm) - Cinema Museum [info] (charity screening from South London Cares)
  18. Wednesday 5 December, 1.50pm - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  19. Thursday 6 December, 6.40pm - Quote Along version - Prince Charles Cinema [info
  20. Thursday 6 December, 8pm - Backyard Cinema Winterville, Clapham [info
  21. Friday 7 December, 3.40pm - Backyard Cinema Winterville, Clapham [info]
  22. Friday 7 December, 3.50pm - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  23. Friday 7 December, 9pm - Quote Along version - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  24. Saturday 8 December, 12pm - The Gaucho Film Club, includes meal [info]  
  25. Saturday 8 December, 3.40pm - Backyard Cinema Winterville, Clapham [info]
  26. Sunday 9 December, 1.30pm - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  27. Sunday 9 December 3.15pm - Quote Along version - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  28. Sunday 9 December, 6.30pm - Hush Mayfair [info]
  29. Monday 10 Decmber, 3.30pm - Prince Charles Cinema [info
  30. Monday 10 December, 8pm - Exhibit, Balham [info]
  31. Monday 10 December, 8pm - Exhibit B, Streatham [info]
  32. Tuesday 11 December, 6.10pm - Quote Along version - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  33. Tuesday 11 December, 8pm - Exhibit, Balham [info]
  34. Wednesday 12 December, 8pm - Exhibit, Balham [info]
  35. Wednesday 12 December, 8pm - Exhibit B, Streatham [info]
  36. Wednesday 12 December 8pm - Backyard Cinema Winterville, Clapham [info]
  37. Wednesday 12 December, 8.45pm - Quote Along version - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  38. Thursday 13 December, 6.25pm - Quote Along version - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  39. Thursday 13 December, 8pm - Exhibit, Balham [info]
  40. Thursday 13 December, 8pm - Exhibit B, Streatham [info]
  41. Friday 14 Decmeber, 3.40pm - Backyard Cinema Winterville, Clapham [info]
  42. Friday 14 December, 3.50pm - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  43. Friday 14 December, 8.30pm - Pop Up Screens [info]
  44. Saturday 15 December, 11.30am - Regent Street Cinema [info]
  45. Saturday 15 December, 12pm - The Gaucho Film Club, includes meal [info
  46. Saturday 15 December, 3.30pm - Quote Along version - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  47. Saturday 15 December, 8pm - Backyard Cinema Winterville, Clapham [info]
  48. Saturday 15 December, 8.30pm - Pop Up Screens [info]
  49. Saturday 15 December, 9pm - part of all-nighter - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  50. Sunday 16 December, 1pm - Prince Charles Cinema [info
  51. Sunday 16 December, 4.30pm - Neighbourhood Cinema Frozen Island [info] over 18s
  52. Sunday 16 December, 5pm - Pop Up Screens [info]
  53. Sunday 16 December, 6pm - Quote Along version - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  54. Sunday 16 December, 6.30pm - Exhibit, Balham [info]
  55. Sunday 16 December, 8pm - Exhibit, Balham [info]
  56. Monday 17 December, 3.45pm - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  57. Monday 17 December, 6.05pm - Quote Along version - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  58. Tuesday 18 December, 1.30pm - Prince Charles Cinema [info
  59. Tuesday 18 December, 4.30pm - Luna Cinema [Hackney] [info]
  60. Wednesday 19 December, 5pm - Luna Cinema [Kensington Palace] [info
  61. Wednesday 19 December, 5pm - Neighbourhood Cinema Frozen Island [info
  62. Wednesday 19 December, 8pm - Backyard Cinema Winterville, Clapham [info]
  63. Wednesday 19 December, 8.30pm - Pop Up Screens [info]
  64. Wednesday 19 December, 9pm - Quote Along version - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  65. Thursday 20 December, 4.10pm - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  66. Thursday 20 December, 7.45pm - Luna Cinema [Hackney] [info]
  67. Friday 21 December, 8pm - Backyard Cinema Winterville, Clapham [info]
  68. Friday 21 December, 8.30pm - Luna Cinema [Kensington Palace] [info]
  69. Saturday 22 December, 12pm - The Gaucho Film Club, includes meal [info
  70. Saturday 22 December, 3.15pm - Quote Along version - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  71. Saturday 22 December, 5pm - Neighbourhood Cinema Frozen Island [info]
  72. Saturday 22 December, 8pm - Backyard Cinema Winterville, Clapham [info]
  73. Saturday 22 December, 8.30pm - Pop Up Screens [info]
  74. Sunday 23 December, 1pm - Prince Charles Cinema [info
  75. Sunday 23 December, 5pm - Pop Up Screens [info]
  76. Sunday 23 December, 6.10pm - Quote Along version - Prince Charles Cinema [info]
  77. Sunday 23 December, 8.30pm - Neighbourhood Cinema Frozen Island [info] over 18s
  78. Monday 24 December, 3.25pm - Quote Along version - Prince Charles Cinema [info
More to come as others publish their listings, meanwhile see the likely venues below.

2. Organisations / venues screening this year

3. Organisations / venues that have previously screened Elf in London

Previous posts in this series

Friday, 28 September 2018

How my mum taught me to read when I was about three

Given that I was 'about three' at the time my memories of this are not particularly strong 45 years on, so take this with a pinch of salt. This is what my mum told me, sadly she died in 2010 so I can't double-check anything (nor with dad who died in 2016).

Despite my early reading skills I showed no other flashes of competence (I was 19 months before I bothered with walking, my mum said she thought I probably had worked out how to do it before that - but also that I'd worked out that if I didn't walk I'd get ferried around more!) and despite my primary school thinking I was Oxbridge material I turned out to be not very inspiring academically as time went on and any success is more due to luck than hard work. Anyway, revenons à nos moutons as my mother used to say...

My mum was a stay-at-home mum and I was an inquisitive kid. At some point I must have noticed her or my dad reading books or newspapers, or possibly reacting to signs when out and about. Reportedly I'd often ask her "what does that say / mean?" and she'd tell me, I presume my dad did too if I asked him but the learning-to-read thing always seemed to be a mum thing.

