Messing about in boats

I realise that this is the second eulogy that I have posted on the blog in the last couple of months (which is all the more striking due to the low frequency of posts), but there was one passing recently that I simply have to mark. I was devastated to hear that Professor Brian Moss died recently. You will find a number of obituaries written by people who are better qualified to comment on his scientific work, and who knew him better as a person. However, while I was not as close to him as some, I did have the honour and privilege of learning from him as an undergraduate, a postgraduate, a postdoc, and as junior faculty, and so I feel the need to share some of the affection and deep respect that I felt for Brian. There have been a number of leading academics who have influenced my work and career (Dave and Tom in particular) and without them I would not have the collaborations, publications, or career that I enjoy today. However, I think it’s fair to say that Brian had the single largest personal influence over me from anyone within the academy, and shaped the academic that I have become. Other people watch David Attenborough on television, but I had the privilege of being taught by and working alongside my very own Attenborough who inspired me to think in different ways across disciplines. Read More »

A defense of “denial” and “debate” on climate change

LeedsSkepticsTalkI gave a talk at the Leeds Skeptics last night – part of a mini-tour talking about “Denying the Evidence: Why People Reject Science and What We Can Do About It“. During the Q&A I was asked whether using the term “denier” was an attempt to shut down the debate over climate change. These are two interesting issues which I’ll take one at a time.Read More »

A nice review of the demands of open science

The journal Psychological Inquiry has just made an issue on open access science open access.  I’ve flicked through a couple of articles and they look like a thoroughly interesting combination of pros, cons, and speculations.  In particular, the opening article states the needs of an open science movement very clearly in its abstract:

We call for six changes:

  1. full embrace of digital communication;
  2. open access to all published research;
  3. disentangling publication from evaluation;
  4. breaking the “one article, one journal” model with a grading system for evaluation and diversified dissemination outlets;
  5. publishing peer review; and
  6. allowing open, continuous peer review.

I think these six principles sum-up the needs of the research community quite well.  We are working in an out-of-date and horribly expensive system that is not benefitting scientists or those who use the science.  There has always been pushback against these kinds of measures (see the response in the same issue of Psychological Inquiry by the editor of a different journal), mostly along the lines of “it’s too hard” or “that won’t work”.  However, those sorts of arguments are undermined by a number of journals which are doing precisely these things extremely well.  I’ll mention Cryosphere as an example that I have had experience with.  A few small changes could go a very long way towards improving the system, and we cannot let the editors and publishers try to convince us that it cannot be done!

Hume, the self, and morals

I was fortunate to attend a fascinating talk a few weeks ago, hosted by Centre for Inquiry Ottawa and given by Professor Gordon Davis, the chair of the Philosophy Department at Carleton University. The talk was intended to celebrate the contributions of David Hume to science, skepticism and secularism during the year that marked the 30oth anniversary of his birth. Prof Davis gave a really fascinating, off-the-top-of-his-head summary of what he felt were the most important and most influential (not necessarily the same thing) contributions that Hume made. The entire talk was informative, especially for someone as philosophically illiterate as myself.
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