Wednesday, 21 May 2008

MPs and Science...don'cha loveit?

Listening to our MPs debate science issues in the House of Commons is always entertaining. A couple of days ago an MP opened the Human Fertilisation and Embryology debate with the statement that humans should not be mixed with the animal kingdom.

Now, I'm no expert on Linnaen classification but I figure it's already a few hundred million years too late for that.

The abortion upper time limit debate was similarly inept and ill-informed. Clearly the majority of the house think that one can count "one anecdote, two anecdotes, three data". Watching MPs debate scientific issues is like watching a one year old play with the television remote. It may appear to do something almost intelligent. It might even stop at a result which pleases it. But one cannot in any way ascribe intelligence and reason to the process.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Misconceptions...and exam resits

A friend sent me this story on Tuesday...all true apparently (although a FOAF story...)

This is an account of a conversation overheard in a hospital waiting room this afternoon. There is a misconception here, which you may spot!, which seems to have linguistic origins.

An elderly lady ('granny') was having a scan accompanied by a younger woman ('mother'). As she came out from the scan a teenage girl arrived in a hurry and a little worked-up. 'Just in time' said mother, they were just finished here. The teenager was asked how her exam had gone. Well, she reported, it would have been okay if it had been the examination that she had revised for, and that her teacher had prepared her for. However the examination was not what she had expected.

This was all very loud, and although not deliberately announced to the room there was no attempt to keep the conversation private (so I feel justified in reporting it).

Apparently the girl had gone to the teacher after the exam to complain that she had been misled, and the teacher had offered sympathy for any misunderstanding, but asked why she had not come along to the special revision sessions that had been put on. The girl told her mother and gran that she would have gone to these sessions if she had realised it might help, but had not thought they would be needed.

It transpired that the examination was a resit. She had got a D grade previously, but as she had found the examination easy [I think most examinations are easy if the target is simply to sit the examination, rather than pass it] she had decided to resit. She had paid to get her examination script and I assume a report, and had spent time going through it with her teacher who had advised her on what she would need to write when she re-sat the examination. She had also spent time revising based on this advice so that she knew what to write when she retook the examination.

However, and you may be ahead of me here, when she got into the examination room and opened the paper, she had a nasty shock.
Although she had paid to retake the examination, when she read the paper she was being asked different questions! So she was not (in her
interpretation) getting a chance to resit the examination after all, but being given a new totally different examination. All that hard work going through her mistakes, and seeking advice on what she needed to write when she took the examination again [sic], were wasted because it was not the same examination at all, but a completely different one.

Presumably the young lady was at least 17, and unless she was putting on a very good show she was entirely genuine. So we should perhaps be very careful in using expressions like 'when you take the examination again' as the blatantly obvious may not always be so to all our students.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

SPS Take on Planet SciCast

This year, instead of Paperclip Physics, Paulines competed in the first ever Planet SciCast video competition. Not quite knowing what to expect, we jumped right in with a dramatic presentation of the wonders and majesty of the inner workings of the rollercoaster.

Confronted with the option of entering the project, our newly formed team, Team Go, consisting of team leader James Ko, Fred Beardmore, Haruka Chambers and James Linehan, decided to use this opportunity to show the world the true greatness of magnets! Having originally thought to show a myriad of magnetic circus tricks, similar to the wondrous Pythagoras switch (google it), our plans were thwarted by Dr. Gardam and Dr. Holmes. And so, we limited our project.

This was the first step of an arduous yet fruitful journey. With the aid of Dr. Gardam and Mr. Holmes, we honed our brainchild into a lean mean competition winning machine (or so we hoped...).

Performing most of our magnificent feats in the atrium one bank holiday Monday, we collected most of footage required for the final product, with the exception of the final scene, shot on a staircase after many takes of the same temperamental setup.

With the data collected, we were faced with over an hour’s worth of bloopers, and almost exactly two and a half minutes’ worth of useful footage (the maximum length the video was allowed to be), which we managed to salvage from the great mass of useless material.

We congregated on the day before the video deadline and to cut a long story short, we made the film as it is seen today.

The next thing we knew we were sent invites to the award ceremony with two nominations – for Best Technical and Artistic Achievement and for Best Engineering Film.

The judges were overcome by the sheer magnitude of our magnets (yes, we did just say that) and we won the Best Engineering Film award with our “pretty cool” (as Dan Cosser described it) model.

By Fred Beardmore and James Ko