Liar Liar Pants on Fire

By Ann Fenech, on 14 June 2010

What is this that I am hearing? Two teams, Decay and Dense (decay-dense…decaydense…decadence?…A laugh? Anyone?) battling it out against each other…to declare a winner the best liar of them all?

Call my scientific bluff was the name of one of the last events I watched at the festival. The team Decay was led by Timandra Harkness, while Dense was led by the festival director, and UCL’s own Mark Lythgoe. Decay was completed by Robin Ince and Robert Winston while Mark Lythgoe was joined by Sarah J. Arney, and one of my favourite entertainers from this festival, Quentin Cooper.

For all of you out there who do not know the concept of the show, it involves one scientific term, three definitions, but who’s bluffing and who’s telling the truth?

The terms ran the whole gamut from ekistics to pledget, linkboys to climactery. I didn’t know what any of them meant…and it seemed like neither did any of the contestants.

Winning was just plain guesswork, but one team did come out victorious. Guessing pledget, espyne, and parison, and bluffing on tegestologist and ekistics, Dense proved their name wrong, and decimated what was left of Decay.

An entertaining show hosted by Marcus Moore. Whoever said scientists don’t lie?

The dangers of creativity

By James Kay, on 11 June 2010

Christianne Guillotte listened to Robert Winston ask whether our creative ideas always produce desirable results.


Bad science? Or bad ideas?

By Ann Fenech, on 11 June 2010

“I want you to imagine a hollow spherical chamber, surrounded by 2 ft concrete and 7 ft high.”

That was the start of Robert Winston’s Bad Ideas event here at the Cheltenham Science Festival. He was talking about the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California. The talk soon sped on to a number of other issues.

First up where the three main points that people should keep in mind:

  • scientists should be aware of hyperbole
  • that discoveries often find an alternative purpose to that envisaged on discovery
  • almost invariably there is a downside to our technology.

From there the talk soon flowed into the problems of today’s world. This is what he said:

It seems to me the problem we face now…as a human community…is that whereas Shakespeare could…know London would not change much…now we cannot understand what will have changed in 5 years time. That’s not very comforting.

I have never really thought about this. However thinking about how fast the world is changing and how much we are often playing catch-up, it is something which I think we should put more thought into.

He brought the example of digital data and its security. He highlighted this point with the UK example, where millions of records in the hands of the government have been lost in the last few years. As he said “we can never trust any government to use science wisely”.

What will I remember most from this talk though? Two things!
Q. How do you avoid bad ideas in research? A. When you formulate a [PhD] project plan plan it so you can explain it to any member of the public in 3 sentences.

Q. Why do men have bigger brains? A. Because they refuse to ask for directions.

I will keep the last one up my sleeve for whenever it will prove most useful ;) .