Disturbing the Universe

David L Clements, science and science fiction

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Strike Days

I will also be taking part in the strike action discussed here by Peter Coles.

In case you weren’t aware, from tomorrow (22nd February) the University and College Union (UCU) is taking industrial action over proposed drastic cuts to staff pensions funded by the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). You can find some background to the pensions dispute here (and in related articles). A clear explanation of why the employers’ justification for […]

via UCU Strike Action — In the Dark


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Books Read 2017 – Part 2

The Stars are Legion – Kameron Hurley

Fun and very different space opera. Lots of squishy biological stuff.

Roboteer – Alex Lamb

Another space opera, with a nasty oppressive Earth empire against the genetically modified.

The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K Le Guin

A classic, and deservedly so.

Hyperobjects – Timothy Morton

I don’t usually read philosophy treatises so this was a bit of an experience. By the end I felt he had some interesting points to make about things that are so big – like climate change – that they can’t be easily encompassed or conceived, but he did make this point several times in most chapters.

Nine Fox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee

Chinese SF where calendars are weapons, and the weapons are weird.

The Massacre of Mankind – Stephen Baxter

A sequel to the War of the Worlds. Baxter enjoys destroying Metroland a bit too much.

Coffin Road – Peter May

Interesting thriller set on Harris. Very atmospheric.

Binary Storm – Christopher Hinz

Prequel to the excellent Liege Killer (and its less good sequels) written long after the original. Happily much more like the original than the sequels.

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`Pass-the-Harasser’ … to Turku

Disgraceful action by Turku University in hiring sexual harasser Christian Ott.

In the Dark

I noticed yesterday evening that there has recently been a substantial increase in the number of people viewing my posts about Christian Ott, the former Caltech Professor who eventually left his job there after harassing two female students there.

It wasn’t difficult to find out why there had been an upsurge in interest: Christian Ott has got a new job, at the University of Turku, in Finland. As far as I understand the situation – and please correct me if I’m wrong – he was `head-hunted’ for this position, so his appointment was not the result of an open competition and it seems the position was specifically created just for him.

UPDATE: the post was advertised here, but the gap between the deadline for applications – 10th December 2017 – and the appointment being announced is too short to be consistent with the usual processes of academic…

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Crunch time for Dark Matter?

Might as well throw this open to more people…

In the Dark

Gratuitous picture of the cluster Abel 2218, showing numerous gravitational lensing arcs

I was reading through an article by Philip Ball in the Grauniad this morning about likely breakthroughs in science for the forthcoming year. One of the topics discussed therein was dark matter. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s been agreed for decades that the universe must contain large amounts of so-called dark matter – about five times as much as all the matter visible as stars, galaxies and dust. This dark matter appears to exert a gravitational tug while not interacting significantly with ordinary matter or light in other ways. But no one has any idea what it consists of. Experiments have been trying to detect it for years, but all have drawn a blank. The situation is becoming grave enough for some researchers to start taking more seriously suggestions that what looks like dark matter is in fact…

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Professional Disagreement Over Galaxies Escalates Into Bullying And Harassment

Kopitiam Bot

(Source: www.forbes.com)

NASA, ESA, and J. Lotz (STScI)

Look out into the distant Universe as far as you possibly can, and you’ll come to the earliest galaxies we’ve ever observed. The Hubble Frontier Fields program was designed to make exactly these kind of faint, deep observations, and an incredible amount of science has come of it. One of the most spectacular effects is that of gravitational lensing, where a large foreground mass, like a galaxy cluster, bends and magnifies the starlight from background objects even more distant than the cluster. The Hubble Frontier Fields program imaged many such clusters, enabling us to find some of the galaxies behind them: candidates for the deepest, most distant galaxies ever seen in the entire Universe.

ALMA (ESO/NRAO/NAOJ), L. Calçada (ESO), Y. Hezaveh et al.

Because these background, ultra-distant galaxies are so faint, however, despite the magnification, they’re often swamped by the light coming…

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Unprofessional Astronomy – arXiv:1711.02090

In the Dark

It is essential to the way that science works that existing published results are challenged by independent scrutiny and by confrontation with rival analysis. New facts and new theoretical explanations are often established through this form of critical dialogue. More often than not this process of claim and counter-claim is carried out in a collegiate spirit because all parties are mindful that this kind of debate is part and parcel of the scientific method. To behave otherwise as a scientist is unprofessional.

Regrettably, however, sometimes scientists overstep the mark and engage in behaviour which falls short of this expectation, particularly when it is by a senior scientist directed towards a junior colleague because then unnecessarily aggressive criticism can take on the mantle of bullying.

Today I saw a paper on the arXiv by Bouwens et al. that contains criticism of a previous paper by Livermore et al. (2017) (arXiv version

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My Helsinki Worldcon Programme

If you want to see me at Worldcon, here are the items I’m on!

Obsolete Science Ideas

Wednesday 15:00 – 16:00, 102 (Messukeskus)

Many obsolete science ideas have had long lives in SF long after scientists have moved on – the panelists discuss their favorite obsolete science ideas that refuse to die in science fiction!


Signing: David Clements

10th August: 1100-1200.
Location: Signing area

The Long Term Future of the Universe & How to Avoid It

Thursday 15:00 – 16:00, Rauhanasema (Messukeskus)

Cosmology and astrophysics now have a fairly good set of predictions for the long term future of the universe and none of them look good for life as we know it. Whether it is the end of the stelliferous epoch, the Big Rip, proton decay or the end of the false vacuum, the universe in tens of billions of years will not be as we know it. This panel will combine scientists & SF writers to look at different long term futures and how life might be able to survive them.


The War on Science

Friday 15:00 – 16:00, 208 (Messukeskus)

Many scientists feel that some politicians and members of the public are turning their backs on inconvenient results and choosing to ignore empirical evidence. From climate change to GM food, from anti-vaccers to pollution why is this and what can be done? Is the age of scientific knowledge coming to an end?


Tall Technical Tales

Saturday 19:00 – 20:00, 203a (Messukeskus)

Like most things, science doesn’t progress smoothly and seamlessly, instead it moves in a series of bumps and jumps. He we celebrate the bumps with amusing stories from the front line of science where things didn’t go exactly as they were planned. Bring your own stories to add to the mix!


Morality of Generation Ships

Sunday 14:00 – 15:00, 206 (Messukeskus)

Is it moral to send a group of colonists away on a generation ship to colonise a distant world, knowing that the children and grandchildren who will be born on board that ship (and on the destination planet when it is reached) will not have had a say in the choice? They will be forced to continue the mission, and try and make a life on a possibly unsuitable planet, whilst the people who were willing to take on those risks for their descendants will be long dead and not have to live with the decision.