She bought a little blackboard easel and some chalks and did what I suppose would be something like phonics with clusters of letters. To start with it would be oo words like look, book, cook and ee words like bee and see. At some point this must have expanded to include the full range of letters and by the time I was three and a half I was able to read simple books.

I went to school at four and a half by which time I could read with ease. I do have a vague memory of something along the lines of either seeing my name on the class register and pointing to it or being given a card and my mum asked to write my name on it (but I wrote it) and this causing a bit of a small stir but that was short-lived.

Most of the first couple of days involved plasticine-craft so I'm not sure at exactly what point it became obvious that I definitely could read independently but my mum told me that she'd picked me up from school one day and the teacher had almost challenged her with "You didn't tell us she could read" to which my mum replied "Well, you didn't ask me." I don't think she or dad thought what I was doing was particularly notable.

It was seen as notable in school though. I remember we read books that had numbers and letters like 4a, 4b and 4c (no idea what they were, possibly Janet and John). I was reading in the 7s and 8s. I have much stronger memories of being taken off upstairs to the staff room and made to read long lists of words to the other teachers (I don't think I had any idea what any of the words would have meant). No idea if my parents had approved this absence from class though to be honest if it was a reading class I pretty much had that down anyway. As far as I'm aware the rest of the class soon caught up and by the time we were five I think everyone could read perfectly well.

I don't think I have or had hyperlexia nor do I think I'm on the autism spectrum and I don't have any other particular skills. Fairly poor at arithmetic (not bad at maths and abstraction though), utterly useless at reading a map or locating where I am in space*. These days I'm not even much of a reader - it's like my eyes are on a train track and they keep jumping off every time a thought occurs to me. I can read a paragraph of a book and it will usually remind me of something interesting or spark an idea which will then occupy me as I daydream about it. Consequently I am more of an article reader than book reader ;) Good with reading long words though.

*Hopeless sense of direction: stuff like if I'm walking along a familiar road and enter a shop then when I exit, instead of continuing in the intended direction, I discover I've unwittingly walked backwards without noticing // the sheer amount of effort involved in navigating an unfamiliar place (I have to keep turning backwards to see what it will look like on the return journey as otherwise it will look like a place I've never seen before). Redoing the same mistaken journey: if I've taken it once and see the route again I tend to remember that I've been down that path before, so I walk that route again before realising. Having no idea how the map I'm looking at matches where I'm standing. Regularly having to start walking without knowing whether it's the right direction just so that I can see the direction the small blue 'me' dot on CityMapper is travelling in, and continue or course-correct based on a second reading.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

A homeopath has done a rap dissing skeptics :)

This must have seemed like a good idea at the time ;)

You can enjoy the full thing on YouTube, lyrics below the player. Not exactly the high watermark of homeopathic discourse...

Well the skeptics reckon it’s placebo
Is Homeopathy – but what do they know?
They’re bound to go extinct just like the dodo
They need to get back out in the gazebo
See them as they strut they think they’re well hard
Arnica won’t help them if their bed’s hard
I think it’s time they put their feet up backayard
Someone do us a favour and give 'em a mouthguard

All they ever says is it’s placebo
All they ever says - it’s placebo
Denialists attracting all the dweebos
See me now we’re givin you the heave-ho

We’re s'posed to disagree but be agreeable
Well that ain't gonna happen in the foreseeable
Cos all I hear you chatting is so feeble
"There’s no evidence, it’s totally unbelievable"
Seeing as you’re dying of pneumonia
Don’t come begging me for no bryonia
That homeopathic helpline ain’t gonna phone ya
You’ll be lying there alone and getting lonelier

All you ever says is it’s placeboAll you ever says - it’s placebo
Denialists attracting all the dweebos
See me now we’re givin you the heave-ho

They talk like that and I’m not even joking
If I was their mum I’d ask what they’d been smoking
Denialists – they need a damn good poking
What I want to know - who even let that bloke in?
Wastemen getting bankrolled by big pharma
I pity them next life that’s heavy karma
Don’t call them coconuts – call them bananas
They're pure haters and they love to stir up dramas

Well stir it up come on, make us famous
Homeopathy is nothing - but it’s dangerous?
I think you’re in a muddle now - don’t blame us
Just make your mind up boys you’re sounding brainless

Cos all you ever says is it’s placebo
All they ever says - it’s placebo
Denialists attracting all the dweebos
See me now we’re givin you the heave-ho

Them makin out it’s snake oil and we bought it
Tell me it’s placebo and I just ‘thought it’
Get down off your high horse and start to walk it
Listen up and we can start to sort it
There’s many a path and many a way to trek
So fix yourselves up and start to show respect
If all you can do is spread your toxic texts
See an Osteopath cos you’re a serious pain in the neck

Cos all you ever says is it’s placeboAll they ever says - it’s placebo
Denialists attracting all the dweebos
See me now we’re givin you the heave-ho

So listen up you all here’s what we think
It’s time you drew your pension - index linked
But tell us why you want to cause a stink
And who is paying you to pen and ink?

This medicine that’s permanent and gentle
Including physical, emotional and mental
Sustainable and so environmental
Homeopathy brings health that’s incremental
But maybe that won't profit all your cronies
GSK and Astrazeneca phonies
Your emperor’s new medicine’s balonies
You’re tellin more lies than mr blair – that’s Tony
So fix yourselves up and face the final answers
Your dirty game is up – you dodgy chancers
I’m not being funny but you’re at the end of your run sirs
You’re gravestones will say "all just back up dancers!"

So there’s our rap to the gradgrind skeptic band
Methinks they do protest too much eh fam?
That muggle medicine will soon run out of sand
We’re here to help but till then just talk to the hand.

