The dramatic rescue of 52 people from a ship in the Antarctic has raised questions over who can explore the continent. Alok Jha, who was on the vessel, reportsAlok Jha
After a month aboard a Russian research ship, Alok Jha and Laurence Topham found themselves trapped in the grip of the ice – and an international row over whether the expedition should have been there in the first place
The world has moved on since the days of 'Bonkers Bruno' headlines, but we still need to mind our language
It's political correctness gone mentally unstable. That's right, you can't say anything these days – and here's yet another article telling us what language we can and can't use. Cue eye-rolls and tuts.
Actually, I want to share with you my own journey into madness. That is, mental health and language – and the advice available about how we strike a balance between the "political correctness gone mad" brigade and those who prefer to communicate with a little more consideration.
We've all had a mental, mad or manic day at work. Frustration has driven us nuts or crazy. Affectionately, we may have referred to an eccentric friend as "bonkers" or "as mad as a box of frogs". Some people might call a day of very changeable weather "schizophrenic". The Black Eyed Peas invited us to "get retarded". Mental health is so ingrained in our everyday vernacular, it's interesting to me how we now unshackle meaning, intent and potential offence caused by reinforcing negative stereotypes. I spoke to Time to Change, England's most ambitious campaign into ending discrimination surrounding mental health, for guidance.
After asking to be put in touch with a person with a mental health condition, I interviewed Susannah Wilson, an actor, who is living with bipolar II. In terms of striking that careful balance, she told me: "We're faced with more and more censorship of words that have been deemed politically incorrect and we're at risk of becoming a nation that is losing its freedom of speech. On the other hand, it's just an excuse for the ignorant to remain ignorant if we continue to use language that can potentially harm others."
I asked Susannah what she found offensive, and what she was relaxed about: "The word 'mental' was a common playground taunt when I was at school. The word 'nutter' was even used in a chocolate bar advert: 'Oi, nutter! That bloke's a nutter!' I find these offensive now, having suffered illness myself, although I've rarely challenged the use of them because I would have had to reveal my illness and my fear was that those around me would censor themselves for my benefit."
She added: "Changing language alone is only dealing with the stigma on a superficial level and not uncovering the causes of such language."
Language, however, is powerful. Context, intention and knowing your audience count for a lot in everyday chats; the level of responsibility shifts up many notches when you're a journalist. As Kate Nightingale, head of communications at Time to Change, told me: "The media is extremely powerful and is consumed by millions of people every day. Therefore, we would encourage journalists to recognise the influence they have when reporting on mental health so as not to reinforce damaging stereotypes or create sensationalist articles which can cause huge distress and offence to the one in four people who will experience mental health problems."
To help, Time to Change – led by Rethink and Mind – has created a media advisory service which includes script advice for storylines featuring characters with mental health problems and their own "mind your language" section for journalists. Judged by these guidelines, the Guardian's own style guide seems to be on the money. Nightingale says the Guardian has done "fantastic work for many years" in the area of mental health, including journalist Mary O'Hara's work on the reporting of mental health issues, which won a Mind Media award. Mark Rice-Oxley's Guardian piece about his mental health illness eloquently captured the inadequacy of language in reflecting such a serious condition: "They used to call it a nervous breakdown. Now it's depression. Neither term is helpful. The former doesn't come close to expressing the long list of symptoms that apply (insomnia, anxiety, dismal mood, panic, thoughts of suicide, loss of energy/weight/joy/libido/love). The latter is, if anything, worse, conjuring up misleading images of people staring through windows at drizzle."
I must admit that I'm proud to write for a media title that listens and learns; my piece arguing that the Guardian should drop the insidiously stigmatising noun "homosexuals" from neutral reporting led to the style guide editor encouraging Guardian journalists to replace it with the more humanising (and less stuffy) "gay people". The noun "homosexuals" echoes the hostile clinical language of an era – which finally ended in 1992 - when homosexuality was considered to be a mental illness that could be "cured".
What of media outlets that have misused language about mental health?The Sun's infamous headline "BONKERS BRUNO LOCKED UP" is described by Nightingale as a "milestone moment" owing to the overwhelming public outcry over its decision to put alliteration before consideration when reporting boxer Frank Bruno's mental health problems. It has slipped up since, too – last year a Sun headline screamed "1,200 KILLED BY MENTAL PATIENTS". It was misleading and unfair. Following Time to Change's complaint, a clarification was printed and the team continues to have "constructive" meetings with the paper's editor.
