BIS study finds UK producing less academic research in science, mathematics and engineering than a decade ago
The UK is producing relatively less research in science, mathematics and engineering than a decade ago, but has surpassed the US to be ranked first for its research quality, according to a new report.
The report commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and produced by publishing giant Elsevier, looks at how the UK's research base compares internationally with 10 other countries, including China, France, Germany, US, India and Brazil.
The report says the UK "punches above its weight as a research nation and reflects the underlying well-roundedness and high impact of UK research across most disciplines."
Figures from the report show that while the UK represents just 0.9% of the global population, it accounts for 3.2% of research expenditure, 4.1% of researchers, 9.5% of downloads and 15.9% of the world's most highly-cited articles, as measured by comparing the average number of UK citations received by a group of publications to the average world number of citations received by the same type of publications.
The UK is publishing proportionally fewer articles in the environmental, biological and physical sciences compared to a decade ago with a shift in research focus towards three other areas: social sciences, business and humanities. In comparison, China, Japan and Russia have focused more on publishing scientific research.
Dr Andrew Plume, associate director in scientometrics and market analysis at Elsevier, who worked on the report, believes this shift in the focus of UK research could be tied to the UK research excellence framework (REF) or former research assessment exercise (RAE) – the process of ranking research in UK universities.
He said: "In social science and humanities there is a culture of research outputs going into monographs and other forms of scholarly output that are not journal articles – and in this report we are looking at journal articles. With the drive of REF and RAE towards published outputs for a researcher, social sciences and humanities article publishing may be growing in the UK."
Despite this relative fall in the number of UK scientific papers published, universities and science minister David Willetts said: "This report clearly demonstrates the continued strength of our science research base and that the UK continues to punch above its weight."
He added: "I've often said that I want the UK to be the best place in the world to do science and this research shows that we are well on our way to achieving this goal. An excellent research base contributes directly to economic growth and is keeping us at the forefront of the global science race."
The report raises concerns that the UK may not be able to sustain its position as a world-leading research nation and that "traditional research powerhouses" such as the UK and US may be eroded by the sheer volume of research produced by emerging nations in the East, most notably China.
Other findings show that international collaboration and research mobility are key to the UK retaining its position as a world-leading research nation. The UK has the second-highest rate of international co-authorship, after France, and this rate continues to rise. The UK also had the fourth highest number of PhD graduates among the surveyed countries in 2011.
The report acknowledges that the global research ecosystem has become increasingly complex in recent years due to increased collaboration and competition in the higher education sector. It states that while the UK is well positioned to remain a research leader in the future, continued investment in the research base is essential to meeting this.
From politicians to psychologists, too many people fail to understand how high intelligence can isolate people, especially children
In all the furore surrounding Boris Johnson's comments on IQ, one of the many respects in which he was utterly wrong has been barely mentioned. In fairness, this isn't entirely Johnson's fault. It is an endemic misunderstanding, the assumption that people with IQs over 130 are likely to sail through life, effortlessly achieving "success".
It's been good to see neuroscience getting a popular airing this week. One can certainly complain that a study from the University of Pennsylvania into mental illness in children and young adults, widely reported as having demonstrated brain differences between males and females, has been "reduced to pop psychology". But, in truth, neuroscience does not penetrate our general culture nearly enough.
Even experienced psychologists, let alone "pop" ones, often fail to understand how high intelligence can isolate people, especially children. Yet, neuroscience tells us the difference between "normal" and "gifted" brains is significant. A 2006 study from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University, found that more intelligent children "demonstrate a particularly plastic cortex, with an initial accelerated and prolonged phase of cortical increase, which yields to equally vigorous cortical thinning by early adolescence". The study also demonstrated that maximum cortical thickness came at around five-and-a-half for its "average" group, eight-and-a-half for its "high" group and just past 11 for its "superior" group. The more intelligent a child is, the later their cortex will start thinning and the later it will become fully "sculpted", as researcher Jay Giedd puts it. This all fits with previous psychological theories. Gifted children, it is accepted, exhibit "asynchronous development", as described by the Columbus Group in 1991. This causes them all kinds of problems, not least because an 11-year-old can be one minute regaling captivated adults with their thoughts on the banking crisis, and the next throwing a tantrum because everyone else in the class can tie their shoelaces, while they can't.
