Latest posts

In which the season turns

London is in the throes of springtime, and everything is in bud.


Last year this time, my belly was swelling ever bigger in pregnancy. Now, my son – nearing the seven month mark – grows so fast that he seems almost to lengthen in real time. Continue reading

Posted in careers, Domestic bliss, staring into the abyss, The profession of science | Leave a comment

A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Prejudice Go Down

I wasn’t really paying attention to the radio. I was busy cooking, but it sounded to me as if the question Clive Anderson asked the film-maker Andrea Calderwood on Saturday’s episode of Loose Ends amounted to ‘how come a nice woman like you is making films about the nasty episode that was the Biafran civil war?’. Of course h Continue reading

Posted in Equality, interviews, Jenny Saul, Unconscious bias, Women in science | Leave a comment

The Bearding

How is variation maintained in populations? This is a bit of a poser for evolutionary theory, especially in the realm of sexual selection. If males or females of a certain type always score highest in contests of mate choice, genes underlying that particular type will go to fixation and variation will be expunged.

One solution is called negative fr Continue reading

Posted in barnaby dixson, beards, biology letters, evolution, face fungus, facial hair, guppies, handlebars, illustrated london news, mate choice, mutton chops, negative frequency dependent selection, nigel barber, Research, sexual selection, whiskers | Leave a comment

Why this night is no different than any other – vile anti-semitism persists

Tonight, I know, is the first night of Pesach-Passover, the Jewish festive celebration of the historic/mythical tale of escape from slavery in Egypt. Being an atheist with a complete lack of interest in any religious or pseudo-religious customs, Passover has never been a holiday that I’ve really celebrated. In fact, I don’t celebrate mu Continue reading

Posted in antisemitism, Jew, Jewish Community Center, Kansas City, murder, Nazi, Passover, Pesach, racist, treason, white supremacist | Leave a comment

Mosaic is the New Savanna

Time was when the model of human evolution went something like this: our ancestors essentially evolved to climb and live in trees, but with the general drying and cooling of the Earth’s climate over the past few million years, the great African forests shrank, to be replaced with the kind of tropical grassland known as savanna. Our ancestors Continue reading

Posted in AAPA, American Association of Physical Anthropologists, Amy L Rector, Calgary, Cromer, Cromer East Beach, habitat, habitat heterogeneity, human evolution, Kaye Reed, mosaic, patchiness, Research, savanna, Yohannes Haile-Selassie | Leave a comment

On the connection between (April) fools and trolls

Trolls seldom have anything worthwhile to say. They twist, bully, rant and rave and insult, putting forth their worst drivel to provoke a response. All behind a cloak of anonymity. That is the nature of a troll; inevitably a loser who dares not show his face. So when such a troll spouts outright lies that can easily be refuted, there is seldom any Continue reading

Posted in April Fools, education, grant, humor, laboratory, proposal, Research, science, students, training, troll | Leave a comment

The Stuff of Brains

That migraine I was waiting for finally struck this week. Amazingly it didn’t throw my life into disarray, because it hit me during a week I was supposed to be having ‘off’. Consequently it only spoiled a day of relaxation, the day I intended to sort out and take a bag of old clothes to the Oxfam shop and do otherwise virtuous but Continue reading

Posted in cognitive illusion, Daniel Kahneman, Matthew Lieberman, neuroscience, self-affirmation | Comments Off


BONE JACKSet somewhere in the north of England where ancient shadows hover just beyond glimpsing, teen novel Bone Jack by Sara Crowe shows that fiction for young readers needn’t stint on horror and darkness – and can cleave to much more genuinely rooted ancient wisdom than you’ll ever find in burlesques about schoolboy wizards and high-sch Continue reading

Posted in Alan garner, bone jack, dark fantasy, Jonathan strange and me Norell, Sara crowe, The Hunger Games, Writing & Reading, young adult fiction | Comments Off

Science and Nerves at the BBC

Last week you would have found three professors gathered nervously together in the depths of (Old) Broadcasting House waiting for the studio to be ready to air the week’s broadcast of In Our Time. Three professors who had never met before but who instantly got onto the subject of nerves in the face of the coming performance. I was one of the Continue reading

Posted in Andrea Sella, BBC, Communicating Science, education, In Our Time, Justin Wark, Melvyn Bragg | Comments Off


Many geologists and climatologists believe that global warming aside, the next major global climate issues are most likely to come from the explosion of a super-volcano; after all, just look at what an isolated Icelandic volcano did to air traffic across the globe recently.


The Arenal stratovolcano in Costa Rica. Dormant since 2009, it has a frigh Continue reading

Posted in Arena, Costa Rica, eruption, La Fortuna, science, supervolcano, Tabicon, tragedy, volcano | Comments Off


Britain is presently swaddled under a thick cloud of pollution. This, we are told, has been caused by a mixture of regular industrial and motor exhaust, spiked with a lot of sand from the Sahara Desert.

Yesterday Cromer laboured under a light fog, but the air was fresh – no more than the sea-fret one expects from time to time.

Continue reading
Posted in climate, Cromer East Beach, Domesticrox, sand, weather | Comments Off

Open Access – reasons to be cheerful: a reply to Agrawal

A opinion piece by Anurag Agrawal that was rather skeptical about some aspects of moves toward open access was published in the March issue of Trends in Plant Sciences. I felt several of the arguments advanced by Agrawal were rather weak and was glad to have the opportunity to write a rejoinder which has now been published in the April edition of t Continue reading

Posted in Open Access, trends in plant sciences | Comments Off

On Saying No

The comments on my last post have prompted me finally to write this one, one that I have had in mind for a few weeks. In fact, ever since I gave a talk at Merton College, Oxford, when an audience member pointed out I had both stated that one should seize opportunities and not say no without thinking and that it was important to be able to say no wh Continue reading

Posted in CV, opportunity, Research, Science Culture, Women in science, workload | Comments Off


You probably won’t believe this, it being 1 April and all, but I have literally just taken delivery of 250 live worms.

Mrs Crox ordered them to replenish our wormery, which was looking a bit tired, many of its inhabitants having died or retired.

I know the parcel was specifically addressed to Mrs Crox, but she’s out, and I felt I had to Continue reading

Posted in annelids, compost, Domesticrox, recycling, Silliness, we must come to terms with worms, wormery | Comments Off

Boundaries and boxes

No-one likes to be pigeonholed but the tendency to pigeonhole, or put things into boxes, comes naturally to us and can be valuable, within reason.


I think pigeonholing gets an overly bad press. The word has a pejorative ring, suggesting a kneejerk, over-simplistic focus on superficial elements. Continue reading

Posted in History | Comments Off