Scientific talks in London - the 2018/2019 edition

by @JoBrodie,
  • Interesting Talks in London (not just science), also Interesting Talks in Oxford
  • Blackheath Scientific Society
    FRIDAY LECTURES AT 7.45pm on the THIRD FRIDAY of every month from September to May, unless otherwise indicated. MYCENAE HOUSE, 90 MYCENAE  ROAD, SE3 7SE
    Visitors are welcome at all meetings, and are requested to donate £3 to the Society.
  • Chelsea Physic Garden (Thursday Supper talks)
    Chelsea Physic Garden, 66 Royal Hospital Road, London, SW3 4HS. Talk - £17, Talk + Supper £34: supper sittings: 5.45pm or 8.30pm - talk is 7.00-8.15pm
  • Gresham College (lectures on a variety of topics, including science, medicine, tech)
  • Hampstead Scientific Society
    Lecture Meetings will be held at The Crypt Room, St John's Church, Church Row, Hampstead, London NW3 6UU. All meetings are on THURSDAYS at 8:15pm. Coffee and biscuits will be available during the evening for a small charge. Members of the public are invited.
  • Highgate Literary & Scientific Institution - Lectures / Events
    Lectures from 8.00-9.30pm
  • Kew Mutual Improvement Society (KMIS) - Information page (PDF) @Kewlectures)
    Mondays 6pm, Jodrell Lecture Theatre, RBG Kew £2.50 entry (excl. fundraising lectures which are individually priced). Schedule subject to change. Please arrive by 5:45pm.
  • Linnean Society
    Burlington House, Piccadilly
  • Richmond Scientific Society
    Monthly at 8pm on Wednesdays in the VESTRY HOUSE, 21 Paradise Rd TW9 1SA
    (opposite the top of Eton St). Paradise Road CAR PARK is nearby, approached only from the Sheen Rd / Church Rd end. Visitors are welcome at all our meetings.
    Annual Membership: Adult £10. Visitors (per lecture): £2. 
  • Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)
    1 Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AR
  • Royal Institution
  • Royal Society
  • Worshipful Society of Apothecaries - lectures free, booking advisable, time varies

September 2018
Wednesday 12 September 2018 - Richmond Scientific Society
Dr Gordon Hunter, Kingston University
Applying Maths in Medical Imaging:Assisting the diagnosis of liver cancers from ultrasound videos 

Thursday 20 September 2018 - Hampstead Scientific Society
Dr Joel Davis (Natural History Museum)
The Story of Water on Mar

Friday 21 September 2018 - Blackheath Scientific Society
Mission to Jupiter's Ice Giant Moons: Dr Adam Masters, Imperial College
The mission is to study Ganymede, Calisto and Europa - all likely to have sub-surface oceans of water, be geologically active, and which could support forms of life.

October 2018
Wednesday 3 October 2018 - Worshipful Society of Apothecaries
Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Adviser
Medical Emergencies of Global Concern (6.30-7.30pm)

Thursday 4 October 2018 - Chelsea Physic Gardens, Supper talks
Pieter van der Merwe, Greenwich Curator Emeritus, National Maritime Museum
Captain Bligh and the Breadfruit
While most people have heard of the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789, relatively few will know that William Bligh fulfilled the mission – to transplant breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indies – on a second voyage, with two ships, in 1791-93. This talk will explain the project, its problems, and the differing outcomes of these two remarkable Pacific voyages.

Monday 8 October 2018 - Royal Institution
Black History Month: balancing the equation 7-8.30pm (£16/10 and you can also donate the cost of a ticket!) 
Lisa Kennedy, Segun Fatumo and Riham Satti are having a panel discussion chaired by Alex Lathbridge.

Tuesday 9 October 2018 - Worshipful Society of Apothecaries
Dr Tina Matthews, Consultant Cellular Pathologist, Epsom & St Helier University Hospital NHS Trust
Medical Professionalism, Public Institutions and the Alder Hey Children’s Organs Scandal
The First Sydney Selwyn Lecture, this talk is based upon the Dissertation submitted as part of that examination (6-7pm)

Tuesday 9 October 2018 - Kew Gardens, Jodrell Lecture Theatre
Dr. Łukasz Łuczaj (Botany Department, University of Rzeszow
Annual Distinguished Ethnobotanist Lecture 2018
‘Discovering new wild edible plants in Europe: from 19th century famine potherb to 21st century hipster food’

Wednesday 10 October 2018 - Richmond Scientific Society
Dr Emma Wooliams, National Physical Laboratory
Measuring the Earth from Space - and being a woman in science
Preceded by the Annual General Meeting. Wine & nibbles after the talk.    

Monday 15 October 2018 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Jon Drori CBE (Prof. Author & Conservationist)
The Secret Life of Trees: Around the World in 80 Trees

Thursday 18 October 2018 - Hampstead Scientific Society
David Smart (University College London)
The Hampstead Storm 1975
Friday 19 October 2018 - Blackheath Scientific Society
Recent Advances in Forensic Science: Dr Leon Barron, King's College 
Many major advances in Forensic science have resulted from improvements in analytical methods. Dr Barron will describe recent work in tracing the manufacturing location of illicit drugs and explosives and getting fingerprints from porous surfaces (e.g. Ivory tusks).

Monday 22 October 2018 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Aaron Bertelsen (Vegetable Gardener, Great Dixter)
The Great Dixter Vegetable Garden Through The Year

Wednesday 24 October 2018 - Richmond Scientific Society
David Warrilow, Royal Meteorological Society 
Climate Change: Science, Policy and Opinion  

Wednesday 24 October 2018 - Worshipful Society of Apothecaries
Wendy Moore talks about Elliotson’s staged demonstrations on his patients at UCH.
How Society Physician John Elliotson held Victorian Britain Spellbound (6-7pm)

Thursday 25 October 2018 - Highgate Literary & Scientific Society
Dr Greg Hunt, Imperial College
Science Meeting: The Cassini Mission

Monday 29 October 2018 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Dr Michael Heinrich (Prof. & Head of Pharmacy, UCL)
Ethnopharmacology: more than just the search for new drugs?

November 2018
Thursday 1 November 2018 - Chelsea Physic Gardens, Supper talks
Katrina van Grouw, author and illustrator
Unnatural selection
When Charles Darwin contemplated how best to introduce his controversial new theory of evolution to the general public, he chose to compare it with the selective breeding of domesticated animals, continuously shaped and moulded at the hand of man, and a subject increasingly popular in Victorian England. In her new book, Unnatural Selection, marking the 150th anniversary year of Darwin’s great work on domesticated animals, author and illustrator Katrina van Grouw explains why this analogy was more appropriate than even Darwin had realised.
Artificial selection is, in fact, more than just an analogy for natural selection – it’s the perfect example of evolution in action.

