Disturbing the Universe

David L Clements, science and science fiction


Yes, science produces too many PhDs


I agree with Peter on this, and have done for some time. See appendix 3, which I wrote, here:


Originally posted on In the Dark:

I came across a blog post this morning entitled Does Science Produce Too Many PhDs? I think the answer is an obvious “yes” but I’ll use the question as an excuse to rehash an argument I have presented before, which is that most analyses of the problems facing yearly career researchers in science are looking at the issue from the wrong end. I think the crisis is essentially caused by the overproduction of PhDs in this field. To understand the magnitude of the problem, consider the following.

Assume that the number of permanent academic positions in a given field (e.g. astronomy) remains constant over time. If that is the case, each retirement (or other form of departure) from a permanent position will be replaced by one, presumably junior, scientist.

This means that over an academic career, on average, each academic will produce just one PhD who will get a…

View original 600 more words


The history of planet and exoplanet discoveries

A rather wonderful animated gif by Hugh Osborn showing the history of planet and exoplanet detections over 265 years. Hat tip to @astrokatie for linking to it on twitter.

Planet Discoveries

One thing that clearly drops out of the early years of this gif (and by early I mean pre-1990) is the difference between Pluto and all the other planets. Just one more reason why Pluto is much better classified as a minor planet.

Apologies to USians out there who want to keep Pluto as it’s the only planet in the Solar System discovered by a USian. The great achievements since then on exoplanets, including Kepler which over the last few years has found hundreds of exoplanets, really does make up for the loss of Pluto.

ETA: Colours relate to different detection methods: dark blue = Solar System; light blue = radial velocity; maroon = direct imaging; orange = microlensing; green = transit (the method used by Kepler, for example).

Leave a comment

Boskone Schedule

As some of you may know I’m the science guest at this year’s Boskone – my first guest spot at any convention.

The programme just got finalised (pending last minute changes) and this is where you’ll be able to find me:

Losing True Dark

Friday 16:00 – 16:50, Harbor III (Westin)

With the growth of modern cities, the star-swept sky is vanishing, hidden behind the ever-spreading glare of nighttime light pollution. Has the absence of true dark skewed the impact of the nighttime skies? If so, how might this alter the human imagination? What does it mean for our outlook on the supernatural, our observation of outer space, or even our basic desire to discover what lies beyond our own planet? Has this changed our perception of humanity’s place within The Universe?

David L. Clements (M), James Cambias, James Patrick Kelly, Donna L. Young, Guy Consolmagno

Tall Technical Tales

Friday 18:00 – 18:50, Harbor I (Westin)

What stories do scientists tell when they’ve inhaled too much ethanol? Could they involve exploding particle accelerators or “oops” moments with virulent viruses? Perhaps they’ll explain why you should never operate a centrifuge while under the influence. Find out when our panel of loose-lipped lab rats tells true stories about their work. Oh, and bring your own nerdy narratives for our open mic.

David L. Clements, Guy Consolmagno, Jordin T. Kare, Joan Slonczewski

Opening Ceremony: Meet the Guests

Friday 20:00 – 20:25, Galleria-Stage (Westin)

Welcome to Boskone, New England’s longest-running convention for science fiction, fantasy, and horror! Whether you are attending for the first time or the fifty-second, we invite you to join us in the Galleria to meet this year’s guests.

Boskone 52 Reception

Friday 20:30 – 22:00, Galleria-Stage (Westin)

Connoisseurs and philistines alike: welcome to the Boskone Art Show! Join us in the Galleria for an upscale social mixer. Meet our program participants while enjoying refreshments, stimulating conversation, and exceptional art that is a feast for the eyes. Experience the music and the festivities as Boskone celebrates another year of science fiction, fantasy, and horror in Boston.

Reading: David L. Clements

Saturday 11:00 – 11:25, Griffin (Westin)

David L. Clements

Spaceships, Battles, and Zero Gravity

Saturday 13:00 – 13:50, Burroughs (Westin)

Don’t you love those incredible space war battles? All of those big explosions, etc.? But how realistic are they? For instance, how come the participants all seem to share the same sense of up and down in space? Scientists and authors team up to critique some blockbuster scenes from page and screen. Let’s determine the physical requirements, risks, and realities of what would happen when two spaceships duel between planets or raging armadas battle it out beyond the stars.

