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BackgroundI lecture in the Department of Life Sciences at The University of Roehampton. If you want to find out more about the University, the official web page is here.
I have an 'Academia.edu' profile here.
The new Whitelands college, in the historic Manresa house.
These are all lecture notes you are welcome to download. (But you may not sell them or copy them on, and you still need to turn up for the lectures!) Note that I am very short of server space so have had to delete most of the images in these ppt files; sorry this makes these public files rather boring to watch.
A potted history of Easter Island
For a truly outstanding example of plagiarism, see the PhD thesis of a (disgraced) German defence minister, highlighting the 1/3 of the thesis that was pasted verbatin from German newpapers but claimed as his own work. I remain surprised that no-one noticed this earlier (especially his supervisors), and astonished that Angela Merkel didn't sack him on the spot. I never got the hang of politics...
Research interests:My main current research is on the distribution and molecular taxonomy of UK springtails (Collembola),
Older research areas include the following:
Conservation interest of industrial wastes
Fungi of ornamental woodchips
Successions of mycorrhizal fungi infecting Scots pines.
The effects of air pollution (mainly SO2) on woodlands, notably the Liphook forest fumigation project.
Teasels are carnivorous plants! See this UG project on wild teasels being fed maggots written up in the online, free, open source science journal PLoS1. (I'm now an editor, and it keeps me very busy!).
A list of publications can be downloaded here including a book on SO2/acidification research and one attempting to make multivariate analyses accessible.
The older bits of my CV look like this:
Academic collaborators I am currently working with Brent Emerson (UEA and Tenerife) on using Cytochrome oxidase sequences to sort out some UK Collembolan taxonomy. I've known Ian Rotherham of Sheffield Hallam since a (long defunct) Environmental field course to Sheffield in 1993; he is very active in Yorkshire Biodiversity, and organises numerous excellent conferences. I must mention Anne Robertson and Claire Ozanne, in-house colleagues with whom I've run field work, co-supervised and co-published. With my stats advisor hat on I co-published with Ron Pinhasi on human teeth and bone evolution.
I should add a mention of the noteworthy tutors of my academic life. From St Catherine's college Oxford come Henry Bennet-Clark, keen researcher of invertebrate mechanics (inter alia the jump of fleas and the flight of diptera), and Barrie Juniper, who trekked to the dangerous hinterlands of the Tien Shan mountains (China) to find where cultivated apples originated. I must also add Richard Dawkins, who wasn't my college tutor but lectured us and, inter alia, helped shape my understanding of religions. From Oxford Zoology I went to a D. Phil in The University of York supervised jointly by Michael Usher (who moved on to Scottish Natural Heritage and Edinburgh University, now Honorary Professor at Stirling) and John Dighton (now at Rutgers University) of the late-lamented ITE Merlewood. I spent 7 years working for the CEGB as a research officer, undertaking research and supplying advice on acid rain, along with other ecological matters such as waste disposal. CERL was closed 31-3-1992, and I started in Southlands college lecturing in environmental science 1-4-1992.
If you have a moment, read about one of my heroes, Alan Sokal, a physicist who submitted a pile of self-confessed utter tosh to the highly rated, refereed humanities journal Social Text ("Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity") and got it published with praise. Thereby confirming why science relies on experimental evidence to advance its ideas... Onthe subject of which, keep an eye on the website of Sense About Science.
One other debunking hero that everyone should read is Ben Goldacre, whose book and column in the Guardian (both called Bad Science) should be compulsory reading for anyone harbouring lingering sympathies for homeopathy or Gillian Mckeith! In a similar vein, I support the Nightingale collaboration which campaigns for the apparently simple, obvious requirement that anyone selling a quasi-medical product should supply evidence to support the claim. Hardly rocket science you might think, but until they took Holland and Barratt to the Advertising Standards Authority, H&B's displays of homeopathic preparations came with indefensible claims of their medical uses ("for colds", "for aching joints" or whatever). There is a truly scary number of snake oil merchants out there parasitising people's ignorance of science to sell them worthless (even harmful) potions. If you ever see such an advert, don't just just laugh at human stupidity, report them to the Nightingale Collaboration and/or the Advertising Standards authorities.
