The Early Days of a Better Nation

Friday, February 26, 2010

Scientists behaving badly? Social Sessions 04

Over the past few months the Genomics Forum has hosted three very successful public events, the Social Sessions, on: the scientist as seen in literature and in science studies; genetics and crime; and science as an inspiration for poetry.

We are now planning a fourth, to be held in March, on the relevance of science studies to the controversy arising from the East Anglia emails hack - labelled 'Climategate' in the media and online. Our panel and audience will discuss whether the attitudes and actions apparently shown in the emails and other documents are as scandalous as has been claimed, or whether they are (as some of the science studies literature would suggest) fairly typical of what goes on in everyday scientific practice. And if the latter is the case, how is that the results of scientific practice can be regarded as reliable?

Date: 10 Mar 2010 17:30

Time: 5.30pm for 6.00pm, drinks and nibbles provided


ESRC Genomics and Policy Research Forum, 3rd Floor, St John's Land, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AQ

Organised by: ESRC Genomics and Policy Research Forum


Simon Shackley - School of Geosciences
Colin Macilwain - Nature
Ben Pile - Climate Resistance blog
Colin Campbell - EaSTCHEM Fellow, School of Chemistry
Steve Sturdy - Genomics Forum Deputy Director

This event is FREE, but as space is limited, please confirm your attendance as soon as possible to:

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Early Days of a Better Future

'Can things only get better or do we have to look over a mountain of rubble to see beyond the next fifty years? Scottish writers are leading a renaissance in British speculative fiction, but does our national identity have any future at all?' That's the question posed at an event on Sunday 7th March, 20:00 - 21:30, at Glasgow's Book Festival Aye Write!, where Andrew J. Wilson will be be discussing it with Mike Cobley, Hal Duncan, Richard Morgan, Deborah J. Miller and me - along with, we're promised, 'some very special surprise guests'. Space may be infinite, but space at the event is limited, so book here now.

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More Green, less slime

A Green Party supporter claims the Party has ditched the woo. One small victory for reason and science, though I still deeply mistrust a party that ever thought that forcing scientists to swear an oath to respect the Earth was ever a good idea in the first place.
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Student Humanists event this week

I've been asked to give a talk to the Edinburgh University Humanist Society this Thursday. I'll be talking about religion and non-religion in SF, as well as about some of my recent work with the Genomics Forum (there is a connection, trust me).

Date: Thursday 25 February
Time: 7.00 pm to 9.00 pm.
Place: LT1, Appleton Tower Edinburgh EH12 5AU (map)

Free, and all welcome.

Check here for other upcoming events from the Society.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Regulatin' genes

Another science rap:

(Via (Via)

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Voices for audio

There's an increasing number of virtual voices being raised in support of nominating that fine audio SF magazine, StarShipSofa, for a Hugo Award. This is a very good idea.

PS: not least of StarShipSofa's many good points is its links to interesting pieces in print, such as this M. John Harrison review of a newly published lost novel by John Wyndham:
At its worst, science fiction is a kind of rumour mill, in which concepts such as cloning are first reduced to conceits, then ground into triviality by author ­after author; at its best it arranges these conceits into stories that have some emotional or ideological connection to the ordinary world. Wyndham perhaps recognised this, and tried to provide more value in his postwar work: however cosy we find his disaster novels, they are written in a recognisable voice rather than the incompetent burble on display here; set in a recognisable milieu rather than an indifferent parody of a culture ­Wyndham knew nothing about; and hinged on familiar emotional issues rather than a meaning-free reshuffle of plot elements.

Despite its academic interest, Plan for Chaos is an almost unreadable book, and not, as it turns out, related in any way to The Day of the Triffids. Edited by David Ketterer and Andy Sawyer, it comes with an introduction by Christopher Priest, which is a good deal more interesting than the book itself.
What I love about this is how it epitomises the sheer decades-long consistency of Mike Harrison's critique of SF, like John Amalfi's 'slogging brutal tireless heart'. Long may it beat.


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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Recipes for the cookshops of the future

The Genomics Forum recently hosted two designers as Visiting Fellows: James King and Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg. Among other activities in a busy week, they presented a slideshow of their activities. Check out Daisy's Synthetic Kingdom and Growth Assembly, and James's Meat of Tomorrow for imaginative and witty visualizations of biotechnological possibilities, translating the submicroscopic and nano-scale into macro objects of a possible future everyday.

