Purely a figment of your imagination

What amuses, annoys, concerns or otherwise interests me – Noodlemaz

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Friendly book review: genes and brains

I am lucky to have met some amazing people over the last decade and a significant number of them are writers of various sorts – some journalists, bloggers, freelance writers and indeed authors.


It definitely was worth it, Dean! Trying to enjoy the ride, Kat x

It seems it’s the time for book-writing so naturally I have picked up some of these labours of love (and occasionally deep resentment, inevitably) and will share my non-spoilery thoughts about a couple of them with you. Continue reading



QEDcon: Day 1

qedconThis weekend I’ve come to Manchester, for the first time ever, to QEDcon!

It’s just kicked off and it’s all very exciting. George Hrab is our host all day and Bruce Hood has now taken the stage.

Our hostel is pretty good – I’m staying with 7 nerdy guys (aren’t they lucky!) and actually, having remembered my ear plugs, slept ok!

It’s surprisingly warm up here; every opportunity, the fact we’re in THE NORTH is mentioned. It’s also raining – we did not expect that at all.

The main hall is impressive (will put some photos up later!) but Ian has pointed out that the chandelier is flickering and now that’s all I can see. Alex has also stolen my twitter, while I ran to the bathroom, and virtually assaulted Rhys. But I am using his netbook, so fair enough I suppose.

There is also a very authentic model Dalek in the corner.

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Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm

Now, I’ve had this in my drafts box for ages.

The zoo/farm is near Bristol and I’ve been kicking around the idea of a field trip for some time – the lack of desire to give them any money being one deterrent.

What is it? It’s a tourist attraction, specialising in school trips, pushing a creationist agenda. It’s the kind of thing I’d expect to see in the Bible Belt of the States but it’s been nestled in South West England for some time now.

You could be forgiven for thinking “that’s a bit harsh” and that they are in fact a decent, educational establishment. The website is fairly innocuous until you reach the far-right tab ‘Evolution and Creation‘, which links to a ‘sister website’, Earth History: A New Approach.

Some gems:

We believe the fossil record does not show one evolutionary tree of life but rather genetically controlled diversification from a number of original forms

As the currently measured value of an element’s decay rate (or half-life) has no theoretical basis, the only way we can test which is true is to compare the results against the primary evidence.

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A “Media Tart” Case Study

I recently went to a course run by some ex-BBC journalists, Media Players International, on how to engage with the media regarding your research. They encouraged us to become the Media Tarts of the future, so here I (vaguely…) recall some of Dr Armand Leroi‘s lecture to postgrads at my institute from way back in the Summer, which was on that very topic.

I’ve enjoyed Armand’s telly programmes and was fortunate to have a pint and a chat with him at the very first London Skeptics in the Pub I went to (having been apprehensive about knowing no-one beforehand!).

Probably most famous for his science best-seller, Mutants, Armand has a great passion for his subject – evolutionary biology – which I very nearly pursued after university myself (and still sometimes wish I had!).

My Life As A Media Tart

Guest lecture to School of Medicine & Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London, Postgradute Day.

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The Future of Science?

Yesterday I went to the Dana Centre, attached to the Science Museum, where we were challenged to listen to a series of presentations and decide to whom we would entrust our scientific future. Or something to that effect! Apparently it was to be like speed-dating, without the dating bit, unless you actually got those signals from someone…

The presentation format, called Pecha Kucha, involves 20-slide presentations from each participant and they’re allowed to spend 20 seconds on each slide. This makes for a fast-paced, info-packed session, particularly good for those of us who tend to tune out when talked at for too long.

I loved it and highly recommend future events to everyone.

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Germ Warfare

Yesterday the lovely Mr Levey of my university’s press dept shared this link on Twitter:

Kettle handles dirtier than keyboards! Who’s for a nice cuppa? http://bit.ly/cHBOTg (mail) | http://bit.ly/b9IA9r (press assoc)

At first I begin to despair that my work (and general) tea times would no longer be as pleasant as they were.

Then I notice one’s a Daily Mail article, have a read of that and then the press release and decide it’s just the latest in the crusade against the eeeevil microbes.


I hate this word. Continue reading

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New life, Jim? Not as we know it.

The media has jumped on this one with gusto!

Craig Venter is at it again. To be clear, he’s been researching the idea of the ‘minimal genome‘ for years. It’s something lots of geneticists and microbiologists (along with many others, I’m sure) have been interested in since we started to understand DNA.

The minimal genome

So what is this? It’s the absolute smallest amount of DNA you need to make a cell that works. An organism. The ‘simplest’ (though I don’t like to call them that, really) organisms we see are bacteria and of these, Mycoplasmas have the least DNA.

So it ain’t the size, it’s what ya do with it that counts

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