Archive for January, 2009

Science IS elitist!

January 28, 2009
What happens when ordinary people meddle with science!

What happens when ordinary people meddle with science!

Despite my best efforts to bring a little knowledge to the great unwashed (that’s you), a recent survey has shown most people feel that science is remote, elitist and irrelevant to their daily lives. Now I read that the government is launching a campaign entitled; Science [So What? So Everything] to be run by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Dius).

According to the Science Minister, Lord Drayson, “Continued success in science and technology is vital to our future – and yet there is still a perception among many of our people that science is too clever for them or elitist in some way”.

Now while I applaud the notion of bringing Science to the front (well page 7) of the newspapers, I do believe it’s important we make some sort of distinction here between us Scientists and ordinary people – after all we don’t want everybody having a ‘go’.

It was only last year that I took a proposal to the BBC for a six part TV Series, to be hosted by me, entitled (as this column) BEING HUMAN with Professor Charles Human (a title I insisted on use in its entirety when referring to the show) – I was however turned away at the reception desk, and subsequent letters of protest to the BBC for their small-mindedness and Neanderthal like thinking, only prompted further rebuke as follows – which I have taken to reproduce here in part, for you my dear reader.

Dear Doctor (Sic) Human,

Thank you for your many kind letters to us here at the BBC, regards your submission for a new strand of science programming entitled Being Human. We are however currently engaged, and have been now for a number of years, in a very similar strand of popular scientific entertainment documentaries hosted by Doctor Sir Robert Winston, and at this time do not feel our schedules would support two programmes of such a similar nature.

We thank you again however for your correspondence and hope that we may be able to engage your services in another capacity sometime in the future.

Kind regards,

Lord John Reith (FOUNDER)

Well really – can you not understand the general public’s antipathy if all of their learning is left in the hands of a hack like Winston! I’m not even convinced that’s an actual moustache!

It is important that science’s message gets out there – and for as long as the BBC keep me muffled (although they were partly good to their word – I was offered a position on the judging panel for ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ An offer I had to politely decline due to an unfortunate personal incident with Bruce Forsyth). I shall continue to keep the exciting world of science alive here within my blog! But let’s leave it to the experts shall we…

 http://sciencesowhat.direct.gov.uk/

Darwin. My friend, Your acquaintance

January 27, 2009

darwin

This year sees the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his ‘On the Origin of Species’. I am sure like many sitting reading this, the importance of this man’s work; to not only myself and the scientific community, but to less ‘evolved’ people everywhere is beyond estimation.

Quite simply, and I don’t exaggerate, before this man’s findings – there simply was NO science. Indeed it was only just over two-hundred years ago, whilst under the reign of King Henry the 8th, that man was still making blood sacrifices to the  Sun (this of course being our orbiting star and not to be confused with the newspaper. I don’t mean the Daily Star either) in effort to ward off evil spirits and encourage fertility.

 But when Darwin first boarded the HMS Beagle, on his legendary journey to the Galápagos, not even he could have imagined what he was to discover – or that he would be gone for five years – otherwise he would have packed more clothes.

 What few people realise today however was Darwin was not alone in his thinking and theory – indeed after returning to England and having spent some 20 more years at work on his paper, he learnt of another naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, who had developed similar ideas.  Fearing 20 years of work might have proved to be an unimaginable waste of to quote Darwin ‘‘my cocking time!!’’ – Darwin sought out Wallace and together they agreed to make a joint announcement of their discovery in the summer of 1858, at the Linnean Society of London. In the spirit of fair play – Darwin suggested the drawing of straws, as to who should speak first. Fortunately Darwin was no fool, extrapolating the likely impact of their findings he rigged the straws for Wallace to be first drawn. On winning the hand Wallace presented their research only to be received as a heretic by their peers and taken away to be yet another sacrificial offering to the Sun. Now with no one to stand in his way – and prepared after such a long wait to sit on his research for another year (when tempers may calm) – it was in 1859 Darwin published ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin and no one else’.

The book remained still hugely controversial, being the logical extension of Darwin’s theory that Homo sapiens were simply another form of animal. It made it seem possible that even people might have just evolved – quite possibly from apes – and thus destroyed the prevailingly idiotic orthodoxy on how the world was created. Darwin was vehemently attacked, particularly by the church, so he took to growing a great beard and hiring doubles to go out in his place. Easily identifiable it is believed up to 17 ‘Charles Darwin’s were ‘lost’ before people started to come to their senses and Darwin’s work was rightly hailed as the accepted orthodoxy upon the origin and evolution of man.

This great intellect also collected bugs and married his cousin. Still Darwin died on 19 April 1882 and was buried in Westminster Abbey (although conspiracy theorists have run wild with claims for years that this body is merely another ‘double’). So perhaps Darwin is still out there somewhere now, perhaps reading this, and perhaps raising a glass to his 200th… birthday. Certainly I shall be partaking in a small Sherry. Won’t you join me?

No not you…

 

A New Dawn…

January 20, 2009

barack20obama20capitol

As I sit here this evening in my study, I feel compelled to make comment on today’s momentous events. I look at the historic inauguration of President Obama as a giant leap forward for people of colour everywhere. And the fact that a country built on slavery and intolerance can see fit to vote an African American into its highest office, speaks volumes for the progress of The United States of America as a Nation and as a people.