This theory incorporates an older theory, the Theory of Positive Disintegration, posited by the Polish psychiatrist and psychologist, Kazimierz Dabrowski, who suggested that gifted kids are prone to one or more of five "overexcitabilities": psychomotor, sensual, emotional, intellectual and imaginational.
Time and research has certainly borne him out on the first two. Gifted children are prone to learning disabilities – dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, all those conditions that cynics are prone to insist are manifestations of little Tarquin's parents' inability to accept that he isn't as clever as they want him to be. But lot of the time little Tarquin's parents are not deluded, not at all.
Gifted children tend to have particular problems with sensory processing, sensory modulation and dyspraxia. [pdf download] They are also more likely to be overwhelmed by their over- and sometimes underdeveloped senses, with their brain failing accurately to "read" what their bodies are telling them about their environment. This is not surprising, since they have so many neural pathways to choose from, in their big, messy cortices, and so much sculpting to do.
Sometimes these symptoms are merely a consequence of asynchronicity, and will sort themselves out. Dyslexia, for example, sometimes just disappears. But sometimes a gifted child with these deficits will become a gifted adult with these deficits. The cliches – absent-minded professor, computer genius who can't drive a car, artistic giant with explosive temperament – chime with what neuroscience tells us.
Asynchronous development can also mean a child's intellect is way ahead of his executive functions, the parts of the brain that manage cognitive processes. This will make him disorganised, unable to grasp spoken instructions or challenged by mental arithmetic. Even if his brain is generating ideas thick and fast, he may struggle to put them on paper.
In the US, it's more common for a child to be recognised as being gifted and also learning-disabled. They call it being "twice exceptional" or "2e". In Britain, however, virtually the only organisation that is really up on what they call "dual or multiple exceptionality" is the charity Potential Plus UK.
What all this means, contrary to Johnson's banal non-observations, is that children with IQs of more than 130 can be very vulnerable. The selective private sector education system that blessed us with Johnson and his colleagues, and also the grammar school system he lauds, are not the infallible machines for attracting the finest minds he thinks they are. On the contrary, they test children before the smartest have even stopped growing, let alone started sculpting their neural pathways, and when their mental abilities may still be highly asynchronous. Someone who is good at maths and English will pass their 11-plus, while someone who is highly able at one but – as yet – terrible at the other, perhaps due to a passing learning disability caused by asyncronicity, will fail. Selective education identifies the children who are good at everything already, not the children with the greatest learning potential.
In the state system, these children do not always thrive either. They are often bored in class, especially if they have an unrecognised learning disability. Even if it's recognised, a child may not qualify for extra help if that disability is not driving their academic performance below a bureaucratically fixed point. Which is like saying that a child doesn't need a prosthetic leg because he hops quite fast. If a child has sensory processing issues, too, then just the stimulation of large classrooms will drive them to distraction, or "sensory overload", causing an "emotional meltdown".
Even for a clever child without such difficulties, school has essentially been designed to encourage them to become independent learners. A gifted child is an independent learner already, but is still expected to sit in class for 15 years being coaxed into thinking for herself. The writer, Jenn Ashworth, has described what torture all this was, without quite realising what she was describing. But Ashworth was one of the lucky ones. She found her own way, pretty much avoiding school altogether from 11 to 15, then gritting her teeth to get the exams that would take her to Cambridge.
Many gifted children are at risk of underachievement, or even of leaving education, entirely unaware that their problem is not that they are stupid, but that they're clever. Potential Plus UK warns that vulnerable groups of students include, among others, those in low socio-economic groups, black and minority groups, and those with English as an additional language.
Yet, even the Tarquins of this world are hard to advocate for. The US psychologist James T Webb warns that gifted children are often misdiagnosed as having behavioural, emotional or mental disorders. Even when they do have such disorders, the chances are that the disorder will be attended to, but not the underlying ultra-brightness. They will be pathologised, rather than understood and supported.
There is indeed a male-female brain difference relevant to this matter. Female brains have larger basal ganglia, which help the frontal lobe with executive functioning. As Giedd says: "Almost everything is more common in boys – autism, dyslexia, learning disabilities, ADHD, Tourette's … girls, by having larger basal ganglia, may be afforded some protection from these illnesses."