Allen M. Steele, David L. Clements, Janet Catherine Johnston, Frank Wu

Daring Outer Space Rescues

Saturday 15:00 – 15:50, Marina 3 (Westin)

Spaceflight has long been one of humanity’s dreams. We have sent people into space for decades to build space stations and to conduct research. Now with Space X and possible plans for a moon base, what happens when a spacecraft breaks down in outer space, or some system has a catastrophic failure? Real-world solutions are possible, but what would it take to pull off a rescue mission? What happens if we can’t pull it off?

Jeff Hecht, David L. Clements, Allen M. Steele, Donna L. Young

Autographing: David L. Clements, Debra Doyle, James Macdonald, Allen Steele

Saturday 17:00 – 17:50, Galleria-Autographing (Westin)

Kaffeeklatsch: David Clements

Sunday 10:00 – 10:50, Galleria-Kaffeeklatsch 1 (Westin)

David L. Clements

The Herschel Project

Sunday 12:00 – 12:50, Burroughs (Westin)

The Herschel Space Observatory (launched 2009) was one of the European Space Agency’s flagship missions. The spacecraft, which featured a 3.5m diameter far-infrared telescope, was sent to the second Lagrange point. Over its almost 4-year lifespan, it observed both objects in our solar system and targets in the most distant galaxies known. David L Clements began working on Herschel in 2001, and has been a leading member of some of the largest projects using this spacecraft. He will discuss the science and technology of the mission, and present results on topics ranging from star formation to the origin of galaxies.

David L. Clements

The Year in Physics and Astronomy

Sunday 13:00 – 13:50, Marina 4 (Westin)

An annual roundup of the latest research and discoveries in physics and astronomy. Our experts will talk about what’s new and interesting, cutting-edge and speculative: the Higgs boson, solar and extrasolar planets, dark energy, and much more besides.

Jeff Hecht, Guy Consolmagno, Mark L. Olson, David L. Clements

Leave a comment

BSFA Awards: Nomination time

Members of the British Science Fiction Association have until the end of the month to nominate works for the awards. There are 4 categories: best artwork, best non-fiction, best novel and best short fiction.

I have a couple of things that are potentially nominatable:

“Catching Rays”, a short story in the Paradox anthology from NewCon Press.

Infrared Astronomy: Seeing the Heat, my non-fiction book on, as you might guess, infrared astronomy

I’m very pleased to see both of these on the `suggested works’ list that can be found here.

Do have a look at that list as there’s some great stuff on it, and if you think my works are worthy, please do nominate them.


Leave a comment

While you’re passing through…

Hi to all the people visiting this blog thanks to Charlie’s retweeting of a post!

While you’re here you might like to take a look at my newly published book on infrared astronomy:

Infrared Astronomy: Seeing the Heat

Described by writer Stephen Baxter as ‘suffused with a fiction writer’s sense of wonder at the universe’.

Featured Image -- 2996

Leave a comment

The War Nerd: More proof the US defense industry has nothing to do with defending America


Why the F35 is bad for the US. Implication is that it’ll be even worse for the UK

Originally posted on PandoDaily:

1280px-A-10_Thunderbolt_II_In-flight-2KUWAIT CITY—This has been a classic week in the defense procurement industry. The armed services are trying to boost their worst aircraft, the totally worthless F-35, by trashing their best, the simple, effective, proven A-10 Warthog.

The A-10 is popular enough that the USAF had to come up with a reason for wanting to get rid of it, and the one it produced is the sort of thing that would make any psych-therapist chuckle with glee: The USAF said it needed maintenance personnel to handle its precious new high-priced fighter, the F-35…and that the only place it could get them from was the maintenance crews currently keeping the A-10 flying. Nope, there were no other options! The only way to find a good crew is to gut the one effective ground-attack aircraft the USAF has in its inventory, in favor of the worst fighter ever designed.

It makes…

View original 3,101 more words


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 789 other followers