Monday 5 November 2018 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Ana Oliveira (Kew Diploma student)
Japanese Historic Gardens and the Art of Slowing Down

Luke Senior (Kew Diploma student)
Honduras: Land Use and its effects on Flora

Friday 9 November 2018 - Worshipful Society of Apothecaries
Drugs, Trade & Empire 1650-1950 – Symposium [NOT FREE, £50 symposium]   
Faculty of the History and Philosophy of Medicine and Pharmacy & The British Society for the History of Pharmacy present a joint Symposium

Monday 12 November 2018 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Robbie Blackhall-Miles (Conservationist & Plantsman)
Hunting Shapeshifters

Thursday 15 November 2018 - Hampstead Scientific Society
Prof. Nicholas Achilleos (University College London)
Space Missions to Giant Planets

Tuesday 13 November 2018 - Highgate Literary & Scientific Society
Jo Marchant, science journalist and author
Cure: a journey into the science of mind over body   
Science journalist Jo Marchant explores the links between our minds and bodies – and shares how we can use this new knowledge to improve our health and enhance our lives.

In recent years, scientists have uncovered startling evidence about how our mental state plays a crucial role in our physical symptoms, biological responses, immune systems and recovery rates. In her talk, Jo Marchant will cover some of the latest research, including how our beliefs can create some of the same physical changes as drugs; how virtual reality is banishing the worst pain in medicine; and how organ transplant doctors are training their patients’ immune systems using taste and smell.

Dr Jo Marchant is an award-winning science journalist and author of the New York Times bestseller Cure: A journey into the science of mind over body (2016). She has a PhD in genetics and has worked as an editor at the science publications New Scientist and Nature.

Friday 16 November 2018 - Blackheath Scientific Society

Monday 19 November 2018 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Ashley Leiman OBE (Founder, Orangutan Foundation)
Saving The Orangutan’s World

Thursday 22 November 2018 - Worshipful Society of Apothecaries
Dr Emma Spary talks on Parisian apothecaries who pursued different way of raising the status of their art.
Apothecaries, Advertisement and Antidotes in the Sun King’s Paris

Monday 26 November 2018 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Ken Cox (Plant Hunter & Breeder, Glendoick Gardens)
Woodland Gardening

Wednesday 28 November 2018 - Richmond Scientific Society
Alex Jones, National Physical Laboratory  
Quantum Biology: From animal migration to future cell therapies    

Thursday 29 November 2018 - Royal Geographical Society
Liz Bonnin
Drowning in plastic (7.00-8.30pm), £8

December 2018
Monday 3 December 2018 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Kathryn Bray (Kew Diploma student)
On Foot Through Bear Country: An introduction to the ecology of the Yukon

Tristan Agates (Kew Diploma student)
Greening the Urban Landscape in Singapore

Monday 10 December 2018 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Peter Wohlleben (Author & Forester)
The Hidden Life of Trees (Fundraising Lecture)

Thursday 13 December 2018 - Hampstead Scientific Society
Prof. Nick Lane (University College London) 
How Energy Flow Shapes the Evolution of Life

Friday 14 December 2018 - Blackheath Scientific Society
AGM and talks by Members

Wednesday 19 December 2018 - Richmond Scientific Society
Andrés Muñiz Piniella, C4AD CIC  
Scanning Probe Microscopy: measurements in the nanoscale
(Christmas meeting with wine and nibbles)

January 2019
Monday 7 January 2019 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Monty Don OBE (Writer, Gardener & TV Presenter)
Paradise Gardens: The World’s Most Beautiful Islamic Gardens
(Fundraising Lecture)

Monday 14 January 2019 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Trevor Nicholson (Head Gardener, Harewood House)
The Gardens of Harewood House; Past Present and Future

Wednesday 16 January 2019 - Richmond Scientific Society
Dr Paul Driscoll, The Francis Crick Institute  
NMR in DNA Cells 

Thursday 17 January 2019 - Hampstead Scientific Society
Dr Georgina Meakin MCSFS FHEA (University College London) 
Forensic Science – DNA Evidence

Friday 18 January 2019 - Blackheath Scientific Society

Monday 21 January 2019 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Dan Pearson (Landscape & Garden Designer)
Journey of a Plantsman (Fundraising Lecture)

Monday 28 January 2019 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Alex Little (Kew Diploma student)
The Lost Botanic Garden of the Usambara Mountains & Selous Game Reserve

Elisa Biondi (Botanical Horticulturist, RBG Kew)
Kew Orchid Festival

February 2019
Monday 4 February 2019 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Allison Legg & Andrea Topalovic-Arthan (Kew Diploma students)
Kyrgyzstan: Flora along the Silk Road

Monday 11 February 2019 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Troy Scott Smith (Head Gardener, Sissinghurst)
Revitalising Vita at Sissinghurst

Wednesday 13 February 2019 - Richmond Scientific Society
Fiona Auty, National Physical Laboratory
Things we have measured at the NPL 

Friday 15 February 2019 - Blackheath Scientific Society
Process Intensification in the Chemical Industry: Prof. Asterios Gavriilidis, University College London
Historically most chemical reactions have been performed in large reactors or in large continuous plants. Micro-reactors are a recent development where the reaction takes place in a very small reactive zone allowing precise temperature control, excellent mixing, high pressures and substantial reducing of risk for highly exothermic reactions. The design of such reactions is a chemical engineering challenge requiring new fabrication techniques and a thorough understanding of fluid mechanics. 

Monday 18 February 2019 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Alfonso Montiel (CEO, Lemon Tree Trust)
Waiting for Trees: How garden competitions in refugee camps are transforming the landscape.