So, as Britain's politicians ponder the reasons why the UK is so far down the PISA mathematics list, they might want to consider funding some research from some paediatric neuropsychologists. Their endless arguments over whether it's all the fault of the left or the right are unproductive. The answers lie in the brains of children, not of politicians.
New book French Women Don’t Get Facelifts, has got us wondering what 'ageing with style and attitude' actually meansEmma G Keller
Physicist doubts work like Higgs boson identification achievable now as academics are expected to 'keep churning out papers'
Peter Higgs, the British physicist who gave his name to the Higgs boson, believes no university would employ him in today's academic system because he would not be considered "productive" enough.
The emeritus professor at Edinburgh University, who says he has never sent an email, browsed the internet or even made a mobile phone call, published fewer than 10 papers after his groundbreaking work, which identified the mechanism by which subatomic material acquires mass, was published in 1964.
He doubts a similar breakthrough could be achieved in today's academic culture, because of the expectations on academics to collaborate and keep churning out papers. He said: "It's difficult to imagine how I would ever have enough peace and quiet in the present sort of climate to do what I did in 1964."
Speaking to the Guardian en route to Stockholm to receive the 2013 Nobel prize for science, Higgs, 84, said he would almost certainly have been sacked had he not been nominated for the Nobel in 1980.
Edinburgh University's authorities then took the view, he later learned, that he "might get a Nobel prize – and if he doesn't we can always get rid of him".
Higgs said he became "an embarrassment to the department when they did research assessment exercises". A message would go around the department saying: "Please give a list of your recent publications." Higgs said: "I would send back a statement: 'None.' "
By the time he retired in 1996, he was uncomfortable with the new academic culture. "After I retired it was quite a long time before I went back to my department. I thought I was well out of it. It wasn't my way of doing things any more. Today I wouldn't get an academic job. It's as simple as that. I don't think I would be regarded as productive enough."
Higgs revealed that his career had also been jeopardised by his disagreements in the 1960s and 70s with the then principal, Michael Swann, who went on to chair the BBC. Higgs objected to Swann's handling of student protests and to the university's shareholdings in South African companies during the apartheid regime. "[Swann] didn't understand the issues, and denounced the student leaders."
He regrets that the particle he identified in 1964 became known as the "God particle".
He said: "Some people get confused between the science and the theology. They claim that what happened at Cern proves the existence of God."
An atheist since the age of 10, he fears the nickname "reinforces confused thinking in the heads of people who are already thinking in a confused way. If they believe that story about creation in seven days, are they being intelligent?"
He also revealed that he turned down a knighthood in 1999. "I'm rather cynical about the way the honours system is used, frankly. A whole lot of the honours system is used for political purposes by the government in power."
He has not yet decided which way he will vote in the referendum on Scottish independence. "My attitude would depend a little bit on how much progress the lunatic right of the Conservative party makes in trying to get us out of Europe. If the UK were threatening to withdraw from Europe, I would certainly want Scotland to be out of that."
He has never been tempted to buy a television, but was persuaded to watch The Big Bang Theory last year, and said he wasn't impressed.
The lyrics to Bob Dylan's Mr Tambourine Man, ripped from a notebook, are being auctioned off in LA. A forensic handwriting analyst sees what they reveal about the songwriter
Bob Dylan has said that the lyrics to Mr Tambourine Man were inspired by Bruce Langhorne, the musician who accompanied him on guitar. But is there anything going on under the surface? Here is Ruth Myers' analysis.
As a writer, his lower-case disconnected script portrays an individual who likes to feel in control of his emotions. He prefers directness, accuracy, exactness and simplicity. The slant of his writing indicates a somewhat poised, cool temperament - he is an observer of life who can be considerate, objective and yet sympathetic. A crusader to the underdog and the oppressed. He can work well under pressure, organise others and can handle crisis situations without losing control.
The writing on this particular lyric indicates dispiritedness and feelings of depression. The pressure of the writing is heavy, sensuous; he absorbs life's experiences, is strongly opinionated and has staying power to support his goals.
