Can you believe the time for New Year’s resolutions has come again? Maybe this year you can add to the traditional “I’ll eat healthily”, “I’ll stop smoking” and “I’ll hit the gym regularly” a new one: “I’ll look at statistics carefully”. You can start with these five simple tips.
- Reported averages might be meaningless
An arithmetic mean (sum of all values divided by the number of values), often reported as the average, in fact doesn’t say much about the average value.
Imagine you’re describing humans to extraterrestrial visitors. How many legs does an average person have? Slightly less than two.
You picked Imperial to become a scientist, engineer or a medical doctor. What do these careers have in common? You’ll need to write a lot: scientific papers, grant applications, lecture notes, popular science articles. Unfortunately, university curricula lack writing courses, so we end up with thousands of unreadable scientific papers. In my research I’ve chosen some mathematical methods just because the authors made them easy to understand; nobody has time or energy to look for interesting science hiding behind word clutter.
I’m a mathematician, not a writer, and my writing is far from perfect. Let me share five tips to improve your writing so that you can learn on my mistakes.
The mission of my life is to show people surprising ways of using maths. However, today I’ll make an exception: I’ll talk about an example of maths abuse.
Surely you’ve heard that tomorrow we have the Blue Monday, apparently the most depressing day of the year. Even restaurants and shops all over the UK become almost charities by offering great deals (I can’t believe I just linked you to the Mirror!) to make this day a bit brighter for us, customers – I’m sure they do it solely out of goodness of their hearts, without any profit…You might also have heard that it was scientifically proven and that this date is found using a mathematical formula.
This weekend I was back at The Regent’s Park helping with their project Mission Invertebrate. This project is funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery and is investigating what invertebrates live in The Regent’s Park and how this relates to where the Park’s hedgehog population lives.
The project is a citizen science project – members of the public have been recruited to take soil cores, put in pitfall traps and count the number of slugs and snails in a set area. Myself and my colleague Anthony Roach were helping the volunteers identify the invertebrates collected in the pitfall traps. This involves picking each invertebrate out of each pot, identifying and counting them, and then putting them into a tub of alcohol to preserve them.
I haven’t written anything for a while, but I have a good excuse. I participated in FameLab, both British and Polish editions.
FameLab is an international competition for scientists, who want to communicate research effectively. The idea is simple: we have 3 minutes to talk about our favourite scientific concept. The stage is ours for 180 seconds, after which we are judged on the content, clarity and charisma.
The ‘3C’ rules are pretty self-explanatory.
- The topic must be interesting for the audience and possible to convey in three minutes. One of the most common mistakes the contestants make is trying to explain all we know about microbiology during one short speech – not possible.
Last week I was fortunate to attend the NERC Into the Blue public engagement event in Manchester with the British Ecological Society.
Science Uncovered is part of European Researchers’ Night, and is a free annual festival of science held at various institutions across the UK giving the public the opportunity to discover rare items from the Museum collections, meet experts and take part in interactive science stations, debates and behind-the-scenes tours.
I was able to attend the Bristol Festival of Nature thanks to a grant from the British Ecological Society. I was fortunate to be the first beneficiary of the Regional Funding Scheme which provides support for researchers to undertake public engagement activities.
The Bristol Festival of Nature is the UK’s largest celebration of the natural world with two days of free interactive activities and entertainment across Bristol’s Harbourside. I had a stall in the Green Forum tent in Millenium Square and spent two days talking with the public about soil health and earthworms, with activities including handling and identifying live earthworms and a ‘count the number of earthworms in the wormery’ competition – with a prize for the winner.
Last year I blogged about my first visit to the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival. This year I was back – promoting my new citizen science project Earthworm Watch, which I have developed with Earthwatch and the Natural History Museum. This time the Natural History Museum occupied a whole marquee and I attended on the Saturday and Sunday by myself, which was hard work!
I brought along some live earthworms for people to hold which was particularly popular with children. It was heartening to hear more people comment that they were “cute” rather than “yuk”. I gave out leaflets and took several sheets full of email addresses to follow up with more information on Earthworm Watch so I hope it will lead to more recruitment for the project.
On Sunday I presented my new citizen science project Earthworm Watch at two Nature Live events at the Natural History Museum.