Reporting of suicide is another sensitive subject. The Australian media's reporting of the TV presenter Charlotte Dawson's suicide this week (following social media trolls encouraging her to kill herself) has opened up similar discussions to the UK's reporting of the issue. The Australian Psychological Society says the C-word – ''committing'' suicide – is loaded with archaic religious and criminal baggage. It also advises against "successful suicide" – something that really should be an oxymoron. On the other hand, some media neglecting to mention at all that Dawson was believed to have taken her own life has also been criticised. News outlets – fearful of copycat suicides – have perhaps trodden a bit too carefully and the opportunity to discuss this important issue has been wasted.
If you want to be thoughtful in everyday conversation, what does Time to Change recommend? Nightingale says: "The meaning of words can change over time. 'Manic' and 'mad' are frequently used in informal conversations and, while we accept they have various meanings, they can also cause offence. Using words like 'psycho', 'nutter', 'schizo' or 'loony' to describe someone with mental health problem is certainly offensive and unacceptable. 'Schizophrenic' is often misused to mean a split personality, or something that's very changeable, and usage in everyday speech contributes to the misunderstanding and stigma that there is around this mental health problem in particular, so we would advise against that."
In which case, from now on, British weather is wildly changeable, four seasons in a day – or just bloody awful.
Nightingale is keen to highlight that discussing mental health is important; we don't want to discourage those discussions by becoming too precious or particular about the terms used. 'Mad,' 'insane' and 'crazy' can, of course, also be positive adjectives when describing falling in love, a particularly buzzy city or wild party. Indeed, Bloomsbury's new fourth edition of Tony Thorne's Dictionary of Contemporary Slang lists the polar opposite meanings of "mental": first as "mentally ill, subnormal" and secondly as "exciting, dynamic, excellent".
Mad Pride, held each year on Bastille Day (because the people released from the Bastille were deemed "insane") seeks to "reclaim terms like 'mad', 'nutter', and 'psycho' from misuse, such as in tabloid newspapers, celebrate mental health survivor culture and explore the positives of madness". Susannah Wilson is keen to highlight the positives: "My illness has taught me compassion and empathy for others who are suffering in ways I wouldn't perhaps have achieved. It has also tested my strength and courage allowed me to make peace with the parts of myself I've disliked."
Words often change meaning. Looking at how campaigners have approached this reveals differences. Some words are ditched, others defended. The Spastics Society rebranded in 1994: a longlist of 400 names was shortened to 19 and Scope was finally chosen. The charity was finding the debate around the word "spastic" a distraction. Some older people were "proud to be spastic" but, ultimately, it was costing the charity precious donations.
By contrast, Stonewall continues to defend the corruption of the word "gay" into a synonym for anything inadequate, its most recent campaign playing on linguistic inaccuracy by inviting us to "spot the two common mistakes" in the sentence "Your so gay." In such a sense, "gay" has, disturbingly, travelled in the opposite direction to "mental" – the newer colloquial use of the former becoming negatively loaded, whereas the latter has a more positive street use.
Policing language is never popular and rarely easy. But it is perfectly possible to be both frank and polite. Words around mental health are not so much being banned as recommendations made so we can be sensitive. With that in mind, chatting to friends and colleagues, will I have another "manic" day at work? In all honestly, probably. But it's hardly a chore for me to replace that with "super busy". Will I, as a journalist, use language to stigmatise people with mental health problems? Never.
Mind helplines: 0300 123 3393.
Gary Nunn is a regular contributor to Mind your language. His posts appear on the last Friday of every month. Twitter: @GaryNunn1Gary Nunn
Dramatic behind-the-scenes documentary charting the rescue of passengers stranded on the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which became trapped in ice off AntarcticaLaurence TophamAlok JhaMustafa Khalili
New South Wales signs up to complete a deal hailed as ‘historic’ by the prime minister and welcomed by NSW farmers
Watson's controversial hypothesis about cause of diabetes, dementia, heart disease and cancer published in medical journal
Not satisfied with his work that unravelled the double helix structure of DNA and landed him a share of a Nobel prize half a century ago, James Watson has come up with a radical theory for diabetes, dementia, heart disease and cancer.
The 85-year-old scientist has turned to the pages of the Lancet medical journal to set forth his grand idea, which some academics say may not have seen the light of day had it come from anyone else.
Watson, who stepped down as director of the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory in New York in 2007 after the Times quoted his views on Africa and intelligence, has arranged a conference at the lab this year to explore his latest hypothesis.
Writing in the Lancet, Watson claims that late onset, or type 2 diabetes, is traditionally thought to be caused by oxidation in the body that causes inflammation and kills off pancreatic cells. But he thinks the root of that inflammation is quite different: "The fundamental cause, I suggest, is a lack of biological oxidants, not an excess," he writes.