The size of the characters represent good concentration with the ability to focus. It's a valuable trait for achieving, and a form of mental retreat which can be used as an escape for reflection on the happenings in the world. His rhythm is illustrated by the exact spacing enables him to express himself fluently and he inspires others with his poetic and colourful lyrics; his zest and force attracts and dominates the scene, shown by excessively heavy t-bars.
Office for National Statistics reports quarter rise over decade to 1.25m in England and Wales, with 77 widows in 100 women
The number of English and Welsh people over the age of 85 has increased by almost a quarter in the course of a decade, according to government figures.
In 2001 the ranks of the "oldest old", according to the term used by the Office for National Statistics, stood at just over one million.
However, the number shown by the 2011 census was 1.25 million, with women in the age group outnumbering men by two to one.
The ONS report also reveals that although women are living longer, they are more likely to be living alone.
For every 100 women aged 85 or over, 77 were widowed, 13 were married and 10 were either single, separated or divorced. Meanwhile almost half of men aged 85 and over were still married, 43% were widowed and 9% were single.
The ONS said that recent increases in life expectancy meant that more people were reaching, and passing, their 85th birthday, adding that those just entering old age would also live on average to 85 or beyond.
"The oldest old are among the most vulnerable in our society," the report says. "For some, but by no means all, advancing years affects physical and mental health, increases level of dependency on others and the amount of support required from family, private and public institutions."
The report found that one in 10 men and one in five women lived in a communal establishment, such as a care home, with the remaining people living in a private household.
Tim Pethick, a spokesman for the company Saga, which campaigns for older people, said the increase in longevity should be welcomed. "We need to move away from the view that people living longer is a bad thing as it creates pressure on our systems, and instead start to celebrate the valuable contribution that older members of society continue to play in all of our lives."Sam Jones
Today, I tell you about a bunch of books that arrived whilst I was traveling -- books that will make wonderful holiday gifts!
Below the jump, I mention the books that I received recently, either as gifts or as review copies, or that I purchased somewhere. These are the books that I may review in more depth later, either here or in print somewhere in the world.
When I get new books, I like to share them with people. Unfortunately, you are all so far away, so I cannot host a book party in my crib where you can look then over, so I'll do the next best thing. I'll host a book party on my blog each Friday of the week when I either purchase books or when they arrive in the mail. In this New Book Party, I will try to be your eyes by presenting my quick "first impression" -- almost as if we are browsing the shelves in a bookstore -- and I'll also provide relevant videos about the book and links so you can get a copy of your own.Books that arrived recently:
Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Novel with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build Yourself by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith [Quirk Books, 2013; Guardian Bookshop; Amazon UK; Amazon US/kindle US]
Publisher's synopsis Nick and Tesla are bright 12-year-old siblings with a knack for science, electronics, and getting into trouble. When their parents mysteriously vanish, they're sent to live with their Uncle Newt, a brilliant inventor who engineers top-secret gadgets for a classified government agency. It's not long before Nick and Tesla are embarking on adventures of their own-engineering all kinds of outrageous MacGyverish contraptions to save their skin: 9-volt burglar alarms, electromagnets, mobile tracking devices, and more. Readers are invited to join in the fun as each story contains instructions and blueprints for five different projects. In Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab, we meet the characters and learn how to make everything from rocket launchers to soda-powered vehicles. Learning about science has never been so dangerous-or so much fun!
My first impression: I'm halfway through reading this children's book, and a review is forthcoming.
Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage: A Mystery with Hoverbots, Bristle Bots, and Other Robots You Can Build Yourself by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith [Quirk Books, 2014; Guardian Bookshop; Amazon UK/kindle UK; Amazon US/kindle US]
Publisher's synopsis In this second novel of the Nick and Tesla series, the precocious brother-and-sister duo find themselves solving another baffling mystery. As the story opens, their Uncle Newt takes a consulting gig at a cut-rate amusement park, engineering animatronic figures for a cheap Hall of Presidentsknockoff. One perk of the job is that Nick and Tesla have unlimited access to the amusement park all summer long -- but the kids quickly discover that one of the park employees has a sinister plan. They'll have to build a few robots of their own to foil him! Readers are invited to join in the fun as each story contains instructions and blueprints for five different projects. Learning about science has never been so dangerous -- or so much fun!
