Archive for the ‘Newspapers’ Category

large hadron collider, cms detector, cern

This is the CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) detector which analysed the data for the Higgs boson discovery in 2012. It is one of four separate detectors on the LHC ring. At 12,500 tonnes, it is the heaviest, containing twice as much metal as the Eiffel Tower.

The Large Hadron Collider under the France-Swiss border captures the headlines every so often. The big story this spring was that the LHC had been successfully re-started with protons circling the 27km long accelerator ring for the first time in more than two years. A month later proton beams collided at 99.9% of the speed of light at the ‘record-breaking energy of 13 TEVs’, and the machine began to deliver the much sought-after physics data.

But one news headline caught my attention. ‘What would happen if you got zapped by the LHC?’ One might guess it wouldn’t be very nice.

The LHC is the largest particle collider in the world and the largest single machine ever built. Although one TEV (or tera-electron volt) is roughly equivalent to the energy of motion of a flying mosquito, the energy within the LHC is squeezed into an extremely small space, about a million, million times smaller than a mosquito, and it is this intensity which causes the protons to be smashed apart. I’m not sure the mosquito analogy works. I know that energy like this can’t be quoted in terms of so many London buses or Olympic size swimming pools, though I did read somewhere that each beam contains the energy of a Eurostar train travelling at full speed. That’s more like it.

large hadron collider, accelerator ring, beam pipe, cern

The ring encloses two vacuumed ‘beam-pipes’ along which the protons travel in opposite directions at a speed of 11,000 revolutions of the ring per second before being made to intersect at four locations, at each of which there is a massive particle detector.

Back to the zapping. You’ve managed to get through security, down one of the eight shafts (which are up to 175 metres deep), and you’ve found a quiet spot in the 3.8 metre concrete tunnel close to a hypothetical inspection hatch into the accelerator ring. Though the collider should shut off if anyone starts tampering with the ring whilst it’s running, make believe that you’ve by-passed the safety systems and managed to stick your head inside the ring and into the proton beams. What happens next?

It depends on how many protons collide with nuclei in the tissues in your head, and how many zip through undisturbed. If the beam was of single protons, there would be little chance of impact, but there are 320 trillion protons spinning around each pipe of the LHC, and the beam would almost certainly burn a hole through your head. And as protons fling off secondary particles when they hit something, which incite another round of collisions, the beam would create a space that spreads out laterally. Rather than boring a hole a few microns wide in your head, a beam might carve out a large cone of tissue. You would be toast!

anatoli bugorski, proton beam, large hadron collider, u-70 synchrotron

The beam burnt a hole from the back of Bugorski’s head, through his skull and brain, and exited just beside his left nostril. And the Russian machine had only one hundredth the power of the LHC

Is this all conjecture? Well not entirely. In 1978, Anatoli Petrovich Bugorski, a 36-year-old physicist at the Institute for High Energy Physics in Protvino, Russia, was checking a malfunctioning piece of equipment in a particle accelerator, the U-70 synchrotron. The machine was switched on inadvertently, and unfortunately the safety mechanisms failed to work. Bugorski’s head was in the path of the 76 GeV proton beam. Reportedly, he saw a flash ‘brighter than a thousand suns’ but did not feel any pain.

Over the next few days, the left half of Bugorski’s face swelled up and his skin started peeling around the spots where the beam had entered and exited his head. Believing that he had received far in excess of a fatal dose of radiation, Bugorski was taken to a clinic in Moscow for observation as the doctors fully expected him to die within a few days. Bugorski survived however, though he lost the hearing in his left ear, the left half of his face was paralysed due to nerve damage, and he was to suffer from occasional seizures. However, there was virtually no damage to his intellectual capacity. (more…)

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Cancer has been in the news a lot recently. In the last few days, there have been separate reports in the newspapers about the high cost of some cancer drugs, and the prediction by a national charity that there will be a crisis of unmanageable proportions in the NHS due to the record number of people with cancer. But there were two reports that appeared over the Christmas period that caught my eye.