Watson, a keen singles tennis player, says he developed his theory after pondering why exercise seemed to benefit people with high blood sugar, an early indicator of future diabetes. Exercise produced "reactive oxygen species" that were widely thought to be harmful.
Other research fed into his thinking, chiefly a study by Matthias Blüher at the University of Leipzig. He showed that reactive oxygen species released in exercise combatted the insulin resistance seen in diabetes, but that the benefits vanished if you gave people antioxidants before the exercised.
Watson believes that rather than being wholly bad, oxidising molecules, such as hydrogen peroxide, are crucial for the body's health. In particular, he points out that hydrogen peroxide goes to work in a cellular organ called the endoplasmic reticulum, where it ensures proteins are stable. If levels of oxidants are too low, he suggests, the proteins become misshapen and cause the inflammation that damages the pancreas. And a raft of other diseases.
Large studies have already shown that antioxidant supplements do not help people to live longer. Watson's hypothesis also suggests there is nothing to be gained, though he makes a point of saying he is not qualified to give people health advice.
"Just about every doctor I've ever known tells every patient who is capable of doing so to exercise. I think exercise helps us produce healthy, functional proteins. But we really need to have some high-quality research to demonstrate this."
He adds: "We sorely need to take a much more serious and thorough scientific look at the mechanisms through which exercise improves our health."
Watson's idea received a mixed reception from scientists on Thursday. One professor of metabolic medicine was unimpressed and said the idea was not even novel. "It is only because of his name that James Watson is allowed to present his woolly thoughts in the Lancet," he said.
The director of the MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit at the University of Cambridge, Stephen O'Rahilly, was less scathing. He said: "He's exhorting more science to be done on how physical activity might be beneficial. We need to understand the mechanism. Making the right reactive oxygen species in the right place at the right time is critical for us to stay well, and blocking them might not be a good idea."
Hole? As in holes. Chasms to caves, plugholes to sinkholes, mind your gap and fill this week's void with your nominations
Does a dark opening attract fear, surprise, disgust or excitement? And what is a hole? The void in the middle, what's around the outside of it, or both?
This year's latest phobia is the sinkhole, the sudden collapse of a ground's surface layer. They can be very deep and destructive, swallowing people, cars and houses. Perhaps like in the Kevin Bacon film – Tremors. Or a banker's salary. Only sinkholes are not caused by giant worms. And there has been a spate of them appearing the UK recently, brought about, some say, by the unseasonably wet weather. But it's best not to get paranoid or go on about this. That would be too embarrassing. So embarrassing you'd just want the ground to just open up and … oh hang on.
This week, as I peer down the dark opening into the Readers Recommend cellar, taps glinting in a shaft of sunlight, barrels brimming and ready to serve, I find myself mixing a cocktail of the topical, abstract and primeval.
When early humans first looked into a hole, did it inspire fear? Was it a gaping black chasm, a cave of hell, horror and death? Or was it a wondrous watery world inviting them to dive, teeming with colourful fish, rich in life and possibility? Whatever the experience, holes present a potent topic recurring in song. Many songs are written and driven by the desire to fill a hole of some sort or another. So perhaps they can be put into roughly two groups: good holes and bad holes.
Good holes might be cosy nests and nooks, associated with animal warmth and safety hibernation and nurturing. A good hole can be a opening, an opportunity. And there is also a common satisfaction associated with putting holes into things and things into holes, as it were. Such as? Well, planting seeds, samplings and trees, holes in woodwork that fit pieces together, placing objects in boxes (or indeed filling up playlists) and – so on. And there are other good associations, such as being placed in the protective surround of a life belt – through the hole in the middle – or being the ace in the hole with the golfing hole in one, or the satisfying plop of a snooker ball into a pocket, of course.
Holes can also be associated with adventure – the gateway to another world, such as thorough CS Lewis's wardrobe, or a worm hole in space in science fiction. And you can dig yourself out of a hole, but then again you can also dig yourself deeper.
From arseholes to earholes, peepholes to plugholes, holes can go, and be seen, in all sorts of forms and functions. Earthworms make holes and in doing so, fertilise soil, but the holes they make are also associated with rotting, decay and death. Buttonholes are useful, but some people have a phobia about them too. And then there's omphalophobia – the fear of another kind of hole – the belly button. And holes in the head? Surely a bad thing, unless of course you suffer from bad headaches and are a fan of the ancient medical practice of trepanning.
Really bad holes? Aside from sinkholes, melancholy songs talk about a hole in one's heart or life, but that can inspire a great song. Holes can also be wounds, bullet holes, something to fall into, a dole hole, a predicament, a squalid dwelling, a hole in one's pocket, shoes, or other items of clothing. And black holes? Yes, these too are somewhat inconvenient.