My first impression: This children's book is the follow-up to the previous title. Once again, a review of this book is on its way.
An Illustrated Country Year: Nature uncovered month by month by Celia Lewis [Bloomsbury Natural History, 2013; Guardian Bookshop; Amazon UK; Amazon US]
Publisher's synopsis An Illustrated Country Year -- Nature uncovered month by month is perfect for nature lovers and everyone who enjoys spending time in the countryside.
Dip into it at any time of year, especially before a walk or after day trips, and discover something new about the natural world.
Informative and entertaining sections will enlighten you on the nature to be found every month, all illustrated in the author's beautiful watercolour and ink paintings.
Discover what's flowering and what else you might come across on a country walk each month, learn how to tell the differences between similar species, like frogs and toads, and transform the foraged finds from your walks into jewellery or decorations for your home, or even something tasty to eat.
Each month includes did you know features on a selection of our most interesting species of bird, plant and animal, helpful tips on how to improve your nature detective skills, as well as interesting snippets of country lore.
Celia Lewis reveals all this and much more as she uncovers some of nature's secrets in her latest captivating book.
My first impression: This is a gorgeous book. Divided into the twelve months of the year, every page is adorned with beautiful paintings or drawings, and includes watercolours of, say, objects collected on a west coast shore. Answers are provided to questions such as "Is it a red-legged or grey partridge?", "Is it a mayfly or a maybug?" and "Is it a frog or a toad?" Every chapter includes plenty of do-it-yourself projects for those who like to make or build things, such as how to make rosehip syrup, how to print cards using natural objects and how to build a wildflower press. This book would make a superb gift for nature-lovers of all ages.
The Princeton Guide to Evolution by Jonathan B. Losos, David A. Baum, Douglas J. Futuyma and Hopi E. Hoekstra [Princeton University Press, 2013; Guardian Bookshop; Amazon UK; Amazon US/kindle US]
Publisher's synopsis The Princeton Guide to Evolution is a comprehensive, concise, and authoritative reference to the major subjects and key concepts in evolutionary biology, from genes to mass extinctions. Edited by a distinguished team of evolutionary biologists, with contributions from leading researchers, the guide contains some 100 clear, accurate, and up-to-date articles on the most important topics in seven major areas: phylogenetics and the history of life; selection and adaptation; evolutionary processes; genes, genomes, and phenotypes; speciation and macroevolution; evolution of behavior, society, and humans; and evolution and modern society. Complete with more than 100 illustrations (including eight pages in color), glossaries of key terms, suggestions for further reading on each topic, and an index, this is an essential volume for undergraduate and graduate students, scientists in related fields, and anyone else with a serious interest in evolution.
Homo Mysterious: Evolutionary Puzzles of Human Nature by David P. Barash [Oxford University Press; Reprint edition, 2013; Guardian Bookshop; Amazon UK; Amazon US/kindle US]
Publisher's synopsis For all that science knows about the living world, notes David P. Barash, there are even more things that we don't know, genuine evolutionary mysteries that perplex the best minds in biology. Paradoxically, many of these mysteries are very close to home, involving some of the most personal aspects of being human. Homo Mysterious examines a number of these evolutionary mysteries, exploring things that we don't yet know about ourselves, laying out the best current hypotheses, and pointing toward insights that scientists are just beginning to glimpse. Why do women experience orgasm? Why do men have a shorter lifespan than women? Why does homosexuality exist? Why does religion exist in virtually every culture? Why do we have a fondness for the arts? Why do we have such large brains? And why does consciousness exist? Readers are plunged into an ocean of unknowns-the blank spots on the human evolutionary map, the terra incognita of our own species-and are introduced to the major hypotheses that currently occupy scientists who are attempting to unravel each puzzle (including some solutions proposed here for the first time). Throughout the book, readers are invited to share the thrill of science at its cutting edge, a place where we know what we don't know, and, moreover, where we know enough to come up with some compelling and seductive explanations. Homo Mysterious is a guide to creative thought and future explorations, based on the best, most current thinking by evolutionary scientists. It captures the allure of the "not-yet-known" for those interested in stretching their scientific imaginations.
