This is an extra blog I wrote about last week…
Last Thursday I went to a meeting of the London Forum for Science and Policy (LFSP). I didn’t really know what to expect from this, but it was amazing! It is a newly set-up student think -tank whose job will hopefully be to mediate conversation between scientific experts in their fields and politicians. Through it you can learn about writing policy papers, the way that policy is implemented and hopefully help policy makers get the evidence they need. In this meeting we were spoken to by Dr. Jason Blackstock a senior lecturer in Science and Global Affairs from UCL, who introduced to us just how vital it is to teach scientists the workings of policy.
I thought that there had always been a network of scientific advisors for the government to call upon, but outside of the ministry of defence, any other scientific advisors were only appointed in the last ten years (!). Because these are such new positions, there is no clear blueprint for scientists dealing with politicians and sometimes it can go wrong—for example a couple of years ago Professor David Nutt was fired from his position advising the government after publically disagreeing over the classification of drugs. In an interview in The Times he said “I gave a lecture on the assessment of drug harms and how these relate to the legislation controlling drugs. According to Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, some contents of this lecture meant I had crossed the line from science to policy and so he sacked me. I do not know which comments were beyond the line or, indeed, where the line was…”
I know almost nothing about policy at the moment, but am looking forward to finding out. 🙂 In the meantime, if you want to get involved, check out the LFSP website for upcoming events.
The interesting science of this blog is an approximation we looked at in astrophysics the other day, about how much stuff there has to be in a cloud of gas and dust for it to start to condense and form a star. This is done by comparing the free-fall time of a particle to fall to the centre of the cloud to the time for sound waves to travel through the cloud, because the speed of sound is basically a measure of how fast the particles in the cloud can communicate with each other by repeatedly bumping together and passing the signal on. If the time for the wave of falling particles to get through the cloud and back (so the cloud can respond with an every action has an equal and opposite reaction thing) is greater than the free-fall time, then the cloud is unstable and can begin to form stars. This turns out to depend only on the temperature of the gas (which effects the speed of sound as more jiggly particles collide faster) and the density of the cloud which increases the gravitational pull of the cloud and causes the free-fall time to be faster.
Astrophysics. Making starry things simple since the Mayans sat in their holes.
On that note, I wrote an article for I, Science about the limits of human exploration of the solar system ages ago. It’s here if you would like to read it…
Lastly, one of the more unusual things I did last week was have a skype interview for a TV show about scientists and their lives. The producer of it contacted me on twitter to ask if I would be interested in it— I didn’t think I would be suitable as a student but agreed to have a chat with him about it (as well as cheekily asking for some work experience). Anyway, the result of it is that they are putting me forward, but as I suspected think that a third year student might not be great for it—which is where anyone reading this blog can get involved!
If anyone is interested in trying out for this show (it is for the discovery channel and called ‘The Brainy Bunch’ which is a bit icky, but apparently one of its aims is to do away with stereotypical images of scientists in white coats and all that) then contact me on twitter (@42EmmaWills) and I can give you some more details and an application form. It sounds to me like they would be interested in Masters students and beyond, so if I have any of those reading my blog, go for it! I won’t hate you if you get it over me 😛
Here is the advert for it: