I receive updates from ASHRAE regularly, and I noticed a link to an interesting article in the New York Times – Reducing Carbon by Curbing Population. The article rightly points out that much of the conversation on Climate Change is linked to reducing emissions, but we don’t look past this to consider some of the reasons behind the emissions rates. It’s interesting that the article states that only half of the increase in food consumption is due to population growth, but the other half is related to improved diet and higher incomes. So lifestyle choices are another factor in this complicated scenario.

The article goes on to say that if the world’s population grew at a slower rate than that predicted, we could reduce carbon emissions by a substantial amount (of course, this seems to assume that we all continue to live our lives and consume resources at the same rate as today).

It’s certainly true that in the West we don’t concentrate on population growth as seriously as other social problems.  In 2006, Tony Blair stated that the UK has no policy on population.

But at what cost do we control population size?  The article mentions past population control measures that many see as inhumane, such as China’s one-child policy, and forced sterilisations in India. There are better means of achieving a stable population, such as providing improved healthcare and education, but as a nation becomes more developed, it generally consumes more resources through industrialisation and consumerism.

So how do we balance the two?  And how do we balance the myriad issues that all interconnect to form the problem of anthropogenic climate change, and all the other damage to the environment that humans are responsible for?  Maybe it’s not as simple as just turning the heating down one degree.

Click here for the original article.

I’m also hoping to attend the ASHRAE Winter Conference this year, and I’ll be blogging about my time there.  Click here for information on the programme.


I’m a part-time student, so I don’t spend every waking moment in the postgrad village, unlike some of my compatriots.  While I was away from my desk for a mere couple of days, some cheeky bastard harvested my PC for parts (no really, they actually went over to my clearly-occupied desk, unfastened the casing from the tower, and replaced their knackered monitor adapter with mine).

Come on now, guys.
Come on now, guys.
Just to make it even worse, they left the base exactly where it should be, to leave me pondering why my monitor had no input when I switched on this morning.  Even more confusing was the loose monitor cable, with no port for it to connect to.

The Crime Scene
The Crime Scene
Infuriating. Rest assured, my revenge will be brutal. Or subtle. Maybe when I track down the culprit, I’ll disconnect something important and obscure, but leave it in place…. Mwhahahahahahahahaaaaa!

UPDATE 2014-09-29: During another of my absenses from the postgrad village, the IT support team located my PC and fixed it for me! Good news. When I told them of the problem, they said it was the most bizarre call they’d ever taken.


Ever had one of those days when you’re convinced that you’re about to fail your Ph.D and get booted out of uni?  Well that was my day, today.  Not just crippled by the creeping self-doubt that I’m sure many of us know so well, I genuinely haven’t done enough work.

Although I work part-time in one of the Professions, it is still part-time, and not all engineering careers have lucrative salaries. So I welcomed any chance of overtime with open arms. I embraced the 9-to-9 lifestyle so wholeheartedly, that I haven’t been to university very much at all in, er, the past two months. Oops.

But it’s not just the promise of extra dosh that’s causing me to stray from my university home. I’ve been given more duties at work, and I’m hoping to get through the Chartership process a.s.a.p. All this extra responsibility and status doesn’t maintain itself, and it’s necessary to put in the extra hours. Oh, and I’ve started skating (roller derby) again, I do volunteer work, and I have a bustling social life. So finding time to eat and sleep, let alone study, can be challenging.

Anyway, it’s time to register for the 14/15 academic year, and as I went to fill in the requisite forms online, I took stock of the milestones that I had not reached. I thought “I don’t deserve to be here”.  I went to see my tutor for Confession Time, and it actually turned out to be a very positive experience.

He did note that I have not been around for a lot of the time, but he was more concerned for my well-being than anything (awwwwwww).

I was honest with him about the total lack of work I had managed to do, and we agreed a timetable for me to get back to where I should be. I’m also taking a couple of weeks away from work-work to complete my literature review. So things are no longer insurmountable, and I’m feeling a lot better about my own abilities.

Now I just need to stick to my own plan.


Last year, when I attended Winchester Science Festival, I had an unpleasant conversation with another attendee.  Don’t worry, it’s not too scandalous, but it did make me consider other people’s perceptions of the ever-more public use of technology.

I was in one of the talks and I had two important tasks to carry out:

1. I wanted to tell my beloved about the cool things I was learning about during the day that he wasn’t there for,

2. I needed to fact-check something.  As a skeptic, this is super-critical.

So I used my smartphone to do the above two tasks, and got pestered by some bloke sitting in the same row of the auditorium for not paying attention to the speaker. I was pretty annoyed, for many reasons, but mainly these three:

1. He spoke to me like I was a naughty child,

2. He clearly had no understanding of what I was doing. Ok, fair enough that technology changes rapidly and not everyone is as clued-up as the early adopters, but it was at a science festival in 2014. Get with the times!

3. I was disturbing no-one, literally no-one. The lights were on, my sound was off, and everyone else was doing it too!

And then I got to thinking of just how pervasive technology is in my personal life.  On the second date with Mr Science Gentleman, we spent the entire evening on our phones playing Cards Against Humanity with strangers on the internet.  Nowadays we do similar sorts of things.  We are frequently out to dinner and glued to our phones playing Ingress.  I’m sure the other diners think we hate each other.

