This blog is currently on hiatus owing to work commitments. Whilst I still keep an eye on the goings on at RiAus, and contribute to the work of the good folks at eLife, little will be added to this blog for the foreseeable future. Simon Says remains open for business, albeit at a reduced capacity. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope the archive of content found here will prove to be of interest.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Redbrick, December 14th, 2009

MY article How do you live to be 100?, previously published here, has been published at Redbrick Online, the online home of Birmingham's student newspaper.

Click here to read the article at its new home.

Thanks to Redbrick for supporting it.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

How to live to 100

I WROTE this article for Redbrick. I've no idea if it will be published, or in what form, but never one to let something I've worked on go to waste, below is the unedited form. I hope it makes sense: I researched and wrote it all in one go, rather late at night.

Redbrick Features: COMMENT on science
How to live to 100

THIS week I read a headline that caught my eye: “Scientists identify gene that can help you live to 100”. Now that, I decided, sounds interesting. I wouldn’t mind a gene like that.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Whatever happened to Atlantic 252?

"Welcome to Atlantic 252, or what's left of it. As I understand it, all of the office furniture is to be auctioned, and the broadcast equipment is in storage at the tx site in Summerhill. Mornington House itself is now on the property market, I believe the asking price is half a million."
Atlantic 252 presenter Dave James, Tuesday 29th October, 2002

I SPENT much of Friday looking down a microscope, thanking the good monk Mendel for his laws of genetics and the relative ease with which I can discover many interesting things. I divided hundreds of flies by phenotype (and, because of the brilliance of balancer chromosomes, by genotype also) so that I could set up genetic crosses that will, with any luck, start to produce some results by Christmas. In order to keep up my attention throughout, the fly room was graced by the sound of BBC Radio 4, from 9am through to 7pm (with a brief change of station at 5pm when I decided I didn't need to hear the same news a fourth time). There was Desert Island Discs with Anthony Julius (I liked his choices of Chicago and little Stevie Wonder). There was the final reading of the excellent book of the week, The Magnetic North by Sara Wheeler. I wandered off through Woman's Hour but came back in time for The Richest Man in Britain, The Archers and Gardener's Question Time. I almost felt intellectual by the end of the day.

What surprised me, however, were the frequent referrals of listeners to Radio 4's long wave output. I knew that this was where the cricket commentary is often relayed, but I knew of no other purpose for it. Nor, for that matter, do I know of any shop that sells long wave radios anymore. Why do the BBC still broadcast on something the majority of people can no longer receive?

Saturday, 7 November 2009

On intergalactic radio wave distortion

IN the last week I have been talking a lot about what I wrote here on the motives behind, and the aims of, science. One of the arguments against what I said is that, in order to obtain funding, work should have a tangible benefit to humans, as it would otherwise be a waste, or at least an unjustifiable use of, public or government funding. I by no means believe that work should not be done on clincial topics. However, I think that to deny the possibility of funding projects conducted out of simply human intrigue, the desire to answer curiosity, would be a shame and detrimental. In addition, so many human benefits have arisen indirectly from tangential topics - I gave positron emission tomography (PET) as an example in my post, and a further example presented itself to me this week as I listened to the latest Science Show on ABC Radio National. In it, they covered the Australian Prime Minister's prizes for science (a marvellous idea). The winner of the main prize itself was John O'Sullivan, who invented WiFi. WiFi is a tremendous tool and is seemingly everywhere. It assists business and communication at home and in public. Many people rely on it. But where did this come from? How did they invent it?

Thursday, 29 October 2009

For the benefit of humanity

I FIND that I have to explain, fairly frequently, what it is that I am doing in PhDland. This is fantastic: it is great that people are interested. But just as frequently, people ask me why. More specifically, they ask to what end am I conducting my experiment? What benefit does it have for people?

This question troubles me and I think it troubles many scientists. Look at enough journal papers, no matter how disparate, and you will notice a trend: the final paragraph of the discussion of many, many papers often seems to have a loosely worded, research council-pleasing vague suggestion that the study in question might, in some way, be applied to humans. Search for many scientific terms, even highly specialist and unrelated terms, and chances are you'll come across something that mentions Parkinson's disease or cancer, often, perhaps, because the authors feel they have to. Newspapers do it too. There'll be a study in mice or flies and, sooner or later, the journalist will give in to temptation or the standard framework of a science report and bring humans into the picture. It is mightily tempting and I've been there myself. But do scientists really have a benefit to mankind in mind? More importantly, does their study need to benefit mankind to be justified?

Friday, 2 October 2009

Cervical cancer vaccine

(this post via Hagley Road to Ladywood)
From Malcolm Coles:

"I've pointed out that any concerned parents searching Google for information on the cervical cancer jab (in the tragic wake of a schoolgirl's death) see a mass of negative and inaccurate information linking the girl's death to the vaccine.

It turns out she died of an unrelated tumour [read what really happened here- ed]. But Google's results will give parents second thoughts about letting their daughters be vaccinated, even though the injection will save 00s of lives a year".

If you're looking for information regarding cervical cancer vaccine, please visit the NHS website.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Sexual health and children: the UNESCO guidelines

I HAD intended the first proper post on this new blog to be light hearted. But then my friend Phil wrote a blog post on a very difficult topic and, quite frankly, it truly deserves to be read. Please read the post in its entirety, as the section on his first-hand experiences in Tanzania put the subject matter into perspective.

The article is called The EU Wants Your Five Year Old To Have An Abortion, Part Two (the first part is on a different topic and is an aside). It focuses on soon-to-be-published UNESCO guidelines on sex education, and their irresponsible coverage in certain media outlets and respected politicians. Phil lives in London and has recently been working for the Hoja Project, which he helped to set up, in Songea, Tanzania. He cares deeply about issues relating to the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of young people. His ongoing reports and projects can be followed at his blog, the blog with the woofing dog, and the Hoja Project news page.

Click here to read The EU Wants Your Five Year Old To Have An Abortion, Part Two.

Sunday, 6 September 2009


THIS blog is a sister site to Simon Says, a blog about the everyday adventures of a chap called Simon. He is interested in lots of things. As a result, he tried to put them all in the same blog and things got messy. That blog remains, for the purpose of recounting everyday silliness: this blog begins in order to cover his thoughts, essays, and stories, causes and miscellaneous stuff he hopes you find interesting. He has your eternal thanks for stopping for a look around.