Category Archives: Science

Guess Who: Women of the World Festival 2014

Today I took part in the Women of the World Festival, 2014 at Southbank in London. I was delighted to be involved in such an exciting and important event!

The theme of the day was ‘Guess Who’, where 7 professionals (2 men and 5 women) stood on stage and gave only their name. The announcer, a presenter from Cbeebies no less(!), then read out the 7 professions and a piece of information about each professional, such as favourite colour or hobby, and from this one hundred 10 year olds had to guess which person matched each profession.


The professions were; Plumber, Artist, Dancer, Scientist, Champion Athlete, Railway Engineer and Lighting Technician.

The idea of the event was to break down gender stereotypes surrounding profession and show children than men and women can do ANY job they want, hurrah! At the beginning of the day the stereotyped beliefs shone through. Both men were most likely to be voted Plumber and Athlete, because they were men. I was voted Dancer and Artist by over half of the groups, with only 10 out of 100 guessing I was a scientist.

After the children voted they then had two interactive sessions, a panel or a workshop, where professionals demonstrate their trade in a fun and engaging way.

I was asked to do a workshop. I designed an interactive experiment that the kids took part in, spelling out how science as a whole works and how psychology fits into this. As science is about asking questions and designing experiments to test them I had a bit of fun, explaining that psychology is the science of people and behaviour.

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Research question:

Will you get round an obstacle course faster, when blindfolded, if a friend or someone else is giving you instructions?


I asked the kids which group they thought would be faster and got some great responses!


H1‘Friends might try to trick you so that group will be slower’

H2 ‘You might not listen as hard to someone who’s not your friend because you don’t like them’

H3 ‘Friends are always silly so it will take longer’

H4 ‘Friends trust each other more, so that group will be quicker’.

One group had boys and girls so we also looked into gender differences

H5 Boys are lazy so girls will be quicker’.

The kids were split into ‘best friends’ and ‘classmates’ pairs and each took it in turn to guide and be guided round a basic obstacle course (made with chairs and masking tape! Very professional I know) and were timed when doing it. After they all had a turn we plotted the average times of each group on a bar chart:

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Though I’m not sure the results would stand up to peer review scrutiny, it was great to see the kids engaged and really get into trying to figure out why each group behaved differently.

The Big Reveal!

After the workshops we all gathered back on the main stage to find out which professional was which!

Dancer; Male (Lee)

Artist; Male (…)

Champion Athlete (weight lifter); Female (Monique)

Plumber; Female (Petra)

Technician; Female (Roz)

Railway Engineer; Female (Keely)

Scientist; Female (ME!)

After the Big Reveal
After the Big Reveal (Belinda Lawley)

It was great to hear some of the reasons why the children assigned professions to each person:

Lee got Athlete because he wore trainers and running shorts, I got Artist because of the headband I was wearing and Monique got Dancer because of her slender figure. We then asked them do they think they were perhaps incorrect in judging people’s jobs on what they look like or what gender they are? The kids agreed.

The first group was all girls so I really drilled home how girls can do anything they want; one girl said I’d inspired her to be a scientist ‘but not in brains, because they’re gross’. I’ll take that win! The second group said I was the most fun session they’d done, which I’m also delighted with.

This event has made me realise even more how ingrained the stereotypes are for male and female jobs; we have to work harder to put an end to these so girls can pursue any career rather than one society deems normal.

I had a great time, I’d love to do more things like this, so if anyone knows of any opportunities please put in a good word! Also, I’ve got the name of a great Plumber who won’t make sexist remarks when I ask questions about my kitchen! Double Win.

On Stage for the BIG REVEAL
On Stage for the BIG REVEAL (Belinda Lawley)

How to get published without even trying

Nature news today published an online article stating that over 120 publications from non-open access journals, cited as ‘gibberish’, have been removed from online access as they have been shown to be automatically generated by a computer. Seems fitting…

Cyril Labbé published a paper in 2010 demonstrating that he ‘invented’ a computer science author, Ike Antkare, who managed to go from unknown to 21st most cited scientist in just a year, by publishing gibberish using a piece of MIT developed software called SCIgen.

