This week – reading, thinking and linking

This past week I have been doing so much reading and writing for work that there has been no time to prepare anything substantial enough for a proper blog post, even if I have been stirred by the excessive protests of Mark Walport or the over-selling of what is actually a nice piece of virology.

But I have squeezed in a little additional reading on the side and thought I would take a couple of minutes to pull the links together.

“Check me out. The top two knuckles of my left hand look as if I’d been worked over by the K.G.B.” If you take only one thing away from this blogpost, for God’s sake let it be this: in the New Yorker, Roger Angell writes beautifully, wittily and with unsparing honesty of his life as an old man.

In the Boston Review, Stephen Shapin’s superb essay traces the association and dissociation of science and virtue.

On Tuesday the UK House of Commons voted to approve the use of mitochondrial transfer treatments; Mark Henderson reveals the pivotal role of Prof Doug Turnbull, a scientist who worked hard to overcome ‘failure to communicate’.

Measles is on the loose in the US, stoking furious debates between pro- and anti-vaxxers. There really should be no debate on the matter, though the proper tenor of that discussion is something for us all to consider. For now, this impressive animation in the Guardian gives a beautifully clear excellent demonstration of how herd immunity can only be achieved with high rates of immunisation.

Guardian Measles Vaccine Animation

It should come as no surprise to university folk to learn that metrics are getting out of hand. This is complex territory but John Gill in the Times Higher is not happy – and neither are many academics.

Mention of metrics inevitably calls to mind the REF, the UK’s six-yearly self-assessment and self-flagellation exercise. It’s something of a bête noir for neuroscientist and super-blogger David Colquhoun, who has an interesting proposal for reforming UK universities so as to avoid the more insidious effects of the REF. I don’t always agree with David but he always makes you think.

Elsewhere on the cultural landscape, I read another good book by novelist James Salter and delighted in Andy Marmery’s fun making rockets with water bottles and ethanol. The RI Channel is going from strength to strength — this week they also released videos of the 1980 Christmas lectures by crystallographers David Phillips and Max Perutz.

That said and much as I love my crystallography, the video highlight of this week is the news that Simon Singh’s and John Lynch’s fabulous film about Fermat’s Last Theorem is now available on the BBC iPlayer. In my humble opinion it remains one of the best science documentaries ever made. Treat yourself (UK only, I’m afraid).

With apologies to Ed Yong, who has been in the linking business for much longer and does it so much better.

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