Too late to save the Earth - PDF by etssetcf

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                       Cheltenham Festival of Science daily news. Sponsored by Institute of Physics Publishing




Issue 1 Thursday 8 June 2006                                                                                        Edited by www.stetpress.co.uk


  TODAY’S                                Too late to save the Earth?
HIGHLIGHTS                               by Adam Horovitz
                                         It was a strange experience watch-
                                         ing two men as avuncular-seeming
                                                                                                                            suggesting that even if we lost the
                                                                                                                            Gulf Stream, which keeps us tem-
                                                                                                                            perate even though Hudson Bay, on
                                         as James Lovelock and Sir Crispin                                                  the same latitude, is an icy waste-
                                         Tickell discussing the climactic cli-                                              land, the climate change would
                                         mate changes to planet Earth that                                                  keep us pretty much as we are. “Our
                                         human beings appear to be causing.                                                 big problem may be how to per-
                                            They presented a gloomy and                                                     suade people not to move here.”
                                         unsettling picture of the world’s                                                    Both Tickell and Lovelock were
                                         future: from uncontrollable human                                                  insistent that things could be done;
         Charles Jencks                  population growth to “melting gla-                                                 despite the gloomy, apocalyptical
     Gardening the Universe              ciers… and rain forests”, and from                                                 facts, they were both full of hope.
                                         the urgent need for power, however        James Lovelock: still hoping for a       Tickell praised the new Chinese
   4.30–5.30 pm/ Town Hall
                                         unpalatable the ways of getting it,       jolly green Gaia.                        approach to capitalism, called
                                         to the possibility of synthesising                                                 Socialist Market Economy. “We
          Frank Close                    food to free up farmland that could       energy source that was viable, but       had a system very like that during
        Particle Odyssey                 keep the Earth breathing.                 in the face of questions about the       World War II,” quipped Lovelock.
       6–7 pm/ Town Hall                    We must “re-commission old             20th anniversary of Chernobyl, he        “The worst thing we could do [in the
                                         nuclear power stations”, said Love-       became quite bullish, calling the        face of climate change] is despair.
       Steven Rose and                   lock. “I’m not a nuclear fanatic,” he     “disinformation” that has been dis-      We must do something, if only to
        Robert Winston                   added, before launching into a long       seminated “monstrous”. The notion        keep our spirits up. We [humanity]
      Medicating Children                list of reasons why Britain and the       that millions will die as a result is    will survive whatever happens and
   8.30–9.30 pm/ Town Hall               world needed it.                          “sheer rubbish”, he said. Such           so will the Earth. It’s civilization
                                            “London, denied electricity for        scare-mongering was simply “a            that is fragile.”
   Harry Witchel, Graeme Jones           one week, would decline into a            product of the cold war”.                  Lovelock’s closing call was for
         and Mark Lewney                 refugee camp,” he said. “It would            Among other contentious issues        the world to simply “Cheer up”. A
    Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll           be monstrous to allow nuclear             raised was climate migration. “We        worthy request, but difficult given
      9–10 pm/Town Hall                  power stations to close.”                 [the British] live in a very fortunate   the terrifying litany of hurdles
                                            He also advocated any renewable        bit of the planet,” said Lovelock,       catalogued yesterday.


