Photo: James Boardman
I don’t know much about the pollution that has engulfed the South-East of England recently, & I’d kind of like to proceed whilst habouring that ignorance. I know that it was on page 2 of the Saturday’s Guardian, & I’m thinking that it must be fairly serious, but what I’ve picked up on is the nonchalance & indifference that most of us seem to have towards it. I imagine the editorial team at the Guardian doing a bit of head scratching over what kind of exposure it warrants, and perhaps the esteemed role as a slightly more environmental newspaper pushed the story to the dizzy heights of page 2, taking an obvious backseat to election build-up news.
Having spent much of the weekend pondering if a mysterious and invisible smog was upon us, I felt the full force of the pollution on Monday evening, leaving the sunny, tranquil and slightly elevated meadows of Sussex campus on my bike down to the cold, fog deluged Brighton seafront. It had a different feel to it than ordinary sea mist (or ‘mizzle’), which, coming from Cornwall, I’m very familiar with. It was thicker but in a peculiarly less visible way – not imminently sight impairing but more like anything 30 metres away just wasn’t there, and it wasn’t moist but definitely chilling.
It’s high time to re-evaluate laws and attitudes to psychedelic drug research.
There is a gigantic, hulking elephant in the UK policy room. Attempts to curb and reduce recreational drug use through strict criminalisation laws have failed. Vulnerable people are sent to jail, take substances of unknown quality and origin and support an often hyper-violent, caustic and predatory global underground drug trade. More than this, the ranking of severity of punishments for drug related crimes defies logic and evidence, pandering to fear and misinformation. These arguments are familiar tropes in the popular media, yet decriminalisation remains a taboo topic. And although there are a few encouraging voices beginning to make themselves heard, UK policy continues to be frustratingly stubborn to reform.
There is another, perhaps less obvious consequence of the UK’s attitude to drugs: it is incredibly difficult to conduct research to investigate precisely how psychedelic drugs affects the body and brain. Researchers hoping to study these effects will invariably meet twin barriers of excessively cautious funding bodies and prohibitively restrictive licensing and procurement regulations. Although there is massive potential for these drugs to be used medicinally, the fear of damaged reputation by both scientists and research councils is significant.
-“Hey, have you heard about the new Samsung Galaxy, it’s meant to be even sexier than the iPhone!”
– “Damn, I only just got the iPhone 6”.
-“Well, on the bright side you could get the Apple watch to go with it.”
-“But what about the new android series?”
This sort of conversation is completely normal to me. Any discussion of new science or technology becomes a series of segues into other announcements or discoveries. It has gotten to the point where scientific and technological change is now ubiquitous with modern life.
Change in this context is usually taken as a good thing. The announcement for a new medical treatment means that more people (possibly you) can live longer lives with more opportunities, new telescopes or other astronomical exploratory equipment can result in a deeper understanding of our place in the universe, and more efficient renewable technologies provide hope for a zero carbon future. However, there are also negative reactions. People voice their displeasure at having their private emails and online activities read and monitored by new and complex computer systems, we worry about the effect of new and expensive technologies on financial inequality, and we balk at the development of new and powerful military applications.
No matter how we react to novelty though, it still remains that we expect it. The constancy of scientific ‘progress’ in western culture is so complete that novelty has become normalised.
In an age in which ‘impact’ is becoming the yardstick by which we measure research success, Professor Helga Nowotny founding member and former president of the European Research Council, has had more than most. A prolific and influential researcher in the field of Social Studies of Science, she is perhaps best know for her contribution to the concept of ‘Mode 2’ knowledge production.
It was fitting, then, that Professor Nowotny was chosen to deliver the 2015 Marie Jahoda Annual Lecture, SPRU’s annual lecture to celebrate the contributions of one of the department’s most prominent former researchers.
The lecture was based around the concept of promises. Citing the political theorist Hannah Arendt, Professor Nowotny explained that promises are a mechanism for reducing the unknown, creating reliability and predictability in the face of uncertainty. In fact, promises are particularly relevant in the field of scientific research, which Nowotny describes as ‘an institutionalised space for bringing futures into the present’.
My greatest pet peeve is hypocrisy, I simply cannot stand a hypocrite. My greatest pet peeve in academia comes in two parts however. The first hatred burns for those who use numbers, charts, and general statistical methods, and then claim to have shown some great truth when in fact all they have shown is that they can move lines around on a page. A sure fire way to make an enemy of me for life however is much more insidious than playing with bar charts, it is in the construction of a straw man.
February has been a busy month, with the first week starting off with a letter in The Times from Universities UK (UUK) warning against Labour’s proposed policy of capping undergraduate tuition fees in England from £9,000 to £6,000. Then after a bit of a fracas on tax avoidance, and Boots boss bashing in the middle, we’ve now come back full circle to Labour’s tuition fees policy as Lord Mandelson cautioned Labour to wait until after the General Election before making a commitment on tuition fees. Continue reading
We often look at technology as either a solution to problems that we already have, or as offering us some extra enjoyment from direct interaction. When it comes to Energy Storage however we need to look at it as something else entirely. Energy storage devices have the most potential if they are used as a pre-emptive measure. Not only will their presence on the national grid allow for more efficient use of energy we currently have, but it will encourage the growth of renewable energy generation and forestall problems of the unpredictability inflicted on the grid by this growth. This is not technology solving problems we don’t want, this is technology pre-empting problems from other technologies which we do want.