Science and Democracy

There is an easy assumption that science and democracy are natural companions, even that they are necessary for each other. A historical perspective, as usual, says it is not as simple as that. With so much concern about the relationship between science and politics I keep meaning to explore this subject further and wish I had something to hand to point at with each fresh discussion. For now all I can point to is a very short commentary on “Science Communication: process power and politics” which appeared in the Journal of Science Communication, and to the concluding section of my … Continue reading Science and Democracy

Phatic Sci-Comm

“Hello, how are you?” “Not too bad. And yourself?” “Oh, mustn’t grumble” This, and countless variations like it, is a common exchange between two people. The enquiries about health and welfare are not really requests to get access to medical information, nor are the responses attempts to give proper answers. Very occasionally this opening exchange might be taken as an opportunity to talk about an especially dramatic or important event (recent wedding, holiday, death etc) but most times it simply renews the bond between the speakers. Much (maybe even most) everyday conversation is built upon these kinds of “phatic” statements … Continue reading Phatic Sci-Comm

Sci-Comm: What is to be done?

Science communication has failed Rearranging the furniture in the White House are a President who said climate change was a hoax, and a Vice-President who does not accept the theory of evolution. The rest of Trump’s cabinet is an equally deplorable bunch when it comes to science (or, indeed, anything else when it comes to being decent and humane). I’m not blaming science communication for the election of Trump. But Trump’s Presidency is evidence that science communication has failed. You might say that this has little to do with science communication, that Trump won the election on other issues but … Continue reading Sci-Comm: What is to be done?

3G Science Communication

We now have 4G (or it is 5G?) phones. Maybe it’s time we moved on to 3G science communication. The marketing exercise that often passes for science communication is clearly recognisable as a first generation model. Still running on the “deficit” operating system this 1G model was programmed to look for “effectiveness” and “right” answers. Some scientists had problems with reception but you could always turn up the volume. Second generation science communication came with extra capacity for a “dialogue” between science and the public. The PEST operating system for 2G scicomm tried to introduce the “engagement” app, but many … Continue reading 3G Science Communication

PALEY, Reverend William (1743-1805)

William Paley was born in Peterborough in July 1743, the eldest child of William Paley and Elizabeth Clapham.  He died 25 May 1805 in Bishop Wearmouth.  His father was a minor canon at Peterborough and later headmaster at the grammar school in Giggleswick, West Yorkshire.  Educated at his father’s school and Christ’s College, Cambridge, Paley graduated as senior wrangler in 1763 and was elected a fellow in 1766. Ordained in 1767, Paley enjoyed the patronage of the Bishop of Carlisle, receiving a number of rectories in Cumberland and Westmoreland and was eventually appointed Archdeacon of Carlisle in 1782.  In 1794 … Continue reading PALEY, Reverend William (1743-1805)

Nothing Left to Invent: Victorian visions of the future

In 1898 one correspondent to Cassell’s Saturday Journal felt able to write “We seem to be so up‑to‑date nowadays that I don’t see that there is really much else to be invented.” And who could have argued with them? A surfeit of wonders, `latest improvements’, and `startling developments’ had brought a nation to expect a new advance on an almost daily basis. “…the times in which we live may well be called the `age of invention’”, reported one magazine. “Never before, it would seem, have men so ardently studied the secrets of nature, and turned the knowledge thus acquired to … Continue reading Nothing Left to Invent: Victorian visions of the future

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 [ ]

A Manifesto for Teaching Engineers

Given the choice I much prefer a manifesto to a mission statement though I suppose they amount to much the same thing. Maybe it’s simply a preference for the radical over the corporatist. The Communist Mission Statement does not quite have the same ring to it. I was prompted to write my own manifesto after coming across one for the teaching and learning of radical history put together by Richard Kennett (@kenradical). What struck me immedidately was how easy it would be to apply this to all kinds of subject area. Wherever you see the word “history” just drop in … Continue reading A Manifesto for Teaching Engineers

Living in the past: advice to a time traveller

When you become a time traveller it is important to remember that living in the past is not the same as reading about it. For one thing, you have to live every second of every day. How easy it is in a novel or a history to skip a whole year simply by starting a fresh paragraph or turning the page. Even when you read every word in the book you are merely tiptoeing across the Heraclitan flood on selected stepping stones But life in the past is living every heart beat in every minute, waiting patiently for the next … Continue reading Living in the past: advice to a time traveller

The Ignorant Library

I was in the library when I had my vision. Fine threads of light reached out from where I stood, spreading out to every part of the building, picking out pages from books and journals; each thread highlighting a specific piece of text. About three months earlier I had started research towards a PhD and this, I thought, this is my thesis – a quote here, a piece of information there, someone’s idea at the end of this thread and a counter-argument at the end of that one. Somewhere in this library is my thesis, each piece waiting to be … Continue reading The Ignorant Library