Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The best exam (and coursework) tip ever!

I'm heavily in the middle of exam and coursework marking, hence the distinct paucity of posts, but I felt compelled to revisit a similar post from last year with the number one best exam tip of all time:

Answer the Question!

There is an equivalent for coursework too:

Follow the Instructions!

As examiners, we're not out to trip you up but we can only give credit for relevant material. (More exam tips here.)

PS. If someone knows why all my post titles have gone wonky, I'd love to know! Blogger, what have you done?!

Monday, 13 May 2013

Support the Glasgow Skeptics in their fight against quackery

As some of my previous posts have indicated, I am not a great fan of Homeopathy. It is based on flawed principles that have been demonstrated to be wrong, it violates the Laws of Physics and it puts people at risk of harm and even death. It is quackery of the highest order and an embarrassment to a supposedly advanced post-Enlightenment society.

Sadly, however, we have a pro-Homeopathy MP on both the Commons Health Committee and Commons Science and Technology Committee. Furthermore, although not promoted on the NHS Choices website, this proven sham remedy is still available on the NHS despite having no evidence that it works other than as a placebo (what with them being nothing more than sugar pills).

One such NHS-funded travesty is the Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital. The Glasgow Skeptics are understandably saddened by this threat to Reason in their backyard and have set up a petition to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to withdraw funding for Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital:
The Deputy Chairman of the junior doctors committee of the British Medical Association (BMA) has called homeopathy “witchcraft” and “nonsense on stilts”, whilst the BMA conference declared in 2010 that homeopathy has “no place in the modern health service”.

The NHS Choices website states that “there is no good-quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition”, whilst the BMA's director of science and ethics, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, has said that “the funding of the homeopathic hospital should stop”.

It is therefore requested that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde withdraw funding for Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital.
You can sign the petition at, here. They deserve the support of all right-minded individuals who want publicly-funded medicine to be evidence-based.

(Sadly, thanks to "Bad Pharma" not even medicine that appears to have evidence for efficacy is necessarily any good. If we cannot even dump the stuff that is proven to be crap, how can we hope to clean up the more complex mess of biased evidence?)

Saturday, 11 May 2013

More on jet-powered flying squid - faster than a speeding Bolt

Last year, I posted about flying squid and ended with the optimistic line: "More research needed, so hopefully lots more flying squid pictures to come!"

Happily, here is some of that research and another squid picture. (Picture taken from the Hokkaido University press release.) In fact, the photographs were central to the research. The article in this month's Marine Biology, charmingly titled Oceanic squid do fly, reports on the nature of the squids aerial exploits and gives details of the different phases of flight, as determined from a sequence of photographs by Masters student Kota Muramatsu.

It was actually summarised back in February (when the online version of the paper came out) in a few places, including a National Geographic article, "Scientists Unravel Mystery of Flying Squid". (I came across it today after a friend shared a Facebook photo from I f#@king love science.) These guys are fast!
"These squid glide at up to 11.2 meters per second. To put that into perspective, Jamaican runner Usain Bolt won the gold medal in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games at 10.31 meters per second."
AFP also covered the story ("Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a squid") with this great infographic of some of the main points:
Not as cute as the bioluminescent Hawaiian Bobtail Squid but very cool critters nonetheless.

  • K. Muramatsu, J. Yamamoto, T. Abe, K. Sekiguchi, N. Hoshi, Y. Sakurai (2013). Oceanic squid do fly. Marine Biology 160(5): 1171-1175.
  • Thursday, 9 May 2013

    Loving Helen Arney's animal love

    Today was my last undergrad lecture - possibly my last ever at Southampton. It was on "Reproductive Strategies" and so I thought a post relevant to animal reproduction was in order.

    Although I missed them the first time around, I came across the Rationalist Association's podcasts a while back, including snippets from "The Nine Days of Godless Christmas" from 2011. The best, in my opinion, is Day 6, which features singer and comedian Helen Arney with a love song inspired by the habits of animals. It's well worth a listen.

    You can find the lyrics and buy a high quality version of the track at Helen Arney's website. My favourite part (spolier alert!):
    "Let’s make love like Angler Fish, yeah
    It’s kind of complicated but it’s worth it
    You use your highly developed olfactory sense to swim towards me for several days
    And then you bite me
    That releases an enzyme that then dissolved your skin & your flesh & your… fins…
    Leaving only a pair of genitals attached to the side of my body
    For me to use
    When it’s convenient."
    Funny and educational!