Wednesday 20 February 2019 - Worshipful Society of Apothecaries
Thomas Morris will be talking on the era cardiac surgery began in 1986.
Incursions into the Citadel of Life: The Origins of Heart Surgery in Britain

Thursday 21 February 2019 - Hampstead Scientific Society
Mike Howgate (Amateur Geological Society) 
101 Theories of Dinosaur Extinction

Monday 25 February 2019 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Kit Strange (Botanical Horticulturist, RBG Kew)
Azerbaijan: The Jewel in the Caspian

March 2019
Monday 4 March 2019 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Dr Michael Chester (RBG Kew Science)
The Elusive Role of the Chromosome in Plant Evolution

Monday 11 March 2019 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Jinny Blom (Landscape & Garden Designer)
Landscape Pragmatist: Landscape Gardening Against the Odds

Wednesday 13 March 2019 - Richmond Scientific Society
Ann Sylph, Zoological Society of London
Women in Zoology
Friday 15 March 2019 - Blackheath Scientific Society
Dr Elinor Thompson, University of Greenwich
More Alike than unlike - Studying Biology Across Kingdoms
Some aspects of cell biology are seen in all organisms.  The talk will highlight some discoveries and techniques that are relevant in biomedicine from work mostly based on studies in plants and microbes.

Monday 18 March 2019 - Kew Mutual Improvement Society
Hugh Fletcher (Kew Diploma student)
Nut Culture and Cultivation in the Southern Appalachians

Richard Choksey (Kew Diploma student)
Paths to Redemption: The decolonisation of botanic gardens in the North Eastern United States

Thursday 21 March 2019 - Hampstead Scientific Society
Dr. Richard Stein (Hampstead Scientific Society)
The Roman Water Pump

April 2019
Wednesday 10 April 2019 - Richmond Scientific Society
Dr Georgina Meakin MCFSF FHEA, University College, London
Forensic Science - DNA Evidence 

Thursday 11 April 2019 - Hampstead Scientific Society
Prof. Andrew Stockman (University College London)
Human Colour Vision

Tuesday 16 April 2019 - Worshipful Society of Apothecaries
Mark Geller talks on the ancient Babylonian medicine and ancient drugs lists.
The Simple and the Complex: the Assyrian Apothecary at Work

Friday 19 April 2018 - Blackheath Scientific Society
Dr Joseph Fabian, Imperial College
In the natural world there are unique products and technologies that can be used directly or slightly modified to benefit mankind.  Some of these discoveries will be discussed including the 'strain-gauges present in dragonfly wings' which allow superb manoeuverability, and the adhesive produced by a frog that adheres strongly to wet surfaces and could find applications in medicine

May 2019
Wednesday 15 May 2019 - Richmond Scientific Society
Dr Rob Feneck, Consultant Anaesthetist
The Heart, Ancient and Modern

Thursday 16 May 2019 - Hampstead Scientific Society
Dr. Elizabeth Liddle (University of Nottingham)
Brain Oscillations and Mental Health

Friday 17 May 2019 - Blackheath Scientific Society
Dr Lindsay J Hall, Quadram Institute Bioscience, Norwich Research Park
Gut Bacteria
There are more bacteria than cells in the human body and these live primarily in the digestive system.  They provide a critical role in digestion, the immune function and weight regulation.  Their role and mechanisms will be presented in this talk.

June 2019
Thursday 20 June 2019 - Hampstead Scientific Society
8pm  (note time change)
AGM: Wine & Cheese £zzz + scientific entertainment

Monday 17 June 2019 - Worshipful Society of Apothecaries
Professor Mary Dixon-Woods talks on health systems worldwide who are challenged in delivering high quality care.
Why is Improving Quality and Safety in Healthcare so Hard?

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Let's see if we can keep Permanent EU Citizenship, even if Brexit happens w @EUcitizen2017

Vote, by 23 July 2019, for Permanent European Union Citizenship - this is an EU citizens' initiative. [Campaign website]

1. Oooh! I've been a bit wary of all these Stop-or-Mitigate Brexit-themed petitions (I worry that we're diluting stuff) but this one looks more promising.

Even despite the URL I greeted it with the same suspicion, but have since searched for the URL on Twitter to see who's been tweeting about it, and Guy Verhofstadt had so - real enough for me. The petition is just over a day old (it was registered in July 2018 but voting seems to have opened only on 22nd August).

2. In the UK we regularly see people sharing petitions to Parliament, which have this banner across the top of the page.

These can be created on Parliament's website by any UK citizen - if the petition reaches 10,000 votes then Parliament must respond and if the votes reach 100,000 then Parliament will consider it for a debate. It does not necessarily mean that the thing you're petitioning for will happen though.

3. The EU Citizens' Initiative (ECI) is an EU-wide equivalent of this (I presume each member state has its own petitions site but I only know about the UK one). Any EU citizen can suggest an ECI for consideration. For an ECI to meet its threshold it requires 1,000,000 votes overall and for minimum thresholds to be reached in 7 of the member countries. Each country has its own numeric threshold depending, I presume, on the number of people in its voting population.

The UK needs 54,750 votes and so far has 19,583 (35%) - so I think we'll probably manage 100% - but Germany would need 72,000 and has only 761 (1%), or Latvia needs 6,000 and only has 12. Early days though!

4. I've no idea if it's more likely that countries with smaller thresholds (Cyprus, Estonia, Luxembourg and Malta need 4,500) will be more easily reached than countries with larger thresholds (Germany has the highest but there are a few above 40,000) or if it's more to do with which countries are most engaged. Currently the votes are (not surprisingly, given it's less than two days old!) languishing at the 1 or 2% end of things for each country but the UK is already at 36% (20,001 votes) - another few hundred have come in while I've been drafting this. It's not too surprising that UK folk are currently the most engaged.

5. Here's what the petition website looks like, and where you can find out how many votes are still needed [screenshot captured at 3pm on 23 August 2018].

Note the English (en) to the right of the above image - with the drop-down arrow you can read the page in any EU language.

Threshold status is very much not yet reached, but there are a few months to go... the images below come from the Permanent European Union Citizenship's ECI page - you need to click on the 'More info' button to bring up the extra panel. You can see all countries' responses one one page or scroll through a 'gallery'.

More countries listed on the website.