My first impression: I've read a number of David Barash's books, and have also met him whilst a graduate student at the University of Washington. I've always enjoyed his writing, finding it to be accessible, interesting and well-researched. I read the section entitled "The mystery of sex itself" (Pp. 82-86). In this section, he mentions that sexual reproduction is a hassle and that offspring end up with only 50% of each parents' genes (whereas evolutionary change can be strongly driven by just one-tenth of 1% in a genetic differential). But he then moves on to discuss genetic variety is important in a changing world: "By analogy, if you were buying lottery tickets, it would be pretty foolish to purchase a dozen tickets all with the same number; this is essentially the strategy followed by asexual breeders." (p. 84) As always, Professor Barash has written another lovely book that any student of human evolution will enjoy reading.
The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City by William B. Helmreich [Princeton University Press, 2013; Guardian Bookshop; Amazon UK; Amazon US/kindle US]
Publisher's synopsis As a kid growing up in Manhattan, William Helmreich played a game with his father they called "Last Stop." They would pick a subway line and ride it to its final destination, and explore the neighborhood there. Decades later, Helmreich teaches university courses about New York, and his love for exploring the city is as strong as ever.
Putting his feet to the test, he decided that the only way to truly understand New York was to walk virtually every block of all five boroughs -- an astonishing 6,000 miles. His epic journey lasted four years and took him to every corner of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Helmreich spoke with hundreds of New Yorkers from every part of the globe and from every walk of life, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former mayors Rudolph Giuliani, David Dinkins, and Edward Koch. Their stories and his are the subject of this captivating and highly original book.
We meet the Guyanese immigrant who grows beautiful flowers outside his modest Queens residence in order to always remember the homeland he left behind, the Brooklyn-raised grandchild of Italian immigrants who illuminates a window of his brownstone with the family's old neon grocery-store sign, and many, many others. Helmreich draws on firsthand insights to examine essential aspects of urban social life such as ethnicity, gentrification, and the use of space. He finds that to be a New Yorker is to struggle to understand the place and to make a life that is as highly local as it is dynamically cosmopolitan.
Truly unforgettable, The New York Nobody Knows will forever change how you view the world's greatest city.
My first impression: This book is a collection of discoveries made whilst the author walked every street in the five boroughs of New York City, and it shares countless interesting and insightful conversations with his fellow New Yorkers. It's is both a sociological and cultural study, but the narrative is pure storytelling; almost like listening to a favourite uncle share his tremendous knowledge and vast experiences of living in this, the greatest of the world's large cities. Whether you are a New Yorker or if you love New York City from afar, or if you are seeking to place your own city into a broader context, you will absolutely love reading this book.
What book(s) are you reading? How far are you along in the book? What do you think of it so far? Do you think your book is worth recommending to others?
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..GrrlScientist
Laurence Topham and Alok Jha are joining the 2013/14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition. Here's some of the hi-tech equipment they're takingLaurence Topham
Mount Doom is like LA and the Shire like Lincolnshire, so says a climate model based on author's famously detailed maps
Climate sceptics regularly work themselves into a lather dismissing mainstream climate science as fantasy – but for once they have a point.
A researcher at Bristol University has trained his powerful supercomputer not at predicting the earth's future climate, but on the fictional world of Middle Earth – the backdrop for JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
To reproduce Middle Earth's climate, Dr Dan Lunt, an expert on past climate change, traced one of Tolkein's famously detailed maps, and then effectively "scanned" that into the university's supercomputer.
"For a model to work, all you need is a map of where continents are, and how high the mountains are," Lunt says. The machines at the Advanced Computing Research Centre then crunched the weather patterns of Rohan, Mirkwood, and the rest of Tolkien's world for about six days, or roughly 70 years in the model.
According to Lunt's analysis, the climate around Mount Doom (where Frodo must take the evil ring of power to be destroyed) is like LA – hot, with the volcanic ash creating a similar effect to LA's infamous smog. Meanwhile the Shire, Frodo and Bilbo Baggins' peaceful neighbourhood, is most similar to Lincolnshire or Leicestershire in the UK.