To sleep, perchance to dream?
by Charlotte Bathe                       been no problem.
                                                                                   Babble of the sexes
How did you sleep on Tuesday                It is a myth to say that we sleep to   By Jon Andriessen
night? If you were a member of the       rest and repair our bodies. We sleep      For the first of the Festival’s free
audience at Jim Horne’s “Sleep-          to let our brains recover, to allow       daily “Science Café” debates the
faring” talk, then I hope you slept      the frontal cortex a break from a         agenda – not at all hidden – was
well. According to Jim, sleep depri-     busy day of thinking.                     gender. It was not so much a cele-
vation affects the brain and in par-        For those of you who didn’t sleep      bration of difference but an acutely
ticular our ability to deal with new     well last night, some words of wis-       partisan mental sparring match           makes “women better team lead-
information, and for this talk, you      dom: have a cup of coffee in the          which left little to show for all its    ers,” she explained, “because they
needed your brain in full working        afternoon, then a snooze while            bravado and sensualism.                  can also make coffee and cakes.”
order. Jim delivered fact after inter-   you’re waiting for the caffeine to           In the blue corner sat Mark Lyth-        And so the “debate” went on, tit-
esting fact, and only the most alert     kick in. Aquick nap can be as effec-      goe, neurophysiologist and variety       for-tat, ad-infinitum: my brain’s got
brain could keep pace.                   tive as an extra 90 minutes of sleep      performer, insisting that men were       more cells than your brain; my ure-
   If you were working late on Tues-     at night.                                 quite simply superior. It’s a question   thra’s shorter than yours. I started
day setting up for the Festival, then       Yesterday’s audience seemed            of the male “systematic” brain func-     dreaming of some middle-sex,
you were probably suffering from         particularly interested in dreaming.      tion, making them more than a match      somewhere outside the never-
mild sleep deprivation the next day.     Jim believes that dreams keep a           for the “empathising” females.           ending battle of the sexes; a sub-
Thankfully, Jim reassured us that we     bored brain occupied and prevent it          In the pink corner, more than tak-    urban, androgynous utopia where
can go a whole week without sleep        from waking. We don’t actually            ing it on the chin, was Vivienne         we could all sit happily watching
before we show signs of physical         need to dream and some common             Parry, former Tomorrow’s World           the football while knitting scarves
strain. Lifting heavy boxes early on     drugs used to treat depression actu-      presenter and honorary avenging          to our hearts’ content. And every-
Wednesday morning should have            ally inhibit dreams with no ill effect.   She-Ra for the evening. Empathy          one took turns making tea.

litmus paper      June 2006                                                                                         Cheltenham Festival of Science daily news
                                                                                     Editors: Jon Andriessen, Adam Horovitz   Sponsored by:



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Driven by rage
by Emily Koch
Does even a minute behind the
                                           Mad and bad: the                                                                   Armageddon out
                                                                                                                              of here, are you?
wheel turn you into a different per-
son? You’re not alone, according to
Lisa Dorn, one of yesterday’s speak-
ers in the “Psychology of Driving”
event. She used to marvel at the
                                           egghead myths
                                           by Andy Mountford
                                                                                                                              by Peter Wyton
                                                                                                                              “Hin the hevent of hay nuclear explo-
                                                                                                                              sion,” my Ground Defence Training
                                                                                                                              instructor used to tell us, “hassume
                                                                                                                              your protective clothing and avoid
change she saw in her father when          In a humorous and visually engag-                                                  looking at ’armful blinding lights.”
he drove, which initiated a lifelong       ing talk, Christopher Frayling                                                     There was a good deal more in the
interest in driving behaviour.             attempted to get to the bottom of the                                              same vein, touching on röntgens,
   Dorn talked us through the              “classic” portrayal of scientists and                                              dosimeters and the like, but my
process of changing the behaviour          science within popular culture. Var-                                               memory of his lectures has achieved
of the effing and blinding “lunatics”      ious studies – including surveys of                                                more or less total meltdown.
she spent last summer with in a car,       schoolchildren from the 1960s                                                         Faced with Bill McGuire’s prog-
while filming the BBC’s Road Rage          through to recent times – reveal that                                              nosis, in his lecture entitled “Sur-
School. She uses a system called           even at an early age the stereotypi-                                               viving Armageddon”, my military
Driver Coaching – these people             cal image of the invariably male                                                   training would have been of little
don’t need to be taught how to drive,      “mad” scientist with “Einstein hair”,                                              use to me.
just a little behavioural guidance.        “coke-bottle glasses”, a white lab                                                    Whatever hideous fate awaits
   She explained that road-rage suf-       coat, and racks upon racks of bub-                                                 humanity, it is in the hands of
ferers put up barriers to justify their    bling glassware, is well cemented.                                                 Mother Nature, a mad old bat on a
behaviour. Their “driving coach”           This is despite the fact that their own                                            scale not conceived by any megalo-
must break down these barriers by          science teachers are as likely to be                                               maniac leader so far encountered.
encouraging people to reflect on           female as male, never wear lab                                                     Bill describes himself as an opti-
and challenge their actions.               coats, and bubbling glassware dis-                                                 mistic pessimist. His genial stroll
   Following on from Dorn was              appeared along with anything else                                                  through the killing fields to come
Austin Williams, director of the           likely to compromise modern-day                                                    offered a variety of scenarios: aster-
Future Cities Project. In an AAmeet-       health and safety regulations.                                                     oid impact, trans-oceanic tsunamis,
ing-style confession he revealed              So where does the stereotype                                                    Gulf Stream shut down and Green-
“I’m no psychologist”, and accord-         originate, and what maintains it?                                                  land break-up.
ingly his insight into driving veered      Well – surprise, surprise – Holly-        “Igor! You were supposed to get me a        As to solutions, well, don’t bet
away from the psychological and            wood has played a key role and the        white lab coat!” “Thorry, mathter.”      your shirt on them. They appear to
towards his field of knowledge:            1931 version of Frankenstein in                                                    involve nothing more than monitor-
urban and transport strategy.              particular has a lot to answer for. It    physics in the 1950s (remember           ing, international co-operation and
   He was not afraid to be contro-         was an enormously successful film         Them!?), and genetics today (Juras-      “Doing Something About Global
versial, asserting that “I do not think    at the time, but the misappropriation     sic Park) – the central message that     Warming”. When you kneel down
that safety should be the main pri-        of the subtle allegorical messages in     “knowledge is bad” remains.              tonight to say your prayers, don’t be
ority when considering transport. A        the novel by Mary Shelley left a          Themes merely adapt to reflect           a NIMBY, be a NIMLT, as in: Please
cautionary approach is bad for             rather simplistic morality tale. This     popular anxieties about things little    God, Not In My LifeTime.
transport and bad for society.” He         has engendered an enormous legacy         understood by the wider world. So
amusingly went on to bemoan the            of staples covering prosthetic limbs      why? Probably because we like it
politicisation of this science with        (Dr No, Dr Strangelove), anti-social      that way, as anxiety sells, after all.
what an audience member appro-
priately identified as “Swiftian
                                           “egg heads”, and dire conse-
                                           quences, intended or not. Despite
                                                                                     Does it matter? Where horror film
                                                                                     rhetoric fills the vacuum in which                 THE
                                                                                                                                       DROID
humour”. Interestingly, he linked          thematic cycles – chemistry and           serious public debate should prop-
behaviour in cars to the wider soci-       medicine in the 1920s, nuclear            erly reside – then yes it might.
etal issue of personal fragmenta-
tion, which he in turn claimed is due
to the disintegration of institutions.                                                                                           James Lovelock has one eye
   There’s nothing like a bit of a                                                                                              firmly fixed on the future of the
debate, and the two speakers’                                                                                                     Earth and the other on great
diverse opinions inspired lots of                                                                                                  T-shirt quotes. Asked how
fiery interaction from the floor. The                                                                                          evolution had let humanity slip
interest also spilled into a later event                                                                                         out of the loop and cause so
– “Maths in the Weirdest Places” –                                                                                                    much damage to our
where one audience member                                                                                                         environment, he answered:
requested the formula for the prob-                                                                                            “Evolution is just one long, long
ability of getting road rage. The cre-                                                                                                  list of mistakes!”
ative result included factors of                                                                                                                ●
traffic density, manners of the other                                                                                           “You never see gay builders,”
driver, number of children and tem-                                                                                             said Mark Lythgoe yesterday.
perature inside the car. How sus-                                                                                                 Village People, anyone?
ceptible are you?                            Discover Zone cartoon by Gemma Hastilow, see www.gemmahastilow.com.


                                                                        Into physics? Buy your quality books at www.bookmarkphysics.iop.org.

litmus paper       June 2006                                                                                           Cheltenham Festival of Science daily news

								
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