6. ...And here's what info about the initiative looks like on the main European Commission website

Sunday, 15 July 2018

A new Wikipedia page on CEASE therapy

Summary: I've created (with help from other Wikipedians) a new page on Wikipedia for CEASE therapy giving a brief overview of what the therapy involves and the regulatory action that's taken place against the misleading claims made for it. (Page last updated - 29 July 2018)

For some time I and others have been trying, not all that successfully, to get UK homeopaths / naturopaths to stop making misleading claims about curing or treating autism. The information accompanying their treatment promotes the idea that vaccines cause autism (which is a harmful idea to be promoting anyway) and the treatment itself involves the notion of 'vaccine detox' through large doses of vitamin C alongside a buffet selection of supplements, dietary restrictions and homeopathy. CEASE therapy (Complete Elimination of Autistic Spectrum Expression - the name itself is problematic) is promoted to parents of children with autism and no evidence has been provided of it being of use to anyone. A related 'treatment' is Homeopathic Detox Therapy or HDT.

In 2015 Teddington Homeopathy was reported to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for misleading CEASE-related claims and the ASA adjudicated against them and subsequently added them to their non-compliant online advertisers list. [I submitted a complaint myself but the ASA had already begun to take action based on someone else's prior complaint].

More recently we have asked the Society of Homeopaths to rein in their own members. There are several homeopathic societies in the UK and the SoH has its members' register accredited by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) so I suppose this offers a potential source of leverage. Happily the PSA listened to our* complaints and imposed conditions on the SoH when reaccrediting their register. The SoH published a position statement advising their members to take care about misleading claims relating to the treatment.

In my own complaint, to the SoH, I reported five of their members who had been making misleading claims, then I periodically monitored the five websites for any changes. Sadly the changes were fairly minimal - hence the 'not all that successfully' reference above. Most significantly one member has cancelled their SoH membership (so they are no longer required to follow the SoH's guidelines on marketing etc) but very little of the text has changed.

In July 2018 the ASA adjudicated against another CEASE therapist who offered CEASE among several other things, so it wasn't the main focus. I also discovered that they'd written to several homeopaths in May and June enclosing an Enforcement Note on CEASE therapy and asking them to ensure that their marketing material did not make misleading claims.

Hopefully the ASA might take some action on these and other homeopaths - I won't necessarily know about it because they do not need to adjudicate further on any homeopath. After several cases the ASA already knows that there's no good evidence for homeopathy and that it doesn't work so there's no point in revisiting the evidence and adjudicating. Instead each new complaint about homeopathy is handled by the Compliance team who, frustratingly, don't publish their activities. I don't think any of the homeopaths (from my complaint) have been selling homeopathic remedies in breach of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) regulations.

Since getting regulatory bodies to take action on misleading health advertising is a long, slow process I thought I'd try a parallel approach of creating a new Wikipedia page about the therapy. Wikipedia's pages can feature prominently in search engine results so I'm hoping that the page might appear when families are searching for information. No guarantees of course! No sign of the page in search results yet but it's only been 24 hours.

*our - I did put in a complaint however the timeline was such that the PSA had already had its meeting and taken action before I did, so mine's unlikely to have contributed much to the outcome.

After writing about the new Wikipedia page on Twitter I got a fair bit of push back from homeopaths and CEASE therapists who get a bit cross when anyone points out that they're making unsupported claims about an implausible treatment. One of them created a new account with a username that is typical of the lack of insight of some homeopaths I've spoken to (see screenshots below). Of course this certainly seems a bit intimidating and might put people off from writing about their activities on Twitter but it doesn't actually stop people from undertaking those activities (or getting other people to mention them instead).

Is it really like that I wonder ;)
A few more screenshots below.

There's still a lot to be done on CEASE. Getting the ASA and SoH to persuade homeopaths to remove misleading claims is only one small part. They are still attempting to treat children with autism which is beyond their level of competence and a safeguarding issue. The MHRA can block the sale of the 'remedies', local councils can take action around safeguarding and Trading Standards can prosecute.

Library of Things - borrow household stuff as well as books

Libraries of Things are community-run projects which let people borrow community-owned items for a small fee, for a week or so. Items can include musical instruments, camping equipment, household tools (drills, waffle-makers), arts and crafts and whatever the community makes available.

Inspired by @MooseAllain's post about a local project in Frome :) I looked for a directory and didn't find one so this is the next best thing. 

Google is full of suggestions, I just picked a few - another good way to find more is to do an image search for Library of Things and click on the different logos. Also search Twitter.

Community fridges (avoid wasting food within use by date)
Frome has a Community Fridge and Brixton has a People's Fridge

Libraries of Things
Library of Things - Crystal Palace / Upper Norwood

Share Frome

Borrow Don't Buy - Plymouth

Local Tool lending library - worldwide

Pimlico Toy Library

Oxford Library of Things (coming soon, as of Nov 2017)
from Low Carbon West Oxford (see also Facebook)

Guildford Library of Things (opened June 2018)

Cardiff, Wales
Benthyg -

Dublin Library of Things

United States
Brighton, MI - Library of Things

Capital Area District, Lansing, MI - Library of Things

Hillsboro, Oregon - Library of Things

Connetquot Public Library, Bohemia, New York (electronics / hardware)

Ann Arbor District Library - Unusual Things to Borrow

Kitchener, Ontario - Library of Things

Repair cafes

Restart Project

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Learning Morse Code online

Click the pic above (or and then on Play a demo on desktop to go through the interactive Morse-learning demo. I discovered this thanks to this post from Lifehacker.

Google have arranged things so that smartphone users can type or receive a series of Morse dashes and dots. It's rather good fun and you can also do it on a desktop too (link above). The intention behind this is not just fun but as part of their programme to help people with more accessible communication. In the example given, someone can use head movements to produce either a dot or a dash and the sequence of these is converted into English text (or can be converted into any language).

To introduce this they've also created a really simple and clear method for training people in Morse code ( which is fun and delightful - really good use of visual design - and I'd learned all the letters within an hour. The morning after I can still remember most of them. Isn't the U for Unicorn (.._) cute.

There are several 'directions' in learning Morse and this uses only one of them. You are given a letter in English - P - and you have to respond with the correct Morse letter - . _ _ . It's quite similar to how I learned to touch-type. First you start with f and j which are the 'home' keys on a keyboard, they have the little raised bit so your fingers can always find them. Then the other letters are brought in and soon you're confidently typing gibberish like fdf dfd jkj kjk and so on and after two weeks you're 50+ words a minute.