The Shire's climate is also similar to that of Dunedin in New Zealand, he found, suggesting the director of the blockbuster Lord of the Rings trilogy Peter Jackson chose the wrong locations for filming. "They made a mistake by filming in the north island – they should've filmed in the south island," says Lunt.
Writing under the pen name of Radagast the Brown in a mock paper on the work, Lunt also suggests that:
• Ships sailing for the Undying Lands in the west set off from the Grey Havens due to the prevailing winds in that region.
• Much of Middle Earth would have been covered in dense forest if the landscape had not been altered by dragons, orcs, wizards etc.
• Mordor had an inhospitable climate, even ignoring the effects of Sauron – hot and dry with little vegetation.
But there's a serious point to the exercise, says Lunt,:
"The serious side is that the climate models I used, and those [other models] out there, are actually based on our fundamental understanding of science, of fluid mechanics, fluid motion, the science of convection in clouds, radiation from the sun, and the science of biology. And because of that, they're not just tuned for the modern earth, they can simulate any climate."
Climate models are used to predict what might happen to future temperatures as we pump out carbon dioxide via our factories, cars and power plants, leaving greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at what the UN climate science panel said in September were "unprecedented" levels. The Bristol team fed into that IPCC report with models that largely match previous climate records, a match that "give us confidence in the [projections for] future", says Lunt.
Lunt, who undertook the work in his spare time, admits to being a bit of a Lord of the Rings fan. "I read them a few times as a child," he says, before pausing. "And a few times as an adult, I must confess."Adam Vaughan
Don't tell me men couldn't be trusted to take contraceptive pills – I did two trials, and it was frankly brilliant
The male contraceptive pill is in the news again, and, having done two years' of clinical trials, I hope this time it will really happen.
It is for commercial and social reasons that the male pill is not yet available, not scientific ones – the drug companies think men won't be interested, and they think women won't trust men who say: "Don't worry, darling, I'm on the pill." But my experience, albeit more than a decade ago, was largely positive, and those attitudes are seriously outdated.
The first time I took part, I was off with my then-partner to the family planning clinic, when she said: "It's so unfair that there isn't a pill you could take instead of me. Would you, if you could?" There's really only one answer to that question. When we got to the clinic there was a cheesy poster on the wall showing Neil Armstrong on the moon, captioned "Be the first man on the pill!" And so the deal was done.
That first time was a pair of daily progesterone pills to knock out the wee men, plus an undignified monthly injection of testosterone in the arse to counteract their feminising effects. There was also an even more undignified monthly photo shoot, starring my prostate, protracted on occasion because giggling apparently makes it hard to get a clear picture. This won't be required once the drug companies go into full production, though, and neither will the monthly semen samples.
I know it was effective because someone looked very carefully at that semen through a microscope. But there was a price to pay. The weekend before the testosterone shots, the progesterone was in charge. My partner said to me: "You're weepy, irrational, and comfort eating – do you think it's possible you're premenstrual?" I argued with her, of course, but eventually the pattern was undeniable.
The second time they gave me a year-long progesterone implant in the arm, plus quarterly arrowhead-shaped implants of testosterone in the belly. I still have the four scars. Other than that, the science worked perfectly. Of course, the researchers advised everyone to keep using condoms, but I doubt anyone did. The look down the microscope confirmed there was nothing there, after all.
What's more, the hormones were frankly brilliant. I have never felt better. Whether all in my head or not, there was a lot of sexiness that I could only attribute to a double dose of male hormones perfectly tempered with one dose of the female variety. The marketing department presumably never got my feedback – it'd be on the shelves already if they had.
Although the latest breakthrough works by stopping sperm being released, I think it's generally good for men and women to spend a little time with each other's hormones. It was a strangely powerful experience. I'd happily do it again, too, except I've taken now-permanent responsibility for my desire not to have kids.
And the social anxiety about whether men can be relied upon to take it is misplaced. Women relying on the pill in a hetero partnership already need to trust their men not to give them STIs, some with far worse consequences than an unwanted pregnancy. If two people have a relationship where that trust is required already, why rule out the male pill?
So bring it on. There's enough sexism out there. If taking the pill could just as easily be a male responsibility as a female one, wouldn't that be one small step towards equality?James Mackenzie