    Saturday, 4 May 2013

    Southampton students honour good teaching

    The UK has become a bit of a nation of League Tables and Higher Education is no exception, with the National Student Survey (NSS) and national University rankings becoming increasingly important in student recruitment and general reputation.

    "Quality Assurance" (QA), as it's known in the business, is clearly very important. There should be ways of ensuring that teaching quality remains high, especially in (predominantly) publicly-funded systems like the UK. I'm not convinced that surveys and league tables are the way to do this, though. The problem with any assessment as a method of encouraging good quality is that you have to make sure that what you are assessing actually matches quality. Otherwise, all you do is encourage successful game-playing to maximise performance metrics. (This is particularly true of the "Research Excellence Framework", sadly, which is directing a ton of time and resources away from doing excellent research.)

    With all the hoop-jumping that goes along with league tables, it is easy to lose sight of what is really important in terms of teaching quality - the actual learning experience of the students - and the fact that, despite most individual performance metrics for academics being research-related, most lecturers care about that learning experience. It was really nice, therefore, to discover that the Southampton University Student's Union (SUSU) has started its own Excellence in Teaching Awards to recognise members of staff that have gone the extra mile.

    It was great to see so many of my colleagues in Biological Sciences among the nominees and I felt pretty chuffed to be nominated for a "Contribution to Academic Support" award. (I didn't win!) I've seen some of the lengths my fellow academics go to in order to maintain quality teaching despite growing numbers and shrinking resources and it's lovely to know that the students appreciate the effort. Nice one, SUSU!

    Friday, 3 May 2013

    Prepping for the big move Down Under

    Big changes are afoot in our household and I think the time has come to "go public" with the news that, visas pending, we will be joining the quarter of the Australian population that were born outside those fair shores. If all goes according to plan, I'll be starting a new job at the University of New South Wales in Sydney this November.

    I've been pondering for a while if/when to post about it but as there are likely to be an increasing number of Australia-related posts and it's hard to keep something this a big a secret! Although it's still six months away, there's a lot to do and a lot to learn, so expect more to follow. Southampton's been good to us over the past few years and I'm sure it won't be a parting without some regrets but it's fair to say that Sydney has a certain allure...

    Thursday, 2 May 2013

    Hunters games bode well for Warhammer Quest iPad adaptation

    I'm a bit of a fan of turn-based tactical games and, in my youth at least, Games Workshop. I've also been on the look out for decent iPad games. I was therefore excited to see that Rodeo Games are adapting Warhammer Quest as a turn-based tactical game for the iPad! It was originally due to be released last month but, despite being in beta testing, has not yet appeared. I have therefore been keeping myself amused with the previous Rodeo Games offerings, Hunters (HD) and Hunters 2. The former is free and good to try out the general idea and controls but Hunters 2 (still a bargain at 69p) is well worth the extra investment.

    In both games, you are in control of a group of Mercenary "Hunters" and can partake in a number of different daily missions. It's all fairly standard stuff for the genre but looks and plays very well. The tactical mission controls are simple enough to be picked up easily but there is enough variety of mission, enemy, weapon and armour types to develop your own tactical style and keep things interesting.

    Your Hunters gain experience and money is earnt to upgrade weapons and armour etc., which also keeps the game developing and extends its life. Hunters 2 had the added bonus of a series of story-based campaign missions. This was good but was over a bit too quickly. Hopefully, once Warhammer Quest is completed, they will bring out an update for Hunters 2 with additional campaign missions and maybe some new enemies.
    All in all, it bodes well for the Warhammer Quest App and I will be keeping an eye out for it.

    Wednesday, 1 May 2013

    QSLiMFinder conference posters now up on F1000Posters

    Although I have aspirations, I'm not very good at blogging about my work. I think this is partly because of my British squeamishness at self-promotion and partly because I can't decide where to start.

    Having made a few posts about my recent(ish) visit to Cold Spring Harbor (and its geeky architecture/sculpture), I thought I should make at least one post related to the conference itself (the 2013 CSHL "Systems Biology: Networks" meeting. The two posters my lab presented have just gone live on F1000 Posters, which seemed as good an excuse as any:

  • Palopoli N & Edwards RJ. Improved computational prediction of Short Linear Motifs using specific protein-protein interaction data.
  • Edwards RJ & Palopoli N. Computational prediction of short linear motifs mediating host-pathogen protein-protein interactions.
  • I'll try to write a more informative post soon but, in the meantime, you can read the abstracts at my SeqSuite blog (or even click on the links to the posters) if you want to know more!