The First Report

bmj, british medical association, medical journal

BMJ, the weekly journal of the British Medical Association, was first published in 1840 and is one of the world’s oldest general medical journals.

The first was a story in The Independent (31 Dec 14) with the headline ‘Cancer is the best death – so don’t waste billions trying to cure it, says leading doctor’. The story originated from Dr Richard Smith, a former editor of BMJ (previously the British Medical Journal), who had argued that cancer allowed people to say goodbye and prepare for death and was therefore preferable to sudden death, death from organ failure, or ‘the long, slow death from dementia’ adding ‘let’s stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer, potentially leaving us to die a much more horrible death’.

My initial reaction was to think that whilst having cancer in later life might to some be preferable to developing dementia, what of people who die of cancer much earlier in life: children and young persons, parents with young children, or just someone who happens not to even reached their 40s? What of people who die quite suddenly of cancer, within months rather than years? Another concern was about the drugs and treatments that alleviate the symptoms of cancer rather than cure it? Is it similarly misguided to incur these costs? With the prospect of us all living longer, the increasing cost of healthcare is a big challenge so perhaps Dr Smith was only joining the debate on how far can we fund these costs.

The Second Report 

BBCCancerBadLuckThe second story, on the BBC News website (2 Jan 15), which had the headline ‘Most cancers types just bad luck’, came from American research, unspecified, saying that ‘new research has suggested that most types of cancer are the result of bad luck, rather than an unhealthy lifestyle or genetic factors’.

My first thoughts was to question who had suggested that a large proportion of cancers were related to lifestyle anyway. Of more concern was the notion of ‘bad luck’ as if there was nothing we could do about it. I didn’t think that scientific research recognised bad luck. There is surely a mechanism, a cause, to everything in the natural world even if the processes are beyond the limits of our current knowledge. But perhaps I don’t know enough about random events. Further, I found myself thinking that if lifestyle wasn’t the cause of two-thirds of cancers, that perhaps lifestyle wasn’t relevant either in the treatment or survival of the disease. This would of course be nonsense. Keeping fit through regular exercise or healthy eating is a vital part of managing ill-health, including cancer. And this is so even if our knowledge of exactly what it is in particular foods that makes it a good food or a bad food is imperfectly understood, given the immense difficulty of scientifically trialling particular foods.

I decided to look into the sources of these stories. How accurate was the reporting? Is the science behind the stories much more complicated than how they are presented? Are readers being misled?

Health in the Headlines

But it was not just these stories about cancer. Every newspaper seemed to run at least one quasi-scientific story each day about how to live longer or eat more healthily, or the latest cures for cancer, dementia, heart disease etc. Here are some of the headlines that I found over the last month or so:

‘Keeping cold could keep you thinner, scientists say’ (The Independent 8 Jan 15)

‘Porridge helps to protect against heart disease’ (Daily Express 8 Jan 15)

‘High blood pressure? Eat like a Viking’ (Daily Telegraph 7 Jan 15)

IndependentPorridge‘Porridge could be key to a healthy life, Harvard research finds’ (The Independent 6 Jan 15)

‘The secret of eternal youth: skin-tight Lycra and a bicycle’ (The Independent 6 Jan 15)

‘Could a pill containing Viagra cure illnesses from Ebola to brain cancer, hepatitis to MRSA? (Daily Mail 5 Jan 15)

‘Chips may cause cancer’ (Daily Mail 4 Jan 15)

‘Junk food may not be dangerous for a quarter of people, says scientists’ (Daily Telegraph 2 Jan 15)

‘Scientists crack why red meat is linked with cancer – and sugar may be to blame’ (Daily Mail 30 Dec 14)

‘Lifestyle changes ‘could protect 80,000 from dementia’ (Daily Telegraph 21 Dec 14)

‘Is ibuprofen the key to anti-ageing? Study finds painkiller extends life of flies and worms by equivalent of 12 human years’ (The Independent 19 Dec 14)

‘Tamoxifen could protect women from cancer for 20 years if taken daily (Daily Telegraph 11 Dec 14)