 

Even though I sit miles away, across a vast ocean, today I am not a Scientist. I am a black man. And I am proud.

Big Bang, Big Balls!

January 15, 2009

bigbang2

It is time I come to a confession of some sort here on my blog. As a man of Science I feel it only right I try to put right an erroneous error that I must confess, in the bright headiness of youth, was little more than an amusing wager between friends.

It seems to be the commonly held belief by many nowadays that the Universe started at the point of the ‘Big Bang’. What amazes me is that this ‘theory’ has now been carried so far, and taken in by so many. Let me try to explain. It was during my younger, student days, carefree, my mind alive with the possiblities of learning, and my body oh so fresh and supple…

It was during this time that I fell in with a bad crowd, not something I am proud of. But I am sure you will understand the impressionability of youth. It was an exciting time to be a scientist, there were so many new discoveries, people like Einstein  had changed everything for us. Suddenly it was sexy and exciting to be a Scientist, it was what every boy grew up wanting to be. The hedonistic nights, the casual sex.

I remember girls throwing themselves at Crick and Watson after they revealed their DNA helix, they were literally up to their microscopes in female undergarments. They saw the  world  with their discovery and sampled its ‘many’ delights, although Watson did pass on Africa as he is a massive racist!

And then there were us, the newboys, Human, Hawking, Dawkins, Sagan, Winston. We thought we knew everything. We were going to re-write science. I was particuarly close to Hawking at the time. When we weren’t sharing ideas we were sharing women! And occasionally he’d let me have a go on his chair. Much to the envy it must be said of Winston, who in a fit of envy and attempt to emulate our successes took to sporting a moustache not unlike my own. Dawkins it must be said rarely ventured out with us on our nocturnal prowls, he was something of goody two shoes, if you ask me, and for my mind held a little to close to his religious beliefs to be a really free – thinking scientist!

Still it was Hawking and I who first devised our wheeze. To posit a theory for the creation of the Universe and see who’s we could get the most people to believe! Hah-ha! Dawkins positively seethed at the blasphemy of it all. But as it was we seperated that evening, a few ales worse for wear, and set about our individual conceptions. I do admit to being in something of an alcoholic fugue, remembering little of the details of my idea. I seem to remember it had something to do with robots, cats, the old english rules for cricket and Cliff Richard’s backing group The Shadows.

 Still then I could not of been prepared for Hawking’s even more ludicrously hilarious and fanciful an idea of a ‘big bang’. But to be fair to him, he had put the work in, and produced copious volumes of research and ‘data’ to back up his ‘theory’.

Well sorry to disappoint, but I can keep my silence no longer. As I read yet again this week about the origins of the Universe, for a new paper I am preparing, and once more this ‘theory’ is put forward to me – I feel compelled to put the record straight once and for all.

Hawkings always could be a mischevious sod when he’d had a few Banana Daiquiri’s!

Mysteries of the Universe – UNCOVERED no. 1

January 7, 2009

A Black Hole

Good morning. (Forgive me if you are reading this at another time of the day – but I can’t really be responsible for your reading habits as well now, can I?)

 

And of course to most, but not all a Happy New Year. (Again, if you happen to be reading this at another moment in time, irrelevant to the passing of one year into another, or perhaps in a collected form of essays, forming some manner of Science information ‘book’, picked up from some reasonably priced high street retail store, I really can’t be held responsible – unless perhaps you may have been given this book by some wise relative as a Christmas present, and have started to undertake the reading of it, say in the month of January – to which then again I bid you a Happy New Year.)

 

You recently find me returned from the 213th American Astronomical Society meeting in Long Beach, California. Immaterial a venue really in relevance to what was discussed, but you will find that many scientists are also keen surfers and the waves are epic. I rode a particularly sick tube – much to the envy of that ‘shubie’ Hawking!

 

However I digress, what I thought of interest to bring to your attention was a recently announced discovery. To whit – which came first – the chicken or the egg?

 

That’s right…Black Holes. (Then the egg, followed by the chicken).

 

My fellow Scientists have been using radio telescopes to peer back to near the beginning of the Universe, thought to be some 13.7 billion, 23.3 million, 440 thousand, 12 hundred and 6 (by my calculations at least – but I may be a day out or so) years ago, when the first galaxies were forming. Earlier studies of nearby galaxies had revealed an intriguing link between the masses of black holes and the central “bulges” of stars and gas in galaxies. Generally, the mass of a black hole was observed to be about 1,000th that of the mass of the surrounding galactic bulge.

 

This constant ratio indicated an “interactive relationship” between the black hole and the bulge, but it was not clear whether one grew before the other, or whether they grew together.

Now we have finally been able to measure black-hole and bulge masses in several galaxies seen as they were in the first billion years after the Big Bang and the evidence suggests that the constant ratio seen, in nearby galaxies, may not hold in the early Universe. The implication is that the black holes started growing first.

 

Heady stuff – I know, think how I felt having turned up with my slide show of constellations that looked like pets.

 

Still I’m sure you will share in my excitement at this thrilling new discovery, even now

powerful new radio telescopes are under construction in New Mexico and Chile to help further unravel the mysteries of the Universe. So next time you find yourself out one cold, wintery evening, and chance a glance upward – just stop to take a look, that bit of black, right next to the group of stars that looks like a gerbil – could that be a black hole?