Minimum Alcohol Price and Publicans March 15, 2009Posted by calvinus in Alcohol and Pills.
add a comment
So the government might be getting into deep (fire)water if they actually follow up on what their senior medical adviser suggests and hike up the price of booze by a considerable amount. If the problem is binge drinking then you might think that a minimum price per unit of alcohol would deter some people. But I doubt it will deter the hardened boozer that much. Can anyone supply a link (or lack of link) between disposable income and intake of alcohol per week? I’d be interested to see the stats for that. Oddly (or perhaps not), one of the more commonly heard objections to this proposal, and it is only a proposal (as it is likely to remain) is that it will lead to the death of the public house across the UK. This seems to be a little beside the point. There is something decidedly odd about supermarkets selling beer for less that the equivalent volume of water. Granted that this may be a little harsh given that the same supermarkets sell petrol for less than the equivalent volume of water, but why not hike the price per unit volume that off-licenses can sell at but freeze those that licensed premises can charge? Should keep the publicans happy. However, binge drinking remains a distinctly public sport. For a stay of execution, should we not expect publicans to properly exercise an increased responsibility when selling alcohol in the first place and support them to do so? Pubs are largely not responsible for the problems associated with our drink-obsessed culture but they are a conduit for some of its louder, more dangerous nuisances. Lets get to the sources of this behaviour – there is a demand for alcohol, and much as I would rather that high street shops didn’t sell beer quite so cheaply, lets not shoot the messengers just yet.
Grow Your Own Drugs March 8, 2009Posted by calvinus in Media.
Tags: Dumbing down, Media
add a comment
Last week, BBC 2 started a new series. “Grow Your Own Drugs”. The next iteration of science programmes presented by fresh-faced young people who talk 6 inches tot he left and 10 inches above the camera (yes Dr Cox, I mean you).
Now, whilst I welcome the addition of another science programme to the schedules (come back Tomorrow’s World!) there is something unsettling about the Beeb’s latest offering. There are odds and ends of loose interest and they do take care to say that no double-blind trials were conducted and could you please consult a GP before consuming any of the recipes on offer but what is the message? Is it to eat healthily and here are some natural remedies you can use instead of propping up the likes of Proctor and Gamble? Is it educational and here are where past and other cultures found the medicines needed to overcome certain problems? Or is it some half-homeopathic titillation?
Communicating with the masses March 8, 2009Posted by calvinus in Communication of science.
Tags: Communication of science, Outreach, Public engagement
add a comment
This is something I have been mulling over for a while, albeit sporadically, but I was recently given a bit of a nudge by a student who came to me with a “crackpot idea” (his words, not mine). Essentially, he is tired of public ignorance. Now, I am paraphrasing here – and I am not too happy with the haughty overtones, but the essence is there. He was coming at it from the point of view of the whole creationism vs. evolution debate (his nibs being a scientist and an atheist) and was not happy with the Dawkins approach – “evangelical atheism” was not something the student liked. He felt it only served to alienate people or make their views more entrenched, and I must admit that this is a viewpoint that I largely share. The student wants to “set up some sort of group to educate the general public – not to preach to them” as he doesn’t want to be stuck in a lab as a faceless scientist and not make a difference to the wider world.
Now, I don’t want to get drawn into the “Does God play dice with Darwin?” debate. Not now. I am too tired for the intricacies of the argument. However, I can see where he is coming from, although I would take it on a wider level. As a scientist, who is paid certain amounts of tax payers’ money to do research, I have an unwritten contract with my fellow members of the public not to waste that money and give some sort of return on it. Couple this with the fact that, as a chemist, I fear my subject has a criminally neglected public image at a time when it has never been more critical (climate change, pollution, energy supply, and all that) . We need to raise awareness of the relevance of science as well as give something back for the greater good.
However, how do we do that?
The student wanted to put on regular talks. Fair enough. This would effectively target those in the local area, but there are already more that one series of talks around here and the audience is mixed, as is the popularity. Mostly they are attended by people already working, or who used to work in a scientific discipline. Much as they are important (especially given the region in which I live), they are largely a self-selecting audience. People who attend already have an active interest. How do we catch those that don’t?
Another suggestion (one of mine) was blogging, albeit with a different audience in mind. My experience of the blogosphere so far is that you can reach a wider audience (new blogs such as this notwithstanding, obviously) comparatively easily, but again, isn’t it self-selecting? In addition, there are too many blogs to manage. How do you sift through all the chaff to get to the wheat? Now, if you are technologically literate, you have ways and means to find and follow a range of blogs, tweets, and all the rest. This is fine. Please pass on your tips to me as my free time is a precious commodity.
So…how do you communicate with the ambivalent masses? Answers on a postcard, or the back of a sealed-down envelope please as I really am at a loss. We certainly need to push ourselves out into the public more. I hear stories of colleagues who are contacted for an opinion or explanation on a particular subject by the press and hear that they refuse to give an interview as they are too busy marking coursework. Time needs to be made for this. Yes, those of us who work at universities or colleges have a responsibility towards our students, but we also have a responsibility to the wider populace. If nothing else, how do you convince prospective students that your particular branch of science is relevant if you don’t take such opportunities?
One thing is for sure, when taking these chances, remember who you might be talking to, otherwise you miss the point. Take my mother for instance (it could equally be yours, or your neighbour’s grandfather – lets not be sexist about this). My mither, bless her, has no idea about all things virtual or electronic so communicating to her through a bogs would be a waste of time. She tries to understand but knows she never will – the technology moves too fast. She tries to understand what I do for a living and has a vague idea, but it is hard work. However, explaining my work to her has been immensely useful as it has helped me understand some important points.
For example, a tip for those who, like my student friend, want to communicate science to a wider audience: imagine you are talking to the elderly relative of your choosing. If you use language they can understand, you are part way there. I have had to explain to a four-year old what an electron was in French before, all because I said the wrong thing. A basic error and a pain in the backside to fix. I partly managed to get around this problem because the child was able to ask. Which is another important point: communication is a two-way process. You do wonder sometimes if some of my colleagues are listening.
Well we know where we’re goin’ March 1, 2009Posted by calvinus in Teaching.
Tags: Education, Philosophy, Teaching
add a comment
But we don’t know where we’ve been.
This seems to be becoming more and more the case these days. Some of the students I teach become so “institutionalised” inasmuch that they think only in terms of the subjects they are studying and only in terms of what they have to learn. Future tense. Any sense of connecting this with what has already been learned is implicit. It is not a conscious decision to relate current topics with skills already acquired. I spent an hour an a half trying to get my final years reconnect with this and realize what they are doing at a subconscious level. Add to this a lack of confidence to tackle subjects outwith their concept of what is their subject, we run the risk of graduating students that are not as rounded as they deserve to be.
Should scientists have to think about the philosophy and psychology behind what they are learning? I think so. Not too much, but there should be a small amount of teaching aimed at probing the fundamental meanings of the language and symbolism used. When is a measurement not a measurement? How does your concept of measurement bias your results? What is “truth” and “true” results in an experiment? This latter question is one I see more and more coming up. Our “average” fresher thinks that there is an absolute, true value that their experimental results must be close to. “What is the real value?” is a question I am often asked.
Good question. Come back at the end of your degree and tell me what you think then.
Where is this blog going? Who knows. The future is certain, give us time to work it out.