‘Oranges could fight cancer, new study reveals’ (Daily Express 8 Dec 14)

‘Mediterranean diet ‘slows ageing’ – and could even help you live longer’ (The Independent 3 Dec 14)

‘HIV drug ‘dramatically slows spread of prostate cancer’ (Daily Express 1 Dec 14) (more…)

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stonegate, railway station, east sussex

The railway station at Stonegate in East Sussex on the London to Hastings line serves a rural village of about 1,500 people. Trains to central London take about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

There were headlines in the papers in April this year about a ‘hedge-fund manager’ in the City of London who had paid Southeastern trains £43,000 to escape prosecution for fare-dodging. For five years, the culprit, who was not named at the time, regularly travelled from Stonegate in East Sussex up to London, and used an Oystercard to exit from Cannon Street station.

The rural station at Stonegate has no ticket barriers, so the man didn’t have to ‘touch in’ with his Oyster card. He got off at London Bridge and got on a different train to take him over the river to Cannon Street. Once there he touched out through the ticket barriers. By doing this, he was only charged the £7.20 penalty fare that is levied when a passengers exits from a station without having touched in somewhere else.

oystercard, buses, tube, london transport, greater london

The Oystercard was introduced in June 2003 and 7 million Oystercards are now in regular use. More than 80% of all tube journeys and more than 90% of all bus journeys in the Greater London area are made using Oyster.

The chap was eventually caught in November last year by a revenue protection officer standing next to the barriers at London Bridge, who noticed that he had been charged the penalty fare, and stopped him. It was thought that on this occasion the rogue may have changed his usual journey to go to a meeting south of the river. Southeastern soon discovered that he had last bought an annual season ticket, from Stonegate, in 2008, so it was possible that he had been evading the fare for the 1 hour 10 minute journey ever since then. The current cost of a season ticket from Stonegate to central London is £4,548. So the bounder managed to avoid ticket inspectors on the train for a long time. Could this be because commuter trains are not inspected regularly as they are invariably packed or because an assumption is made that almost all commuters on the line have season tickets? However Southeastern said that the ‘honest answer is that we don’t know how he avoided detection by our staff – he was obviously very clever about how he did it’.

cannon street, railway terminus, london

Cannon Street station is a central London railway terminus alongside the River Thames. It opened in 1866 and serves destinations in south east London, East Sussex, and Kent.

Although he didn’t admit to the fraud, the villain offered to settle the matter out of court, and within five days he had paid back £42,550 in dodged fares (based on a standard class single ticket which costs £21.50), plus £450 in legal costs. Southeastern said all passengers have the option to avoid prosecution and settle out of court. Critics have obviously questioned why the fare-dodging felon was allowed to escape being prosecuted and remain anonymous.

The tabloid newspapers sent reporters down to Stonegate to try and winkle out the name of the blackguard from the villagers. In August however, the Evening Standard published the name of the fare-dodger, and in true tabloid style, put their roving reporter on the train to Stonegate to obtain the thoughts of politicians, celebrities and fellow passengers as to what they thought of the scoundrel. The full details had come out because the British Transport Police decided to launch its own investigation, and the City watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, got involved too. The Standard claimed that it was a fellow passenger, disgruntled by the out of court settlement, who tipped the police off. The fare-dodger was said to have left his job the week before.

But do we know the full story? Barry Doe, the public transport fares expert, pointed out in his column in Rail magazine that although Southeastern understandably demanded repayment of the cost of the full daily fares from the artful dodger, the cost of five annual season tickets would have amounted to about £22,000 or roughly £110 a week. But his Oyster charge, based on two incomplete journeys a day, would have been £70 a week, which is only £40 less than the effective weekly cost of a season ticket! So to save this amount, the chap has ended up paying a total of £58,000, that is the Oystercard charges plus the fare-dodging settlement.

