Azara Blog: August 2010 archive complete

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Date published: 2010/08/28

Royal Society seems to have no purpose (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Two-thirds of the British public are unable to name a single famous female scientist, according to an ICM poll.

The same survey, organised by the Royal Society, revealed that 90% of 18-24 year-olds could not name a female scientific figure - either current or historical.

Almost half were able to name at least one famous male scientist, such as Albert Einstein.

The Royal Society's Lorna Casselton described the results as "frustrating".

But the same poll also indicated that parents see scientists as good role models for their daughters.
...
According to the findings, public knowledge of the role played by women in major scientific breakthroughs is also low.

Just 6% of those polled knew that a female scientist (Jocelyn Bell Burnell) played a major part in the discovery of pulsar stars. Only 18% were aware that another woman, Dorothy Hodgkin, discovered the structure of insulin.

The Royal Society has long seemed to serve no purpose except for its members to pat each other on the back about how jolly good and wonderful they all are. And unfortunately this kind of report just reinforces the idea that there is no point to the Royal Society. Albert Einstein is easily the most famous scientist. It's not surprising that a lot of people could name him. But it's not surprising that most people would struggle to name another scientist (or two).

Marie Curie is easily the most famous woman scientist. She had two Nobel prizes so was obviously no slouch. But it is pretty obvious that Einstein had a far, far bigger impact on science that Curie did, so it's not very surprising that people know more of him than of her. The Royal Society might find this odd, but nobody else should. Stephen Hawking is probably the most famous living scientist but even he is probably relatively unknown to the public.

And it would be pretty bloody amazing if anyone much in the public knew who was involved with the discovery of pulsars or with the structure of insulin, so it's not very surprising that the public happen not to know that Bell Burnell and Hodgkin (neither of whom are well known) were involved. Nobody would know that Hewish (a man, also not well known) was involved with the discovery of pulsars either. Well, maybe the Royal Society asked some kind of pathetic leading question to trap people into the male / female distinction, rather than actual names. It doesn't matter. The point is that most scientists are unknown to the public, not just female ones. (Of course, over the last hundred years there have been far fewer female scientists as well. That is certainly changing in biological research, if not in physics or maths.)

The Royal Society should not waste money on pop sociology.

Anti-whaling groups are allegedly concerned about mercury in whale meat (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Environmental and animal-welfare groups are urging the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to persuade the World Health Organization (WHO) to act over fears about eating whale meat.

The coalition of organisations wants the WHO to issue guidelines amid fears about the safety of the meat.

The groups say whale meat is highly contaminated with mercury and should not be eaten.

But whaling nations say they already have health guidelines in place.
...
They are hoping to get others to back the efforts to limit the consumption of small whales and thus limit the hunts.

This is just pathetic. These NGOs don't like whaling. This alleged concern of theirs for the alleged health issues from eating whale meat is just completely a red herring. And unfortunately it almost sounds as if they are happy that there is a lot of mercury in whales (and other ocean species), because they apparently believe (possibly with a straight face) that it works in their favour. This is a dreadful and cynical attitude. They should stick with their usual argument, i.e. that they don't like whaling, and stop with this facetious argument which everyone can see is facetious.

Glebe Road residents don't want a large block of flats (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Proposed new homes would create extra traffic outside a primary school - and would "completely overshadow" neighbouring properties, it has been claimed.

Developer Hill Residential has submitted a planning application to build 12 homes in Glebe Way, Cambridge, opposite The Perse Pelican School.

If the scheme is approved, an existing dwelling will be razed to the ground to make way for 10 apartments and two detached houses.

There would be eight two-bedroom flats, and two one-bedroom apartments. But residents are up in arms about the scheme, which they argue would be out of character with the other buildings on the street.

More than 60 residents have signed a petition opposing the application. The petition, created by Glebe Road residents Malcolm and Fiona Bates, said: "The development is in a part of Glebe Road that is already extremely busy with traffic and opposite a nursery and primary school - the road will be unable to safely absorb the extra number of vehicles caused by such a high density development.

"The development is out of character with most of the homes in Glebe Road - it would completely overshadow and overlook the neighbouring houses."

A letter of objection from another resident said: "My main concern is with the increase of traffic which this development will cause to an already busy road.

"The establishment of 12 new residences, complete with at least one vehicle for each property, opposite The Pelican School is bound to increase the congestion already in evidence.

"The proposers should, perhaps, rethink and come up with a more realistic use for this plot."

Another Glebe Road resident said: "During term time (about 33 weeks of the year) Glebe Road is a car park. It is a well-known fact that it is full.

"A development of this size and magnitude could attract up to 30 additional car users."

This is just par for the course. Some developer takes the piss and wants to massively over-develop some plot. The neighbours are up in arms because it will change the character of the road and because of traffic. Well, Glebe Road would have a far smaller traffic problem were it not for the fact that Addenbrooke's Hospital charges an extortionate amount of money for parking, so hospital workers and visitors naturally try and park elsewhere. This is the fundamental problem, which the city has conspired with the hospital management to do nothing about for years. (Long Road and Hills Road Sixth Forms do not help.)

On the other hand, even if parking was not a problem, the neighbours would still complain about traffic, because everyone always complains about traffic (evidently it's ok to be in a car but it's not ok for anyone else to be in a car). Presumably in the case here, the developer would at least be required to have off-street parking for the residents (but perhaps not enough, given how anti-car Cambridge is). So the actual incremental traffic problem is small.

The real issue is that this development is completely out-of-scale and not in keeping with the neighbourhood. Unfortunately the city has already allowed this kind of terrible development a couple of streets away on Queen Edith's Way. That is part of the Ring Road so perhaps was considered to be ruined in any case, whereas Glebe Road is a side street, relatively speaking.

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