'Real' Morse, although no longer in official use (it's not used by the military and I think even amateur 'ham' radio enthusiasts are no longer required to be proficient), would never learn it just like that - you'd hear a series of dots and dashes and have to be able to transcribe back into English letters and numbers, and into words. This system doesn't teach that. Similarly it doesn't teach the reverse in that it doesn't present you with ... _ or _ ... and wait for you to provide V or B respectively (not a criticism, it's really fun and I think it's great and I know more Morse now than I ever did).

Learning Morse uses several 'sensory modalities' in that you have to listen (or see) and press buttons or write and ideally you'd learn to cross-convert an English letter to Morse and a Morse letter to English.

This morning I tried the Morse Code machine tester from Boy's Life (even though I am a girl, ) and was pleased that I got most of them right (but got a few wrong). In the picture below it's the letter 'H' shown.

I am fascinated by Morse Code, its history and use, and always feel that I want to be able to make sense of the dits and the dahs. However there's absolutely no reason for me to do so, so no impetus to learn beyond my curiosity.

This enthusiasm probably began about fifteen years ago when I was lying in bed at my parent's house fiddling about with a bedside radio and I came across a radio station broadcasting a series of beeps and beeeeps and wondered what it was. I tried to write them down but of course I couldn't work out where one letter began and ended, or where the sequence started. It took a few listens to make sense of where the spaces were and, with a bit of Googling later and I eventually worked out that the letters were CHT _._.  / .... / _   and that it wasn't a radio station but just the Chiltern Non-directional radio beacon for aircraft which was pinging out its location info which my radio had picked up. My parents lived within radio-listening distanced from the Chiltern beacon which is located at RAF Northolt (you can hear it in this old Audioboom of mine). Further googling also led me to this song 'The Slow Train' by Andy Lewis, which features the beacon as a backing track.

Morse is kind of a binary thing (well, not really as there's ON (dot or dash) and OFF (silence) with the transmitting units being built up to form letters, words and numbers. It let people send messages via telegraphy through a series of electrical pulses - not wildly dissimilar to the way in which nerves work - which converted the signal to marks on a bit of paper that were meant to be read. Early telegraphy operators found that they could just as easily translate into dots and dashes the sound the device made as it converted the electrical signal into an indentation on a paper tape. The paper tape became unnecessary and later when Morse was used in radio communications people realised it was quicker just to hear it as an audio transmission rather than as something you translate from a written page. [Wikipedia's page on the history of Morse code]

Below is a picture I took at the Orkney Wireless Museum showing the Morse alphabet. I was surprised to see accented letters.

Further reading
Make your own Morse key USB keyboard

Test yourself in Morse
Quiz: How well do you know Morse code? (27 April 2018, BT)
Morse Code test (
A real-world test for certification with the Radio Society of Great Britain

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Language, jargon and communication in science - an old essay of mine from 2004/5

You can pretty much guarantee that if I spot a discussion about the use (or avoidance) of jargon in discussions about science with a non-specialist audience, I'll pipe up. What I'll say - based more on feelpinions than evidence, granted - is that I think it's perfectly fine to use jargon as long as you explain what it means and that there's no real need to avoid it at all costs.

I am more concerned about words that don't seem like jargon but which you (a scientist) use in a particular, precise way and which your audience may understand much more loosely. My classic examples would include protein (eggs, chicken in a meal versus oligopeptides, enzymes), model (someone who looks better than me in a bikini versus a computer program which predicts an output) and theory (well-founded 'model' of how something works which explains current [and predicts new] findings versus a hunch or gut feeling).

In 2004/5 ago I did a Diploma in Science Communication at Birkbeck College and had a lovely time doing so. I wrote some essays, some were probably a bit rubbish, but I liked this one. I got a pretty good mark for it but somehow the bit of paper with the mark on has become separated from the essay itself, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

This was written in 2004/2005 and I might think slightly differently now on some points, but the essay is as it was then.

Sociologists of scientific knowledge are unlikely to disagree with the idea that "words maketh the world". Discuss the ways in which language might be said to 'construct' science.

     In this essay I will consider some of the ways in which language is used by scientists, and others, to express scientific concepts. I would like to look at the way in which language is used among scientists, examining jargon and metaphor in scientific discourse as well as consider some of the ways in which non-scientists could be said to have had scientific knowledge constructed for them by the popular media. I will also consider some of the arguments for and against the view that certain uses of language have contributed to a science that is culturally contrived.

     Language is essential to communicating any endeavour and thus it is fair to say that scientific knowledge is embodied in language. Whether or not this is literally in terms of words or graphical outputs or other 'literary inscriptions' (Latour and Woolgar, 1986) the end-product must be understood. Scientific knowledge exists because scientists are able to communicate their thoughts - "whatever directly affects the speech of science and its development affects scientific endeavour near its core" (Montgomery, 2004). It is difficult to imagine a knowledge that "exists without language or controlled observation" (Wark, 1996) and in that sense, science is not independent of social construction. If, as Leary says "all knowledge is ultimately rooted in metaphorical (or analogical) modes of perception and thought" then science can be considered as relying strongly on language (quoted in Gorman, 1998).

     Words have no intrinsic value and only acquire this through community consensus, thus language is a social construction. Since science is also a community enterprise and one which relies heavily on language it is reasonable to suppose a close association between the way language and thought represent reality (Lillegard, 2004).

     Although all disciplines have their own jargon, scientists have been especially busy in stringing Greek or Latin words together to find new ways of describing things and expressing concepts. While the precise way in which certain words are used ("normal" or "theory", for example) differs from their use in everyday language (and can be a major source of the language barrier between scientist and non-scientist) words like 'poikilothermic' (cold blooded) do appear to be designed to keep out the uninitiated. Words may maketh the world but science "is today the most active area of language creation" (Montgomery, 2004) - in other word, science constructs the language.

[The person marking the essay has pointed out that other disciplines also do this]

     Most scientists (and non-scientists who use field-specific jargon) would defend its use for mutual convenience among those in the same discipline, even though this requires a learning of more words or learning a new way to use familiar ones and Montgomery (2004) has spoken of the perception of a "communicational diaspora... dividing the disciplines by the arcanity of specialist speech" while acknowledging that the barriers between disciplines have become more 'porous' in recent years, thanks to 'transdisciplinary research'.

