Posted by Pete Hague on 31 Dec 2012
The skeptics movement prides itself on being able to use science and reason to enlighten people, and often acts as if skeptics are the sole guardians of reason itself. Despite this self image, skeptics sometimes make grievous errors.
These folks are also looking to enlighten the masses, in a more literal manner. They are developing a cheap LED lamp powered by gravitational potential energy, designed to replace kerosene lamps in areas of the developing world that don't have access to electricity. This is good because kerosene lamps are a fire hazard, and give off carcinogenic fumes.
Posted by Pete Hague on 22 Nov 2012
I have had an idea of how to resolve some of the corporate tax avoidance problems in the UK. I've not thought it through much, and there may be some obvious flaw I am missing.
Much tax avoidance is done by online companies - their geographic flexibility makes this very easy for them. My solution would be to tax the holder of a domain a small amount for each request for that domain to a UK based nameserver. This would be straight forward to enforce, and difficult to avoid. There are some niggles I immediately spotted myself:
Posted by Pete Hague on 13 Sep 2012
The recent reshuffle of David Cameron's cabinet has prompted some discussion of whether or not his new appointees are qualified for their jobs. Much was rightly made of how we now have a Secretary of state for Health who believes in the efficacy of homoeopathy (spoiler alert: it doesn't work at all) and a Minister for Equality who doesn't believe gay people should be allowed to adopt children.
The position that most interests me though, was not subject to a reshuffle. Ed Davey remains the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate change. He is a Liberal Democrat who took over the job in February when the previous incumbent Chris Huhne had to resign over his criminal attempts to avoid a speeding fine. The fact that this position wasn't subject to a reshuffle that hit many major areas of government, and it has been held by two Lib Dems, suggests to me that Cameron doesn't consider it an important job - and this is worrying. It may even be an indication he believes the right-wing think tanks and doesn't believe climate change is a threat - which if true would be terrifying.
Posted by Pete Hague on 08 Sep 2012
As promised, I am continuing my series of posts on the process of preparing and submitting my first paper.
I've had an incredibly busy week, with two main events I want to talk about.
Posted by Pete Hague on 20 Aug 2012
Today I was speaking with various people on twitter about the subject of "privilege" - a concept I have been skeptical of since first hearing about. User @anarchic_teapot claimed that I did not understand the concept properly, and directed me to an article explaining it. I've read this, and here I will review and critique it. I shall do so by sections, using the headings from the article itself
Many times people have used this concept in debate with me, they have done so in a combative manner, which may have influenced my judgement of the idea. If someone labels me "white, male, straight, cisgender…" in the course of an argument, it sounds very much like an ad hominem attack, and a pretty disgraceful one at that, seeing as it focuses on aspects of my self that are rightfully considered off limits for discrimination in civilised society.
Posted by Pete Hague on 11 Aug 2012
I'm currently preparing to submit my first paper to a peer reviewed journal. I've decided that I'm going to blog about this process as I go through, as it may be of interest both to people wishing to study physics at this level, and perhaps of interest to those not planning a career in science, but who would like to know more about the inner workings of it.
The first stage of the process is the initial submission. I've been pointed towards MNRAS (Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society) and ApJ (Astrophysics Journal) as important and widely read journals in my field, so these will be the ones I am going to be submitting to. After submission, the paper will be distributed to appropriate (anonymous) reviewers, who will pick apart everything we have done, and the return some comments - assuming they don't reject the paper outright, which I sincerely hope they don't. This process will go back and forth until everybody is happy, at which point the paper will be published.
Posted by Pete Hague on 22 Jul 2012
I wasn't planning to blog about skepticism again. I thought that I had said all that needed to be said when I described my estrangement from the skeptics movement. However, there have been recent events which have reminded me of those last year that began to drive me away from organised skepticism.
Firstly, in response to DJ Grothe (head of the James Randi Educational Foundation) saying that people exaggerating the problem of sexual harassment at TAM (The Amazing Meeting) was more likely to be putting of women attending than sexual harassment himself, Rebecca Watson and others decided to boycott the conference, seemingly based on a complete misinterpretation of his actual statements.
Posted by Pete Hague on 19 Jul 2012
A recent news story has prompted me to talk about something that I've wanted to discuss for a while - the problems inherent in the concept of IQ. The story, mostly picked up by the right-wing press going by my Google News results, states that women have overtaken men in IQ scores. This produced a predictably angry response from many people commenting on the Internet.
Lets get the required scientific skepticism out of the way - this has the hallmarks of a university press release being regurgitated by lazy journalists, and the underlying quality of the work is by no means assured. But let us give the benefit of the doubt for a moment, and say that the Telegraph and the Mail have accurately reported on some scientific conclusions that are actually supported by data.
Posted by Pete Hague on 09 Jul 2012
The university press office has also taken an interest - presumably spurred on by the fact that last year the Journal made an appearance in the Guardian. As an aside, the team mentioned in the press release all worked with me on the undergraduate cubesat project that I briefly mentioned in this post. Its nice to see that they've still got a taste for physics!
Posted by Pete Hague on 08 Jul 2012
In the Leicester Physics Department, PhD students are for their first year, not technically PhD students (although in almost every case other than in documentation, they are referred to as such). According to the university, they are 'Advance PostGraduate' or APG students. Progression to the second year, and the PhD program proper is dependent on a presentation and a report handed in ~8 months into the students postgraduate studies.
I am in this process at the moment; I have made my presentation to the department, and handed in my report - the remaining step is for me to meet with my thesis committee and discuss the report. My thesis committee consists of my supervisor, my second supervisor (aka my advisor) and my personal tutor.