Friday, 28 May 2010

Simon Singh (get a new hair do)

I was very excited last Friday that I got the chance to listen to and meet Simon Singh at the Aberdeen Word Festival. If you don't know who he is - he's a physicist and writes a column for the Guardian. He has a bizarre haircut.  He is an advocate of evidence based medicine and wrote the book, 'Trick or Treatment' (looking at the evidence for and against alternative medicine). He was sued for libel in 2008 by the British Chiropractic Association, you can read all about it on his wikipedia page and all over the Internet - and if you haven't heard about it then you probably haven't seen any news from the UK regularly for the past 2 years.

Anyway, it was a good discussion which focused on the libel case.After the talk, my boyfriend asked  Simon Singh, if you make it easier and less costly to sue someone for libel, then surely then people will be suing each other more? But he made the clever point that other countries seem to survive quite well without incredibly stupid libel cases carrying on every second - plus everyone should have the right to sue for libel. One thing I didn't realise before the talk was the incredible cost of a libel case (running into millions) and even if you win your case you will not receive all your money back - which is a ridiculous situation. Making libel cases less costly, quicker and easier should help the situation an awful lot.

Even better news came this week that Lord Lester QC has filed a bill in Parliament to reform the libel laws. So that's something to look forward to and hopefully things are on there way to being sorted out. If you haven't signed the petition yet and this is the first you have heard of it - go and do it now !

I really like Simon Singh - he was brave to stand up for something he believed in (on his own, without the support of The Guardian), if you ever get the chance to meet him/see him talk I would recommend it. I haven't read all of 'Trick or Treatment' yet so I will reserve judgement there! I don't mean to be nasty about the hair... but it really is quite bizarre!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Election Fever

Its the day before the election and to be completely honest I am  REALLY excited. An election appeals for my geeky love of numbers and stats. I am loving reading the many articles and Internet tools devised to determine how much your vote would count, who you are most like and my favourite Facebook group ' We got Rage against the machine to number 1, we can get the Lib Dem's into office' !. My favourite election 'tool' by far is votemach, matching your views to the party policies. Simple!

The big topic is how each party is going to cut the budget deficit without harming the economy.. all parties will need to save money somehow whilst still making sure that  the country doesn't come to a standstill. So what does that mean for science? Luckily politicians seem to take the view that science seems to be a hot area for investment (quite rightly). The Lib Dems, Labour and Conservative all pledge to continue investment in science - so that is good news.

I had a read of the three manifestos and there is just one thing that stood out for me. The Lib Dems are the only party in their manifesto to dedicate a whole section to science (The Conservatives do have a section on 'Making Britain the leading high tech exporter in Europe' but its not nearly as explanatory as the Lib Dems).

The Lib Dems promise funding in science (as do the other two) but they go further, pledging that they will use independent advice to create science policy and safeguard academic freedom, so that advisers are able to provide advice without fear of bullying or mistreatment. They also support open access academic publication, so everyone can see the results of state funded research. I think it says something about the Lib Dems that they make a point of drawing these out in their manifestos - where the opposing parties are staying relatively vague.

I think another difficulty when it comes to science and politics is that so few politicians understand important topics in science and so understandably feel somewhat uncomfortable discussing them  aaaaaaaaaaaand swiftly moving on to another stat... 110 of 645 MPs have a BSc (about 17%)  you may say the number is quite high, but that includes many social science graduates and arts degrees  that carry a BSc. According to the article, the number of MPs with a background in science is likely to fall after this election. I do not think that Parliament should be run by scientists and I know that a lot of people think 'What's the point in science?'. But as key player in the UK economy and a growing field I think its only right to suggest that all political departments should have a scientific advisor on hand (you never know when a killer virus crisis could strike).

Anyway, enough about that, it all comes down to tomorrow night... I will be watching the numbers come in whilst  flicking over to Channel 4's Come Dine With Me Election special which I am equally excited about!!

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