It has since come out, reports Nature, that people have actually been using this software to write and publish papers and conference abstracts, and not for a joke! Labbé invented a piece of software to detect paper generated by SCIgen. He informed the IEEE of these gibberish articles, which were immediately removed, having already reported a batch of 85 papers the year before! Someone seems keen to keep publishing, even if it is nonsense.

This highlights a huge problem with the peer review process for some Access Journals in some academic fields. Hopefully second times the charm and they’ll buck their ideas up?

Admittedly this phenomenon is limited to Computer Science, and most of the recent discoveries have been found in China, but still! Fortunately, too many people in the social and health sciences like to argue so there’s only a limited chance I, or anyone else cheeky enough to try, could get away with this in Cognitive Psychology.

Three people in my office had a go, and in the spirit of open access, I have pasted our newly generated paper below, simply named ‘A Case for E-Business’, by Steffen Nestler, Leon Fonville and Emma Palmer.


Why the stupid think they’re smart

This is a lovely explanation of what I’m studying for my PhD, except I’m looking at patients and their knowledge and awareness of illness….but its basically the same thing!

Mind Hacks

Psychologists have shown humans are poor judges of their own abilities, from sense of humour to grammar. Those worst at it are the worst judges of all.

You’re pretty smart right? Clever, and funny too. Of course you are, just like me. But wouldn’t it be terrible if we were mistaken? Psychologists have shown that we are more likely to be blind to our own failings than perhaps we realise. This could explain why some incompetent people are so annoying, and also inject a healthy dose of humility into our own sense of self-regard.

In 1999, Justin Kruger and David Dunning, from Cornell University, New York, tested whether people who lack the skills or abilities for something are also more likely to lack awareness of their lack of ability. At the start of their research paper they cite a Pittsburgh bank robber called McArthur Wheeler as an example, who was…

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Rules of Thumb

“If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong.” — Arthur C. Clarke

“When, however, the lay public rallies around an idea that is denounced by distinguished but elderly scientists and supports that idea with great fervor and emotion — the distinguished but elderly scientists are then, after all, probably right.” — Isaac Asimov

Reblogged from Futility closet
Heard through Dr. Tom Crick

Ada Lovelace Day 2013 – Wikipedia Editathon

It’s Ada Lovelace Day! A day where we celebrate and promote women in science who are inspirational and fantastic role models. I was invited to attend an event on Friday 8th October sponsored jointly by the Royal Society, Medical Research Council and Wikipedia, where 15 women I’m scientific careers came together and added or edited Wikipedia entries about inspirational women in STEM careers. There was even a Wikipedia cake

I decided to go to the Edit-athon for a number of reasons. The first was intrigue; I have heard about Ada Lovelace events but never had the opportunity to take part in one. The second was experience; I have always been interested in technology and rely on Wikipedia for brief overviews of many topics and people, so this seemed like a great opportunity to give something back and learn about creating pages and editing Wikipedia. The third reason was for women in STEM, and unfortunately there is still a gender bias in the sciences, especially at more senior levels. Over the last few years I have become more active in this area to try and promote the idea of girls and young women taking STEM subjects where I can. The Wikipedia edit-athon was the perfect opportunity to acknowledge women who have already been very successful in their STEM career and promote them as current role models, something that is currently very rare in the STEM community. The event also allowed information about these inspirational and hugely successful women to be more widely accessed.
I had a fantastic time, learning to edit was a really great experience and I felt I had done something good and useful with my time. The evening event was very inspirational, with a speech from Uta Frith being the highlight. It was great to see so many women, and men, brought together to work towards a better representation of women of STEM in the public eye.

Myself and the other PhD student who came with me have now decided to set up monthly Wikipedia events where we encourage women at our place of work to add more pages and bring more women in STEM into the forefront of science.

