My reviews from the UK Conference of Science Journalists 2014

Here are three things from last year’s UK Conference of Science Journalists (UKCSJ).

I was one of three people selected to pitch to real-life science editors in a Dragons’ Den-style session. My idea was to write an article about the increasing prevalence of shortsightedness (myopia) around the world. Scary stat: nearly one in three people might not have 20/20 vision by the year 2020. I didn’t get commissioned but you can watch the video here anyway.

After that intimidating experience, I reviewed two sessions. The first was about the use and misuse of statistics in science journalism:

“The Statistics in Science Journalism session at UKCSJ 2014 was a head-on collision between passionate journalists and the confusing monstrosity that is statistics. Deborah Cohen, the BMJ’s investigations editor, produced this session to help us understand how not to get things wrong.

Ivan Oransky, vice president of MedPage Today and co-founder of the excellent Embargo Watch and Retraction Watch blogs, led proceedings by taking us on a slide-by-slide journey through a realm of shoddy studies and equally shoddy reporting.”

Oransky’s presentation should be on his SlideShare page, but I couldn’t find them just now. He has plenty of other deeply interesting things on there, though.

The other session was about the issue of reproducibility in science:

“Science is in crisis, they say. Negative results don’t get published, while gibberish occasionally does; shaky studies are under-powered and over-reported; peer reviewers miss obvious mistakes and accept results that agree with their biases, regardless of merit; field-defining results cannot be replicated.

The current culture of ‘publish or perish’ doesn’t help matters. A scientist’s worth is judged based on how many papers they publish, how many times those papers are cited, and how much money they pull in.

Scientists, science journalists and others are beginning, however, to rage against the machine.”

Professor Chris Chambers, one of the speakers, put his excellent presentation about pre-registering studies, replicating them and making data open online here.


Me pitching to the UKCSJ (source: Twitter)

Fishing in the gene pool for Vikings: A review

We are sea-rovers, genetically. That is to say, you’re probably a Viking – but that’s not very exciting because so are most Europeans. If you’re from another part of the world and reading this, I imagine you aren’t so fussed about Viking heritage.

Vikings were fishers and merchants forced onto the open seas to escape their over-populated land in search of a livelihood. Vikings are romanticised and mythologised and made into TV shows and video games (both new and old). People pay good money to find out if they were born from Viking stock. Eddie Izzard subjected himself to a BBC programme about his genetic ancestry, discovering that he, like many others, descends partly from Vikings. So the essence of the question is not whether you are a Viking, but how much of a Viking you are.
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Shining Like a Ground Beetle — my review of Darwin’s nerdy birthday party

Week before last, I went to Darwin’s Birthday Party at the Natural History Museum in London. The next day, I scribbled about it for Pi Media. Read the review here:

What follows is a version with hyperlinks:

. . .

Commuters in London’s Waterloo Station during the 1960s may not have realised the shaggy man sitting alone on a bench, casting himself outside the bustle, was about to revolutionise evolutionary biology.
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Peter Grindrod’s 10 Miles of Mars

Way back in 2013, I interviewed Dr Peter Grindrod for UCL’s student magazine, Pi. Dr Grindrod is a planetary scientist who also puts a lot of time into outreach activities. Last year, he curated a photography exhibition at UCL called 10 Miles of Mars — a huge Martian panorama.

An edited version appears in the magazine (you can read it on page 24 of the online magazine). Here is the full interview.

10 Miles of Mars (source: Londonist)
10 Miles of Mars (source: Londonist)

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