But who better to round off holes than the bard himself, not Salford's John Cooper Clarke alas, but William Shakespeare? Out of the ale-and-cakehole of playful Falstaff in Henry IV Part 2 emerge two of life's fundamentals – sex and death: "Wilt thou make as many holes in an enemy's battle, as thou hast done in a woman's petticoat?" Indeed one might.
And so this brings me to this week's very welcome guest guru HoshinoSakura, who, filling in the gap, will deftly gather up your hole song nominations and present them as a new whole on Thursday 6 March, so please put them forward in comments by last orders 11pm GMT on Monday 3 March.
To increase the likelihood of your nomination being considered, please:
• Tell us why it's a worthy contender.
• Quote lyrics if helpful, but for copyright reasons no more than a third of a song's words.
• Provide a link to the song. We prefer Muzu or YouTube, but Spotify, SoundCloud or Grooveshark are fine.
• Listen to others people's suggestions and add yours to a collaborative Spotify playlist.
• If you have a good theme for Readers recommend, or if you'd like to volunteer to compile a playlist, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
• There's a wealth of data on RR, including the songs that are "zedded", at the Marconium. It also tells you the meaning of "zedded", "donds" and other strange words used by RR regulars.
• Many RR regulars also congregate at the 'Spill blog.
The European Space Agency's Cosmic Vision programme for future scientific space missions was extended last week with the announcement that the Plato planet-finding probe is to be built and targeted for launch in 2024.
Plato, for PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars, is intended to use an array of 34 small telescopes, each equipped with the equivalent of an 81 megapixel camera, to monitor up to 1m stars in half of the sky.
Like Nasa's highly successful Kepler spacecraft, Plato will look for the minute dips in starlight caused by orbiting planets. And like ESA's earlier but now defunct CoRoT probe, it will monitor the seismic activity on the parent stars to get a more precise measure of their sizes and ages, information that will help give a better idea of the masses, densities and composition of the planets it finds.
The particular aim, of course, is the discovery of other Earth-sized and larger worlds in the habitable zones of stars, where liquid water, regarded as essential to life, may exist on the surface.
Meanwhile, other missions as part of Cosmic Vision include Solar Orbiter, intended for launch in 2017 to study the Sun from inside the orbit of Mercury, and Euclid, which is to investigate dark matter and dark energy after its planned launch in 2020.
More ambitious still is Juice, the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, to be launched in 2022 and reach Jupiter in 2030. There it will focus on the Galilean moons Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, all of which are thought to possess bodies of liquid water beneath their icy crusts.Alan Pickup
My father, Philip Thomas, who has died aged 87, was a pioneer in the world of fire safety science and engineering. He was also a proud Welshman with a love of jazz, malt whisky and his signature bow ties.
Philip's work shaped the design of commercial buildings throughout the world, from shopping centres to airport terminals. His most significant contributions relate to the behaviour of fire; he developed analytical models of the behaviour of flames and "fire plumes" that became the basis for designing roof-venting systems for removing smoke and hot gases from single-storey buildings.
Philip, an only child, was born in London. His father died when he was seven, and he was raised by his mother, Dilys. He won scholarships to Haberdashers' Aske's school and, aged 16, to Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He was awarded a double first in mechanical engineering in 1945 and a PhD in 1950. In 1951, he joined the government's Fire Research Station. During his career there, he published much of the research that has framed current scientific understanding of fire. More than 100 papers bear his name.
At the root of Philip's success was a love of numbers, but his work was also crucially grounded in the practical realities of a complex subject. His publications would often baffle those who had little mathematical appreciation but their content almost always yielded profound advances in scientific understanding.
Philip was the co-ordinator of the Fire Commission of the Conseil International du Bâtiment from 1974 to 1994 and chairman of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) Fire Safety Committee from 1976 to 1995. In these capacities he put the new discipline of fire safety engineering on the map. He recognised that there was no single international institution that covered the full range of fire safety science, and led the foundation of the International Association for Fire Safety Science in 1985. He was elected its first chair, serving until 1991. He received many awards and prizes.
A stroke in his later years inhibited Philip's physical mobility but his mental agility was undimmed, and vigorous discussion remained a staple of his life. Throughout his adult life he was absent-minded, nonconformist and unconventional, with stubborn principles and little interest in the opinion of the rest of the world, but he also had an easy chuckle and a strong love of friends and family. He enjoyed traditional jazz and musicals. If he hadn't been a scientist, he would have wanted to follow in the footsteps of Fred Astaire.
His first wife, Sybil, died in 1997. He is survived by their two children – my brother, Rod, and me; by grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and by his second wife, Joanna.