     Richard Dawkins' use of the analogy of 'selfish' genes has caused some confusion for those who mistakenly take the term literally (Dunbar, 1995) and Darwin was similarly 'sandbagged' by his own use of the phrase 'natural selection' which gave rise to the belief that nature was actively selecting (Eisenberg, 1992). In these cases, ordinary words became jargon due to the specific way in which they were used.

     In an interesting experiment FJ Ingelfinger (the then editor of the New England Journal of Medicine) printed, in 1971, two versions of the same immunology paper - one making no concessions to non-immunologists, the other written in plain English by a professional journalist. Although most readers preferred the one in plain English, the original authors felt that the translation had missed the subtle nuances of the original (Dunbar, 1995) and defended the use of jargon in certain instances. In fact, Wilkinson (1992, quoted in Atkinson, 1999) challenged calls for the use of jargon (and of the passive voice, which will be discussed later) to be avoided because scientists, when publishing in scientific journals, are writing for other experts in the field.

     Despite some problems, metaphors and analogies are often used successfully as pedagogical tools to explain something that is unknown in terms of something that is known (Gorman, 1998). As long as analogies ("A is like B") are not irreversibly stretched too far beyond metaphor ("A is B") then they can provide a useful framework for explaining and understanding concepts. They can be problematic though and metaphor has been described as a "double-edged sword" due to the danger of the metaphor transferring more than one meaning onto the thing which is being described (Scheiderer, 2000b). This adds weight to the postmodern idea that a reader will bring something to the text themselves - when they draw the analogy "many additional meanings may be transferred" (Scheiderer, 2000b).

     However, studies of metaphor in science have shown that their use is more than just a 'convenient linguistic tool' (Scheiderer, 2000a) and there are several examples where metaphor may not only have had a clear role in the construction of scientific ideas but might even have constrained them.

     Some feminist critiques of science have examined the perceived damage from the misuse of metaphor although with varying successes in making a valid point. Sandra Harding's often misquoted observation, that if "Nature as a machine" metaphors are effective in science, then overtly sexualised Baconian metaphors (scientists triumphing over nature compared with men dominating women) cannot be dismissed as 'mere metaphors' makes a valid point when not taken out of context (Brown, 2001).

     Kathryn Hayles' account conflating the difficulties in solving equations for fluid mechanics with gender issues, reported in Brown (2001), on the other hand appears to have taken things a step too far. It is still a matter of debate however, as to whether gendered views in developmental and cellular biology (sperm as active and male versus egg as passive and female as well as a similar dichotomy between the cytoplasm and the nucleus) have hindered development in those fields. Gross and Levitt (1998) downplay the effect of metaphor when they comment that "however negligible the power of inappropriate metaphor may be to shape the ultimate body of scientific knowledge, there is no great harm in sensitising people to it."

     It is not just the words themselves which are of interest to those studying science linguistics. Science is nowadays expressed in very formalised language where the author (the scientist) is apparently meant to be invisible. The reason for this is may be that removing any explicit authorship minimises the perceived subjectivity of the scientific experiments (Montgomery, 1999), the exact details of which are usually expressed in the passive voice (Atkinson, 1999).

[I think even at the time I was writing this things were changing regarding writing actively instead of passively]

     For those whose perception of science comes from other sources the challenges of jargon are often replaced by the challenges of translation. As mentioned above in the case of the immunology paper, the "accommodation" of scientific knowledge (Fahnestock, 1986) involves a truncated version of 'the truth'. The linguistic style differences between journal papers and newspaper articles reflect the differing publishing aims and constraints. Qualifiers found in journal articles which are used to 'hedge' (Atkinson, 1999) are often the first to be pruned in a media re-write. This results in apparent certainty and misses the contingent nature of scientific knowledge. In a facile sense it could be argued that the version of truth given to readers of newspaper articles becomes the accepted "truth" by virtue of reaching a much wider audience than those reached by the journal articles. This is not the same as saying that there are different versions of the truth, any one of which might be correct. Although scientists have debunked the notion that "we only use 10% of our brains" many people still think that 90% remains underused.

     While social influences undoubtedly affect what information escapes the ivory towers I would like now to examine the more troubling (to scientists) view that the influence of social factors goes far beyond this to the actual negotiation of knowledge itself.

     Few would agree with Evelyn Fox Keller when she says that "science is not exempt from social influences" (Bucchi, 2004), however this is a fairly innocuous statement and could be applied to those social influences on the choice of which problem to study, or funding. In fact, the current efforts in improving the public's engagement with science and technology acknowledges the feeling that science and scientists should be subject to social influences on their activities.

     A stronger take on cultural construction makes the assumption that because the process of arriving at knowledge has a strong social element (peer review being one example) the end result is "in whole or in part a social construct" (Wyllys, 2003).

     In attempts to demystify some of the processes operating in science, some social constructivists have attacked the idea that the body of knowledge in science is reliable. According to Gross and Levitt (1998) the 'strong form' view maintains that science is a discourse devised and constrained by one interpretive community of scientists and any claims to truth are not independent of this group.

     In their book, "Higher Superstition", they offer several examples of this sort of reasoning, that can easily be dismissed. Stanley Aronowitz's idea that acceptance by physicists of Heisenbert's "uncertainty principle" heralded a humbler, less confident physics community is described as what can happen "when the connotative power of words... are allowed to drift apart from their contextual meaning" (Gross and Levitt, 1998).

     There are many instances shown here which suggest that it might be an oversimplification to suggest that science is expressed in linguistically neutral terms, or even that the use of language does not have some effect on those discovering or constructing science. In a response to Montgomery's paper, Hayes-Rivas (2004) commented that "language often leads thought" and wondered if the role of a language such as English (with its strict Subject-Verb-Object order) as the lingua franca of science might, if all scientists are eventually writing and thinking in English, constrain the way in which the world is viewed. At the very least, "it is dangerous to assume, without further study, that the effects of such a rigid grammar will be trivial or benign" (Hayes-Rivas, 2004).

Jo Brodie, 2004 or 2005

to be typed up