Nullus in Verba or why 2011 was a great year for science

It’s been a wonderful year for science. Why? Because 350 years ago a bunch of eminent thinkers in London decided to get together and form a club to “look with favour upon all forms of learning”. They called it the Royal Society and it’s still going strong today. In order to emphasise their desire for “experiments to shape out new philosophies or perfect the old” they also developed a motto: Nullus in Verba; Take Nobody’s Word For It. It reminds us that at heart all scientists are skeptics — a dirty and loaded word in certain fields but it’s a philosophy which this year has been beautifully upheld in full glare of the public eye. Read more

Linwood : Most Dismal town in Scotland?

One of the stranger news items of 2011 was in December when Linwood in Renfrewshire, Scotland was awarded most dismal town in Scotland in the annual Carbuncle Awards. The awards were set up by a magazine (Urban Realm) to draw attention to the poor development in some of the UK’s towns.  A local Jeanette Anderson agreed with the award saying “The people of Linwood don’t deserve this – they deserve better.”

Back in May 2005 I travelled to Linwood with Edinburgh’s Meadowbank Amateur Boxing Club for a fight night. This is what I wrote at the time: Read more

Defining Public Life

Kira Cochrane’s well-researched article about gender imbalance has caused much soul-searching. Suzanne Moore has a nice follow-up saying it’s basically because women cannot bulls**t as much as men which I suspect is true although here in Bush House everyone has their own internal list of rent-a-gobs with more than a few women on it.

Recognising fully that Kira almost certainly didn’t choose the headline ‘Why is British Public Life Dominated by Men’ I was prepared to see the column as a pretty good expose of an incestuous, south-east-based media elite which, as a relative newcomer to the  industry, I’m starting to recognise more and more and which I suspect was at some point fed into the decision-making of  those who decided large chunks of the BBC should be relocated in Manchester.

But Kira gives the game away when she says “The fewer women there are in the public eye, the more anomalous they look when they do appear.” I’m not surprised at Kira’s definition because — like me — she’s in the thick of it but if you think public life is the Today programme, Mock the Week and newspaper columnists then there are deeper pathologies at play. The article says more about the circles Kira moves in than anything else.

There are a great many more public institutions here in the UK than print and TV media. I’d like to see Kira’s analysis applied to say the NHS or local governments. My anecdotal experience of senior hospital staff (Kings in Camberwell) or working with councils (South Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire back in the early noughties) suggests that the imbalance isn’t so stark and might even go the other way.


Rediscovered track of the month: Dec ’11

Jellyfish with the wonderful  That is Why

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Mick Carney Tribute

Nigel Travis delivers a moving eulogy