I’m now off to Radio 4 Woman’s hour to talk about my day! <Listen here!>
So, Happy Ada Lovelace Day! Have a great one.

‘Street’ science communication?

I just discovered ‘‘, which can translate all your text into gangsta’ speak.

I wonder if my research would be more widely received and deemed more accessible by submitting a more ‘street’ version of the text? Possibly a new method of science communication?

My abstract goes from formal science speak to:

Metacognizzle ” tha mobilitizzle ta be thinkin bout thankin ” be a cold-ass lil central aspect of human consciousness. But fuck dat shiznit yo, tha word on tha street is dat tha link between clinical insight (patients’ understandin of they menstrual illness) n’ metacognizzle is unclear.

Cognitizzle insight (CI) be a freshly smoked up concept from clinical insight research (Beck, 2004), which focuses on tha cognitizzle processes involved up in thankin bout oneself. Well shiiiit, it can be split tha fuck into two concepts; self-reflection (SR; mobilitizzle ta reflect on whether thoughts n’ beliefs bout ourselves is erect, or could be chizzled by one of mah thugs’s opinion) n’ self-certainty (SC; degree of overconfidence our crazy asses have up in our interpretationz of experiences).

CI may also be measured up in healthy adults.Here we examine tha relationshizzle between CI (as measured on tha Beck Cognitizzle Insight Scale; BCIS) n’ metacognizzle (usin tha task designed by Flemin et al, 2010) up in 30 healthy adults (mean age 40.5 years). We estimated metacognitizzle mobilitizzle rockin tha meta-d’ measure pimped by Maniscalco n’ Lau (2012), which controls fo’ response bias n’ type 1 sensitivitizzle (task performance).

In a multiple regression analysis our phat asses demonstrated a thugged-out dope relationshizzle between SC n’ metacognitizzle mobilitizzle up in healthy participants (p=.012). Further analysis indicated a gender*SC interaction (p=.005), driven by stronger association between SC n’ metacognizzle up in thug compared ta biatch participants, n’ you can put dat on yo’ toast. There was no dope associations between SR n’ metacognition. I aint talkin’ bout chicken n’ gravy biatch. Together our thangs up in dis biatch indicate dat CI n’ metacognizzle is inter-related constructs yo, but dat dis link is mediated by tha self-certainty component of insight.


More knitting and neuroscience

By day I’m a neuroscientist, but night (and lunch breaks) I am an avid knitter.

I was inspired to start knitting when I went to the British Neuroscience Association’s Festival of Neuroscience at the Barbican and helped out at the ‘Knit a Neuron’ project. The concept was simple; engage kids with neuroscience by helping them knit neurons and chat about neuroscience whilst they do it. Its therefore no surprise that I love any other link between my two big interests, but I think this one takes the cake.

In short, these brilliant scientists take EEG recordings from individuals’ brains whilst they listen to music which induces various mood states. With these readings they create a single pattern of EEG activation and turn this into a knitting pattern to make….a scarf!

I know what’s at the top of my Christmas list this year!

Read the full account here

Interview with @dr_leigh on Science Comms

I interviewed Dr Leigh, of #overlyhonestmethods fame, about why science communication is important in ‘The Looking Glass’.

You can also read a more in-depth, separate interview by Speaking of Science here.

We spoke to Dr Leigh, a post-doctoral research neuropharmacologist and author of the blog ‘neurodynamics’. Recently she came into the scientific public eye as the ‘founder’ of the scientific twitter craze ‘#overlyhonestmethods’ (some of our favourites can be found on the following pages).

Why do you think science communication is important?

