Alice brought two mugs of hot coffee to the table, set them down, then continued arguing. “Oh come on Bob, you can’t possibly believe all that nonsense? I know it’s one of your favourites, but it’s just a Hollywood film.”
Bob shrugged. “It might just be a film, but at least it acknowledges the danger of artificial intelligence, and it’s something we should take seriously, you and the rest of the human race Alice.”
Continue reading “Short Story: The trouble with forecasting: Or, the inevitable destruction of the human race.”
I was celebrating with friends in a local bar when the stranger caught my eye. You know when you can feel someone staring at you, even from behind? And the harder they’re staring the more you feel it? Well, that.
I turned and stared back.
The stranger was sitting alone in a corner, hunched over a small, dirty-looking glass of whisky. He grinned and beckoned to me with a bony hand.
He didn’t look inviting, in fact he looked like he was close to death. His grey skin was wrinkled like an elephant’s and it hung off him in folds. His eyes were yellow, and his grin was missing teeth.
I knew I should turn away and ignore him, he smelt of crazy, even from over here, but I was intrigued, so I got up and headed his way.
Continue reading “Short Story: Finding Purpose”
I love octopus.
Their biology is fascinating, but it’s the look of them that really captivates me.
From a lifetime of living on land, I’ve come to associate large, intelligent animals with vertebrates. But if you look into the eyes of an octopus you can feel an intelligence looking back at you. And it’s not an intelligence with fur or feathers, it’s alien, it’s tentacles and suckers.
I’ve been obsessed with animals ever since I could be. I’ve spent plenty of time in aquariums, and I’ve seen octopus. But until a couple of years ago I’d never seen one in the wild.
But then on a holiday in Mallorca a couple of years ago it happened, twice. The second sighting was the most memorable, but the first served as a good teaser.
Continue reading “The second time I saw an octopus in the wild”
I was genuinely enchanted the first time I saw impala in the wild.
They typify what’s most captivating about antelope; they’re elegant, beautifully coloured, and they move with speed and grace. I think I said something overly earnest like “they’re so beautiful!”
My remember my companions looked at me with a mixture of surprise, and pity.
Continue reading “The five stages of watching impala”
Blue Planet II, the BBC’s latest flagship nature documentary is almost open us, and the press is currently awash with teaser stories and clips.
This week, the Daily Mail, the bastion of British conservative reactionary values, ran a story revealing that Blue Planet II will include footage of a fish changing sex.
The fish in question is the delightful Asian sheepshead wrasse.
Continue reading “What Finding Nemo didn’t tell you about fish sex”
Stop right there.
Yes, you. Stop.
I can see what you’re doing. You’re reaching for that high-sugar, high-fat snack aren’t you?
Well don’t, because they’re watching, and I’m here to warn you.
Oh stop looking around like that, you look foolish. They’re not watching you now, they’re watching you in the future, obviously.
You’re thinking about that snack again aren’t you? You don’t believe me? You’re thinking what harm could it do? Hell, why not pick up some pop-tarts and vodka too, maybe some cigarettes, really push the boat out?
You were planning on putting that snack on your card, weren’t you?
Fuck me, what are you thinking? Don’t you realise what kind of trail you’re leaving – what kind of impression you’re creating? If you pay with your bankcard they’ll know who you are. That snack will be on your records forever.
Continue reading “Short Story: An apple a day keeps the algorithms at bay”
You know the story about how we killed science? Scratch that, killed isn’t the right word. We didn’t kill science, we lost it.
You see, I was there when it happened. I used to be a scientist, back when people still were.
It began with gorillas for me.
Maybe you’ve heard of them? We lost gorillas around the time we lost science. My research group was studying them in Virunga National Park. Or we were trying to. Gorillas lived in dense jungle, they were big, but quiet as ghosts when they wanted to be. They were a nightmare to track. We’d spend hours, sometimes days, locating them. We’d get maybe a week of observations, then they’d get spooked and vanish again.
Continue reading “Short Story: The Day We Lost Science”
Step 0: Excitement
We’ve all been there.
You’ve got your hands on some shiny new data. You’ve got a research question. You’re more excited than a small child at Christmas. You’re going to discover something totally new. Life is wonder!
You just need to learn about that new technique you’ve read about in that paper.
Step 1: Initial Joy
So, that new technique…. oh look, there’s an R package for it. That’s convenient. That’s brilliant in fact. I can’t wait to get started. I love being a scientist. Sure, I have no money and no one understands me, but I’m about to embark on a voyage of discovery.
I’ll just download the reference manual from CRAN.
Continue reading “The ten(ish) steps of learning to use a new R package”
In a previous post I wrote about the three most important lessons I’d leant whilst working in science communications. The third was don’t fight your editor, which is one that’s often overlooked, and one that I think deserves more explanation.
Having someone edit your work is a privilege, but I’ve seen so many scientists fail to recognise this. Editors help you improve your writing. They advise on structure and language, they point out areas of your writing that aren’t working, and they help you improve them.
But editing can be a challenging process, especially when you’re new to it. When you first send a piece of writing to an editor you need to expect that it’ll come back covered in red pen (or the digital equivalent, often tracked changes).
Continue reading “Science Communication: Don’t fight your editor”