But things don’t add up. How can someone incur an Oyster penalty charge twice a day for five years without being spotted? Surely repeated penalty fares can be picked up by the operators of Oyster? And why didn’t the fraudster buy an annual Zone 1-2 Travelcard for about £1,200 to avoid the Oyster penalty charge. Barry Doe also questions how there could be no ticket checks for five years. Perhaps Southeastern doesn’t want us to know how the chap did it? Perhaps as a hedge-fund manager, he got a kick from taking risks. If it wasn’t that, he wasn’t very good at arithmetic.

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PointofViewIf the UK media can be believed the British public is clamouring for a greater use of referenda. People, they say, crave a direct say in determining the outcome of a debate or to dictate the direction of government action. Two issues dominate this thinking. The first is the UK’s continuing membership of the European Union and the second is the forthcoming vote on Scottish independence.

You may wonder why the media is behaving like this when they know as well as I do that we have a settled mature system of parliamentary democracy where decisions are taken by Parliament and the Government on our behalf. Every citizen is able to vote for their Member of Parliament and if they don’t like the way they have voted they can vote for someone else next time. However the reality is that a growing number of voters feel alienated or perhaps feel distant from the business of government and, God help us, politics!! In such circumstances a single issue referendum can appear attractive.

ReferendumDice1However, without being too condescending about it, most public issues are quite complex and few members of the public have the knowledge, expertise and in particular the time to get to grips with the pros and cons of arguments. That’s why, in theory, we have MPs appointed as government ministers who specialise in the affairs of a particular government department and who enjoy the support of experts and administrators of all kinds. Most importantly, ministers are accountable to Parliament, and MPs to the public who elected them, and they can be kicked out every five years in elections if we don’t like what they have done in our name. I contend that most people are busy enough with their own lives to be expected to additionally become experts in the pros and cons of, say, a parliamentary bill or a particular Government policy.

In my view referenda are a gift to obsessives and those with an axe to grind. They reduce issues to their bare essentials and ignore the broader consequences. I have no doubt that the death penalty would be brought back if the issue was subjected to a referendum. Would we really want that? Secondly the arguments for and against membership of the EU are extremely complex and in my view are impossible to whittle down to a simple yes or no answer.

ReferendumDice2There are exceptions of course, but rarely an issue does emerge that merits a referendum and I concede that for the people of Scotland the question of independence is one. However in my experience the media, and in particular certain ‘right wing’ print media, are greatly exaggerating the extent to which the public generally is clamouring for more referenda. Contrary to what they say there is very little evidence to support the assertion that public discourse in the pubs and clubs of the land is dominated by discussion on the need for a referendum on the EU. In fact the limited public surveys completed show that the European issue comes way down the list of subjects being discussed.

I do not consider myself to be an apologist for the status quo and I agree that politics in the UK is not conducted particularly well and certainly not in the interests of ordinary people. However I don’t believe a greater use of referenda is the answer as I fear that they would risk undermining the very principle of parliamentary democracy itself. This would be a perverse outcome when so many nations around the world are currently fighting to overturn unelected regimes in favour of parliamentary democracies.

Instead we should be considering steps to invigorate our parliamentary system to make it more relevant and accountable to the electorate and especially to younger voters, who if Russell Brand is to be believed, have given up on voting. Clearly this task is not helped by the low standing afforded to politicians by the public. There is a lack of trust and confidence in MPs that they can have any meaningful impact on our lives as UK citizens. Additionally many people are cynical and distrustful of all politicians believing them to be all the same and full of self-interest. The expenses debacle and to an extent the Iraq war, were clearly contributory factors. (more…)

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gérard de nerval, france, ,cliche, romantic

The French writer and poet Gérard de Nerval, who died in 1855, may have unintentionally defined a cliché when he said ‘The first man who compared woman to a rose was a poet; the second, an imbecile.’

Salvador Dalí, the Spanish surrealist painter, was reputed to have said ‘The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot’, though something like this was first coined by the French poet Gérard de Nerval. What Dali was getting at was that a phrase can be striking at first but when overused it loses its force.