It should go without saying that one of my current heroes is Brian Cox , rock star and physics professor who even comes from my home town of Manchester! Updates the 'Northern Scientist' image a bit.
To keep an eye on the voices of enlightenment rationality trying to restrict the fairy tales of creationism or intelligent design through the UK state-funded education system, you should keep an eye on this anti-creationist page set up by the British Humanist Association.
More tangentially, I am really taken with this page about replacing pi with Tau : the more you read through the logic the more transparently obvious it becomes that pi is a man-made artefact while 2*pi = Tau is the natural constant.
Roehampton features nationally in the density of ducks on the campus! (Though not in Whitelands, sadly). See this entertaining page on campus duck density.
Finally, each time you drive a car, fly abroad, switch on the light, or do anything else that relies on fossil fuels, think about the CO2 you make, and how it adds to the greenhouse effect. Then remember this quote:
"Before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs [of humans] that survive will be in the arctic, where the
climate remains tolerable."
James Lovelock, (author of Gaia), Independent 16-1-2006, on the irreversible effects of climate change.
Why so dramatic? One major factor is that CO2-induced warming releases methane (CH4) from sediments, that CH4 is 25* more powerful as a greenhouse gas that CO2, and that planetary sediments are thought to hold > 1-2 teratons (1-2 million million tons) methane in clathrate form . Since methane clathrates release methane when warmed, and this methane is itself intesely warming, there is clear scope for a positive feedback loop (like a door slamming in the wind). Recent geological studies using isotopic ratios (C12/C13 and O16/O18) to infer atmospheric temperature and chemistry reveal a deeply a scary pattern: 4 of the 5 big mass extinction events (Ordivician/Devonian, Devonian/Carboniferous, Permo/Triassic, Triassic/Jurassic) begin with high CO2, get amplified by CH4 release and produce a short pulse of warm acid seas that reset most marine foodchains. (The 5th extinction was a huge meteorite, but here too high CO2 caused warming and ocean acidification). We are heading straight down that route again, and have already noticably acidified our oceans. The last time this seems to have happened was at the palaeocene/eocene boundary 55MYBP when a huge spike in C12 (meaning methane) coincided with a >6C temperature spike. Some 6 million years later when the planet had cooled down, things were still warm enough for a tropical freshwater fern (Azolla) to make massive fossil deposits in the arctic ocean - the azolla event . At current rates of CO2 output we can look forward to a short (1000 years - 10,000 years) period hotter than anything seen since that Palaeocene/Eocene boundary 55 million years ago. Existing food chains will inevitably collapse as the climatic conditions they evolved in cease to occur. Economists assure us that continued exponential growth in GDP is possible indefinitely, but I've got my doubts that their models include planetary meltdown. My simple models based on humans doubling every 40 years predict that about 10 to the power of 10 human deaths will be unavoidable due to the loss of habitable land.
The only way to make the numbers add up is to go massively into nuclear power. The irrational fear that self-styled "environmentalists" instill in the public about the dangers of radiation is, I would argue, in the top 5 dangers to the biosphere. The Chernobyl exclusion zone is the best nature reserve in the Ukraine. I rather hope that the Japanese declare a similar disaster zone around Fukashima for the sake of Japanese biodiversity. The 2 worst nuclear accidents in the USA and Japan (Three mile island + Fukashima) caused zero human deaths, and are therefore less biologically serious that the average motorway car crash. Chernobyl appears to have killed c. 50 workers (compare this with coal mining) and 15 children - and the child deaths could easily have been prevented by the authorities making everyone swallow potassium iodide tablets for a few weeks after. There is remarkably little evidence of long term human genetic damage, even in populations like Hiroshima. All that remains against nuclear power is a needless, self-feeding paranoia about radiation. In 1993, Lord Walter Marshall (ex-head of CEGB) predicted that by 2015 the Greens will be lobbying for nuclear power, and he should have been right. I fear that he over-estimated the IQ of our species by a couple of standard deviations.
Last updated 15-11-2012
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