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26th September 2015

REF and Volkswagen’s cheating device

Filed under: About science,About universities — John Allen @ 2:58 am

When a measure becomes a target then it ceases to be a measure.

From BBC News, 25 September 2015:

 According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), some cars being sold in America had devices in diesel engines that could detect when they were being tested, changing the performance accordingly to improve results.

“We’ve totally screwed up,” said VW America boss Michael Horn, while group chief executive Martin Winterkorn said his company had “broken the trust of our customers and the public”.

A tweet:

From this blog, on Research Assessment and REF:
And where changes in rank order are discernible, the question will remain: has anything actually changed? Or do the results reflect differing tactics, and choice of measures as targets?

12th September 2015

Plastid Preview 2015

Filed under: About universities,Diary — John Allen @ 11:42 am

A fascinating two days, ably hosted by Christine Raines and colleagues in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex. The venue was the new, light, spacious Essex Business School, a building replete with winter garden and turf-roofed, space-age lecture hall with dire acoustics. A colleague from an ancient university remarked that the small, internal ersatz tropical forest made the building seem like a botany department. A brief circumnavigation dispelled any such comparison.

The “Plastid Preview” has evolved from an informal joint lab meeting into quite an impressive and professional mini-conference. Presentations, mostly by PhD students and postdocs, form the core of these meetings.

I was reminded of Marina Warner’s exit from the University of Essex and condemnation of what “management” seemed to have done to its original academic vision and idealism. The core of the campus is 60s architecture, surrounded with subsequent developments reflecting incremental changes in taste and sense of purpose. I suppose the opulence of the new Business School could be a sign of the times: plenty of space there, but not space designed for real academic, still less scientific, research. Possibly teaching, but there was a pervasive a feeling of being in a low-rise, while quite attractive, suite of offices. Perhaps that’s OK for people working towards MBAs. The campus had brash banners announcing that the university is now fifty years old, and declaring its positions in various league tables. Essex was one of a batch of 60s “green fields” universities. I spent four productive and life-changing years at Warwick. In comparison, Essex has topology, attractive views, and, of course, Wivenhoe Park.

I liked the location. I also liked the research being described from the people aligned with new academic appointees, including the biologists at Essex itself. I think even Marina Warner would have warmed to these people. I wish them well, and rather envy them their work environment. It would have been nice to see the laboratories.

Lots to think about.

6th September 2015

The Evolutionary Origin of Oxygenic Photosynthesis

Filed under: Diary — John Allen @ 4:52 pm

The title of my presentation at ASB6 “The Origin, Distribution & Detection of Life in the Universe”, 2 – 4 September 2015, Centre for Planetary Sciences at UCL/Birkbeck

A summary of my view is given on the Web page section entitled The origin of atmospheric oxygen.

There are ways in which to test the hypothesis described there.

It is also a pleasure to record that I shall soon receive support for research on this topic from the Leverhulme Trust in the form of an Emeritus Research Fellowship.

Why do we need two sexes?

Filed under: Diary — John Allen @ 4:24 pm

“There is no greater mystery in the whole world, as it seems to me, than the existence of the sexes, – more especially since the discovery of Parthenogenesis. The origination of the sexes seems beyond all speculation.”

Charles Darwin: Letter to J. S. Henslow, 16 July 1860

It was an honour and a pleasure to speak on this topic, on August 28 2015, at the Capri Workshop of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.

My talk presented a possible answer and experimental results that are consistent with it.

There is an outline and links to the primary publications on my Research Web page, in the section Mitochondria, ageing, separate sexes.

Participation in the workshop was a complete pleasure. There was great diversity in the topics considered, and in research reported.

The hospitality of Prof Piergiorgio Crosignani was extraordinary. I am most grateful.

Capri is utterly beautiful. I’d love to return one day, with family, and time to explore.

Capri harbour from the quayside, waiting for return to journey to Naples.

Capri harbour from the quayside early on Sunday morning, waiting for return to journey to Naples.

Evening view South from clifftop near Anacapri, near Parco Filosofico.

Evening view South from clifftop near Anacapri, near Parco Filosofico.

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