And when an expression or idea, which at some earlier time was considered meaningful or novel, is overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, then it becomes a cliché, a ready-made phrase. In private or informal conversation they are used all the time: ’24/7′, ‘absolutely’, ‘actually’, ‘at the end of the day’, ‘basically’, ‘I hear what you’re saying’, ‘if the truth be told’, ‘I’m not being funny but’, ‘it’s not rocket science’, ‘literally’, ‘no problem’, ‘the fact of the matter is’, ‘to be perfectly honest’, ‘you know what I mean’. Clichés pop up everywhere: in the supermarket, in soap operas, in fashion, in sport, on dating websites, on book covers, with art critics and travel writers. And in organisations, the close cousins of the cliché, the jargon and gibberish of ‘corporate speak’, is omnipotent.

Though clichés should be avoided, in reality they’re not. The language of Britain is the language of cliché. The British people could speak in cliché till the cows come home. And it is in journalism where clichés stick out like a sore thumb.

newspaper, title, daily express, daily mail, daily mirror, the sun, the independent, the times, the telegraph, the guardianThey may be part of a seemingly unchangeable news culture, and we may like them, and they can be descriptive, but clichés show a lack of originality. And they’re not just over-used phrases. They can be used to disguise a lack of information, as padding, or as a code or euphemism to imply something that can’t be said or which can be left to us to work out. They are often cynical, and sometimes comical. Above all journalists want their stories to be more exciting, meaningful or profound than they really are. So, cynical or not, here’s some reading between the lines …

Reporting

According to published reports We got scooped
Allegedly We know he did it but we have to protect our backs
Clamour We’ve written an editorial. If we write about it again, refer to a ‘growing clamour
Considering The all-purpose unfalsifiable policy story as in ‘the Minister is considering whether to ditch the policy’. No one will ever be able to convincingly deny that they’re considering something
Couldn’t be reached for comment The reporter didn’t call until after 5pm
Deepened What happened to people’s difficulties last night
Exclusive We were the only ones who returned the press office calls
Exclusive neighbourhood/school/club The reporter couldn’t get in
Influential Any group that can get a letter printed in a national paper, or someone who has appeared on television twice in one week
Informed source Reads the newspaper
Momentum is building The story hasn’t changed since last night
Mystery surrounds Tomorrow the mystery might ‘deepen‘ but right now, we don’t have a clue what’s going on
Outpouring of support, emotion We are with them, so long as things don’t get out of hand
Reportedly We stole this bit of information
Set to Might mean ‘will’, but if it turns out the story is wrong, you can say it only actually means ‘may’
Shocking revelation Leaked on a slow news day
Special investigation A normal investigation, but with a picture by-line for the reporter
Stunned Couldn’t give a decent quote
Uncertain, unclear, unknown No one will tell us
Uproar The reaction of the ‘Great British Public‘ to a mindless tweet
Well placed source Someone who will talk to us

Politics

About turn Any change of mind. May be followed by ‘it’s back to the drawing board
Activist Will talk to the press
Acolytes Supporters of someone with whom we disagree.
Arcane rules Ones we can’t be bothered to explain
Bolthole Place where a disgraced MP (or rock star) seeks refuge from the media. Never a house, flat or hotel room
Brutal dictator One who kills his opponents slowly. If he just had them all shot, use ‘ruthless dictator‘. If our government could easily ‘topple him‘, but can’t be bothered, use ‘tinpot dictator‘.
Concerned residents Residents usually are
Draconian The Government is proposing something with which we disagree
Embattled He/she should quit
Family values Right wing idiot (also Progressive Left wing idiot)
Hard-working people As opposed to everyone who hasn’t a job, except pensioners of course
Humiliating U-turn Any adjustment in policy, especially over parking charges
Landmark decision Not sure why, but that’s what the other papers are saying
Moderate Fence-sitter
Parking expose Editor got a parking ticket
Raft The standard unit of ‘measures‘. Under the imperial system, a ‘cocktail of measures
Red-faced What council ‘bosses‘ usually are after a ‘humiliating U-turn
Troubled Small country currently enjoying a lull between civil wars
Trusted source An MP out for revenge or a government stooge, but often someone vaguely connected with politics in a Westminster bar
Venerable Should be dead but isn’t

(more…)

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