I think that doing science is only part of the scientist’s job description. We absolutely have to talk about science outside of our professional circles and work to make science a part of the general public awareness. Often our work is funded publicly, so we can be reasonably expected to be able to describe the gains provided by the public’s investment. But making the public aware of our work may help us out in return- well-informed people who understand the benefit of science, who feel confident that science is making advancements in society, are more enthusiastic about continuing to support science! We exist in this mutually beneficial state that takes attention on our part to maintain publicly, so we can be reasonably expected to be able to describe the gains provided by the public’s investment. But making the public aware of our work may help us out in return- well-informed people who understand the benefit of science, who feel confident that science is making advancements in society, are more enthusiastic about continuing to support science! We exist in this mutually beneficial state that takes attention on our part to maintain.

What can people, especially students, do to get involved in science comms?

When you’re a student it’s a great time to get started communicating science with the world around you, but anyone can get involved. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. It can be as simple as sharing your enthusiasm for science by pointing out a cool natural phenomenon/technology/medical practice/policy decision (and many more!) and the science behind it, or having an “elevator pitch” – a brief description of who you are and what you do that would make sense to anyone you may encounter while you’re out and about. Somewhat more formal ways might include sharing scientific stories or facts of interest on a blog, or on twitter, or even in your facebook feed. But really, I think your day to day communications and actions on their own go a long way to show that scientists are just regular folks with a cool job, that science is for everyone who’s interested, and there are some really great things we can do with science (and many more yet to be dreamed up).

How, in the new medium of blogging and twitter, has science comms changed, or how does it need to change?

My take is that scientists are more accessible than ever thanks to the internet. There are many of us out there participating in all levels of conversations. I think one thing that could change is that, like most people, we gravitate toward in-group conversation. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think some well-placed explanations to keep the conversations accessible to someone without the highly specialized knowledge would keep the communications more open with the general public.

Interview with The Science Media Centre

I interviewed Claire Bithell, of the Science Media Centre, about Science comms and why they’re important for The Looking Glass, and posted the interview below:

What’s the best way to get into science writing?

Probably the best way is to just to start writing. Writing a blog, articles for your organisation or professional body or for a newsletter are all good ways to build up a body of work.

There are also some great competitions for science writers to enter, for example the one run by the Wellcome Trust and the Guardian. There are also a number of well-respected science communication courses, such as the one run by Imperial Collegeand many people would recommend doing a non-subject specific journalism or writing qualification.

What do you think makes a good science writer?

Though I would encourage everyone working in science to think about communication, remember that science writing is not the only way. UK science journalists are some of the best in the world and are incredibly skilled at communicating research. Working alongside these journalists I am constantly in awe of their ability to take a complex piece of research, quickly grasp its significance and limitations, and write a piece of copy that neither dumbs down the work or oversells its importance. These journalists will write multiple stories every day and are equally knowledgeable about space travel, climate change, mental health and infectious disease. They get this expertise by speaking to researchers who have a talent for communicating their area of work – the more experts they have access to the better they will be able to report an area.

And journalists may not know as many experts who work on mental health research as other areas they write about, such as cancer or infectious disease. Therefore, it is important that more mental health researchers come forward to be spokespeople for their area of research. The best way to do this is to contact either Louise Pratt or Seil Collins in the Institute of Psychiatry Press Office, and if you are interested in speaking to the national news media you can also work with the Science Media Centre.

Why you think science communication is important?

Science communication is essential if we want the public, funders and policy makers to appreciate the importance of research. Most science is funded using public money, so I feel there is a duty for researchers to speak to the public about their work. I have seen time and time again in my role as a press officer for science that those scientists who communicate their work are more likely to receive funding and they create a more supportive environment to carry out their research. I also think that many people don’t realise research offers an opportunity for improved understanding of mental illness and better treatments – researchers who communicate with the public have a chance to make this point.

With the nature of science communication changing in the current age of blogging, how do you think this affects the way you need to communicate and the people you are reaching?

Science communication is changing rapidly as a result of new media. Science communicators are using blogs, twitter, podcasts and other methods to reach new and existing audiences. That said, if you want to reach a really wide audience that may not have a special interest in science, traditional media often remains the best tool.