The Meaning of [ ]

What does [  ] mean? The top story in today’s online Guardian was built entirely on the use of square brackets in a document. This was taken as a sign of a widening split amongst EU contries, doubts about UK negotiations, worries in France that the UK is seeking extra protection for the City of London, and general trouble ahead for PM David Cameron. All this from a piece of punctuation. The Guardian had access to a leaked copy of the final draft of the plan for Britain’s renegotiated membership of the EU. As the paper explained: In the drafts…..any … Continue reading The Meaning of [ ]

More than the echo, part 5: user-generated science

Thirty years ago I called it the “zero option”. Today I think of it as “more than the echo”. In the early days of my PhD research I settled upon a particular modus operandi: to look for science in what was popular, not popularity in what was science. It seemed like a useful guiding principle, reversing what I saw as the traditional perspective on popular science. To understand popular science, I argued, we need to understand the popular culture of which it is part (ie in which it is produced, consumed and circulated). This immediately raised the question: what if … Continue reading More than the echo, part 5: user-generated science

Science and “mere opinion”: a dilemma wrapped in an irony

The call for evidenced-based policy is a dilemma wrapped in an irony. I’m not sure if it is necessarily like that but it seems that way on the evidence so far. It was certainly evident in the recent New Statesman piece written by Brian Cox and Robin Ince. The Twitter discussion that followed was lively though unfruitful. “Positivist” accused one. “Nobber” was the witty reply. For my part it was probably just bad timing. I was in the middle of marking a pile of essays when I read the piece and so naturally was in the frame of mind of … Continue reading Science and “mere opinion”: a dilemma wrapped in an irony

Meat, minds and making sense: part 2.

Although I have never seen it I am fairly confident that inside my head is about 1.5kg of meat that looks like a very large walnut and has the consistency of thick porridge. I am even more confident, because I have direct experience of it, that there is a mind which has enabled that last sentence to be written. I am also aware that this particular meat and mind have an intimate association and that somewhere in that association is the “I” that is aware of it (though I suspect this may be no more than a convenient fiction). As … Continue reading Meat, minds and making sense: part 2.

Meat, minds and making sense: part 1

I really should know better by now but I still get disappointed by much of the debate about science and the public. Much of it still seems couched in terms of dumbing-down, or the two cultures, or “anti-science”. Similarly, discussions about science communication often seem driven by concerns for “impact” and “effectiveness” and how these might be evaluated. (Please comment below if you disagree). This should not be surprising. Anyone who puts money into trying to “improve” the public understanding of science will want to make sure that the money is well spent. Was it effective, did it make an … Continue reading Meat, minds and making sense: part 1