Disturbing the Universe

David L Clements, science and science fiction

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S4F A Review

I’ve clearly not been paying attention as Jacey Bedford wrote this review of Science for Fiction 2016 over a month ago and I only spotted it today thanks to an email from here.


If you weren’t there this gives a pretty good feel of the event, the kinds of things we cover, and why writers go to it. Planning for the 2017 session has yet to start, but I’m going to try to be more organised this time – promise!

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Getting that Brexit Deal

A cool headed analysis of the huge difficulties the UK faces in the #brexit negotiations.

Nog's Musings

Hi Excited Leaver,

Note: originally this was written during a discussion with a leaver (Rod, I hope you are out there and doing well) but was then turned into a more generic post.

So, you’ve won the referendum and you’re excited about that great new deal we’re going to do with the Europeans. Let’s just recap the deal you’re after:

Access to the single market basically it’s trade more or less exactly like we have now with the EU.  BUT you want to drop some of the extras:

  • No EU contribution
  • No Freedom of Movement
  • No pooled sovereignty

Seems simple enough, just a free trade deal? And of course you’ve been told we’re in a strong position, there’s that huge Trade Deficit as we buy far more than we sell so you’re confident we can drag the EU to the table and get the deal the UK deserves. “The Germans will…

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Everything is fucked: The syllabus

I’d like to attend this course, and it wouldn’t be hard to come up with a similar course in Astro.

The Hardest Science

PSY 607: Everything is Fucked
Prof. Sanjay Srivastava
Class meetings: Mondays 9:00 – 10:50 in 257 Straub
Office hours: Held on Twitter at your convenience (@hardsci)

In a much-discussed article at Slate, social psychologist Michael Inzlicht told a reporter, “Meta-analyses are fucked” (Engber, 2016). What does it mean, in science, for something to be fucked? Fucked needs to mean more than that something is complicated or must be undertaken with thought and care, as that would be trivially true of everything in science. In this class we will go a step further and say that something is fucked if it presents hard conceptual challenges to which implementable, real-world solutions for working scientists are either not available or routinely ignored in practice.

The format of this seminar is as follows: Each week we will read and discuss 1-2 papers that raise the question of whether something is fucked. Our focus…

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Back to Mauna Kea

I’m on an observing trip to Mauna Kea at the moment. This has been enlivened by the close passage of tropical storm Darby to the island not long after I arrived. All I saw of that was lots of rain and some wind, but my support scientist had a tree fall on his car which has rather cramped his style.

The side effect of the storm was to make observing conditions truly awful. We got no data last night at all, and tonight the telescope is observing targets for other programmes since the conditions are still too bad for what we want to do.

Nevertheless the skies looked pretty good when we got to the summit this evening.


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The UK after the Referendum: All That Is Solid Melts Into Air…..

What a mess we have made (but mostly Cameron, Johnson & Farage)…

Colin Talbot

The EU referendum result came as a shock to just about everyone, including the leaders of the “Leave” campaign (and me).

The aftershocks of this earthquake in British politics are still being felt.

Three of the central antagonists – the Prime Minister David Cameron, the leader of “Leave” Boris Johnson and leader of UKIP Nigel Farage – have all ‘resigned’. The leader of the Opposition is clinging onto office by his fingernails.

These individual dramas and excitements are, however, mere sideshows.

The real tragedy is the way the British constitution has been turned on its head.

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Planck at the Royal Society (with added Brian Cox)

We’re back!

Planck has a stand at the Royal Society Summer Exhibition again. This time we’re showcasing the cosmic microwave background (CMB) and the polarisation work of Planck, that has the promise of revealing hints about the physics behind the Big Bang. It runs all next week so please come along and see us.

We spent the last 2 days setting up our stand, which includes chunks of space hardware, a virtual reality microwave background, images of the sky from radio to far-IR, a 3D printed CMB and much more, along with the chance to make your own models of the Planck sky and of Planck itself.

I’ve been tweeting some of the set up but the most popular tweet I made today (and perhaps ever) was after we had finished, when Prof Brian Cox visited us. I was interviewed about the stand but before that I managed to snap this candid thermal infrared image of him…


I can’t imagine why this is so popular.

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Brexit predicitions: not so good

OK – so I was wrong about Boris taking over the country in the autumn. But then how could anybody have predicted Gove’s backstabbing of his erstwhile brexit colleague?

I guess Gove is a better Shakespearean scholar than Boris – et tu Gove?

Another prediction?

We’re entering fellowship season where, usually, scientists from around the globe apply for long term research positions in the UK. We’re already seeing good candidates saying ‘not this year’ in the wake of brexit, so my next prediction is that the numbers of fellowship applicants will be significantly down on previous years.

Conversely, if you’re in the UK and want to stay, then the competition might not be as fierce this year…