Elsewhere in the noosphere, sculptor John Powers (author of the astonishing photo-essay Star Wars: A New Heap) has been writing and thinking about the kitchen of the future.

John, by the way, has an upcoming multi-part essay on the Singularity, with lots of quotes from my novel Newton's Wake, so watch this space.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

The liquidity trap, shown by boom and bust rap!

A much clearer and fairer account of Keynes and Hayek (and thus, roughly, left and right responses to the current crisis) than you're likely to find anywhere else, as well as more fun:


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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Science prof's office untidy - shock claim

The Mail on Sunday is on the case:
[T]hanks to the row over leaked emails from the Climatic Research Unit, we now learn that this body’s director, Phil Jones, works in a disorganised fashion amid chaos and mess. [...] His colleagues recall that his office was ‘often surrounded by jumbled piles of papers’.
Elsewhere in the paper, we learn the full horror:
According to Mr Harrabin, colleagues of Professor Jones said ‘his office is piled high with paper, fragments from over the years, tens of thousands of pieces of paper, and they suspect what happened was he took in the raw data to a central database and then let the pieces of paper go because he never realised that 20 years later he would be held to account over them’.
Tens of thousands of pieces of paper! Chaos and mess! Jumbled piles! In a scientist's office! Having been inside the offices of many science professors, and having worked for a year with social scientists who've made close anthropological studies of the everyday work of natural scientists, I'm shocked to the core.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Just in time for Valentine's Day

It seems I've contributed to a category I didn't even know existed: stories about sex with spaceships.

i09 has lots more geeky romance, as does New Scientist, with wedding pic and everything.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Recent activities

Evolutionary biologist and science writer Julian Derry has a speculative evolutionary poem, The Meme Gene, at the Human Genre Project. Kelley Swain has written a very appreciative account of her visit to the Genomics Forum. The Forum has just advertised opportunities for similar visits and residencies, open to 'anyone concerned with the social dimensions of genetics, genomics and the new life sciences, whether natural or medical scientists, medical practitioners, social scientists, artists, writers and musicians, policy makers and others working in public service and civil society, and individuals from the worlds of industry and commerce.'

My good friend and Scottish SF stalwart Jack Deighton has a nice review of The Night Sessions, for which thanks, and an interesting personal account of the game-changing effect of Iain M. Banks's first published space opera Consider Phlebas for Scottish science fiction. Jack's own first novel, A Son of the Rock, is still available, and well worth a read.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Mammoths! Zeppelins! Hitler!

Last week I received my contributor copies of The Alternate Book of Mammoth Histories The History Book of Alternate Mammoths The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories, edited by Ian Watson and Ian Whates. The covers of all anthologies of alternate history must, by law, include a picture of a Zeppelin or Hitler (just as all American libertarian books must, under some obscure interstate commerce regulation, show a picture of that big government statue in New York harbour) and this one scores on both counts, in both its (alternate) versions. I'm very proud indeed to have one of the three original stories in it, alongside no less than 22 reprints, some of them classics and some quite new to me. Ian Whates gives the contents list here. I haven't read them all but I haven't had a let-down yet. James Morrow's 'The Raft of the Titanic' is going to be a future classic, and among the reprints Keith Roberts' 'Weinachtsabend' is one of the best SF short stories in a number of highly competitive categories (alternate history, 'Hitler wins', British New Wave, and, indeed 'short stories by Keith Roberts') and it's good to see it back in print.

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Socialism or your money back or your money back

The current issue of Socialist Standard has an interesting review page, including a slagging off of Red Planets (a book I haven't read but which has a chapter about my Fall Revolution books), and a (perhaps better deserved) slagging off of Žižek's latest caper.

Right at the bottom of the page is an ad for a book I can unhesitatingly recommend, Socialism or Your Money Back, a collection of articles from the Standard's first century (1904 - 2004). 'A running commentary on one hundred years of history, as it happened,' the ad says, and it's right. Every article in the book is consistent in outlook, reflects the time in which it was written, and yet (for the most part) remains readable and interesting today. You don't have to agree with the book to enjoy it, or to have your thoughts (and more) provoked. I bought it for a tenner when it came out, and it was worth every penny. It's now available in the UK for a quid, plus postage. As its publishers would be the first to agree, the market affects everything. You can get the entire collection of articles (but not the introduction and comments) free, but the book's a bargain even so.

(Why does the SPGB have annual conferences? So that it can react quickly to events.)

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