Looking Over Your Shoulder?

By Meghan Harper, on 13 June 2010

Today’s lecture on paranoia actually left me feeling a lot less worried about what’s going on in the world. Psychologist Daniel Freeman really put my mind at ease, discussing how paranoid we have become as a society, and some of the societal causes of paranoia. Previously in history, paranoia had occurred only in those where were severely mentally disturbed and now it is incredibly common across society. High anxiety, worry, mistrust, past incidents, and according to some new research, insomnia all put us at a higher risk of developing paranoid thoughts.

However, the way the media reports stories to the public also is a huge contributor to the problem. For example, each year  approximately 140,000 people die of cancer, while about 700 people are murdered. The comparatively smaller statistic on murder receivers twice as many mentions as cancer, leading society to misinterpret what the more probable threat to our lives may be. Paranoia itself may be a a threat to our health; a study from the States indicates that when mistrust is up 10% there is also an 8% rise in mortality.

People who live in urban areas are twice as likely to be paranoid, and our chair mentioned that in the last century people had retreated to spa towns like Cheltenham in order to ‘get away from it all’ and relax. I can definitely vouch that although the Science Festival has kept me plenty busy this week, just being out of London has been relaxing. Looks like the Cheltenham Science Festival is doing my brain good in more ways than one!

A Question of Science

By Ann Fenech, on 12 June 2010

The last event I went to last night was the event A Question of Science. This was a hilarious take on a pub quiz with (quite) a bit of science flavouring sprinkled on top.

The event was presented by a very entertaining Quentin Cooper. He was joined on the stage by a team from The Times, a team from the Cheltenham Science Festival, and a New Scientist team.

Throughout the event we were exposed to everything, from finger-tapping doofers to very entertaining goofers (including a water-spouting Robert Winston wetting[?] himself?). Then of course there was the mind-boggling questions which stumped quite a significant portion of the audience (me definitely included).

Amongst many things [not including those which flew straight over my head], we learnt that the lips of Norway lobsters have been very good to biodiversity, that wimpzillas are not imaginary, and that antimony is the first element in Tom Lehrer’s Element song! [Never heard it? Check it out!¬†Tom Lehrer's Element Song]

How well did we all do? Well, let’s just say that the winner, Richard Smith, got a total of 28 points from a maximum of 50! How did the teams fare? New Scientist came top with a brilliant[?] 19, followed by the festival team at 11, and the Times team at a not-very-impressive 9.

As for me? I don’t think I did too well. Though I desperately believe (hope?) that I at least surpassed the 9 points! Hmmm…maybe I should return to studying? But on second thoughts…the festival is so much more riveting! Scrap studying…it’s the festival for me!

Getting Closer

By Ann Fenech, on 10 June 2010

I am on my way to Cheltenham soon to finally start experiencing the festival in person. The others seem to be having a great time so I cannot help but feel a bit sorry for myself that I am only just getting there.

As I was doing yesterday I have been following the festival online – didn’t want to feel left out.

One of the most interesting meetings being highlighted is a free event with David Willetts (just in case: he is the new Minister for Universities and Science). Unfortunately I have another event planned for then so cannot attend, but looking forward to what will come out of it.

That’s the one downside of the festival so far: too many good events going on at the same time!

The Festival by Proxy

By Ann Fenech, on 9 June 2010

Unfortunately I had to miss out on the first day of the festival. Just because I couldn’t be there doesn’t mean that I have to miss out on all the action though!

Early last week I decided to get me my own twitter account to be able to follow what other people are saying prior to the festival. This means that I can also ‘magically’ follow the festival from London.

So what have I learned so far? Some people seem to have had some problems getting to Cheltenham (train problems anyone?). Other than that and the gloomy weather, it seems to have gotten off to a brilliant start.

I have also learnt quite a bit about bees. Did you know that 97% of bees are solitary creatures? Or that your bee box should be kept 2m off the ground, facing south and next to a flower box? You didn’t? Neither did I. But now we know!

It’s not just the science festival that they are talking about though. It seems like the new MPs will be given ‘rudimentary training in science as part of their parliamentary induction‘. MPs who understand uncertainty and evidence? Bring it on!

And if you cannot make it to the festival…why don’t you get over to twitter to see what’s being said yourself?

What’s going on this year…

By Rachel Lister, on 4 June 2010

Mark LythgoeListen to Dr Mark Lythgoe, Director of UCL’s Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging and Cheltenham Science Festival Director, talk about this year’s theme of decadence, who’s making an appearance from UCL and just how good chemist Andrea Sella really is at demos…