But we define those rules.  We know we’re not being rude, we just communicate differently.  We are all cyborgs now.


A peculiar thing happened to me recently, which highlighted the power of seeing what one expects to see. I’m frightened of dogs, but with one exception.  I think pugs are very cute, and they’re not proper dogs, right? More like a really ugly cat.

So one morning I was leaving my boyfriend’s home, and encountered a pug in the lift down. So as I mentioned before, I am nervous around dogs. But this cheeky little animal was lively and funny, and didn’t have me clawing at the lift doors in order to escape.

Up until this point, things were going to plan. I was on time for my leisurely stroll to the office; the hilarious little dog was excited about the imminent outdoors-ness it would experience. And then the lift arrived at the ground floor.

Photo by GAGE SKIDMORE. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0[
The little dog became even more enthusiastic and downright refused to go on the lead. I couldn’t exit the lobby because the the sliding doors remain open for about 5 seconds after they are released, which is approximately 10 times longer than the average Pug Escape Time. So I steeled myself, helped the owner chase the manic creature around the entrance area, and held on to it while its lead was affixed. And it was actually quite fun. So much fun, in fact, that the situation could only have been improved if “Yakety Sax” had been playing in the building. And that was that.

And then I bumped into the pug and owner a few more times in the lift.  I grew quite fond of the weird little dog and started to look forward to seeing it.  I met them in the gardens, on the street, and on the way to the shops.  It seemed that I was seeing an awful lot of them.

One day I got in the lift and there had clearly been an ‘accident’ on the floor.  There was a moist patch and a, um, distinctive odour.  Totally gross, I thought, but was it that darling little dog? [With hindsight, and subsequent knowledge of the place, it could just have easily been a human]

I realised that I was seeing more and more of this pug, and when I didn’t, I missed it a little.  And I started to notice other pugs.  Everything I saw was pug-shaped.  Coincidence?

And then this appeared in my Twitter feed:

From the excellent @drranj, presenter of Get well Soon and performer of general Telly Doctor duties.
From the excellent @drranj, presenter of Get well Soon and performer of general Telly Doctor duties.

And then this!




Well, no, they’re not.  I’ve probably seen a number of pugs that is proportionate to the number of all dogs in Manchester that I would be expected to encounter, excluding the times when I’ve put myself in situations where I was more likely to be ‘stalked by pugs’.  I hang around a block of flats where lots of people own small dogs, and I’ve been affected by one incident that sticks in my memory and makes me more likely to think of pugs, and hence pay more attention to the times when pugs are present.

This is how confirmation bias works. Results and research that confirm your opinions and beliefs are favoured over an objective assessment of all the information. It’s pretty harmless when applied to Pug Frequency. I can happily exist in my fantasy world where I dream of pugs all day long and disregard the Alsatians, Boxers, and Spaniels. But what about in the context of, say, politics? Science? The Media? Education? Healthcare? Justice? Here’s some Food For Thought from RJ There are too many articles and examples for me to link them all. But seeing as I began by posting pictures of cats and dogs (what else is the Internet for?), here’s some fun graphs about causation not equalling correlation: Spurious Correlations


CensorshipI attend the Manchester Armchair Philosophers group, and we meet once a month at the Royal Oak in Chorlton to discuss a preselected topic. The topics are varied, and often unconventional. This month’s discussion was on a topic that is a little more commonplace, but sure to get everyone’s attention.

I introduced our talk on Censorship, which posed the questions in the handout (right). As with many of these talks, the idea isn’t strictly to adhere to the prescribed questions and wording on the crib sheet, but to discuss the topic widely, and in whatever style or vein one desires.

The way the meetings work is that we all gather in a circle and the topic is introduced by the Chair. Then we break off into groups of 4 or 5 and discuss the topic amongst ourselves. We usually talk about the subject for, say, 45 minutes, and then we gather around the table again to share our thoughts and opinions with the whole group. We usually first nominate one member of each ‘team’ to describe the whole team’s discussion, and then we go round the circle individually to talk about something we learnt or feel strongly about. It’s really interesting to hear other people’s ideas, and you can learn so much from other people’s debates, as well as your own.

Usually, people gather in the bar downstairs after the debate, sometimes to carry on the discussion, and often to talk about completely unrelated (but still stimulating) things.

I don’t have the space (or memory) to go into everything that we spoke about here, but censorship is a massive topic that everyone has a view on. Some discussions can lead to groupthink, but this one really didn’t. Despite being in a large group of people with (seemingly) similar backgrounds and political preferences, the variety of viewpoints was very wide, and all over the spectrum. I was pleasantly surprised! I also got a lot of praise for introducing this topic, which felt pretty good. I hope to do another one sometime, but we seem to have topics chosen for a good few months yet.

Previous discussions have included: “Love”, “Is there such a thing as a truly altruistic action?”, and “Is there really any poverty in the UK?”. As you can see, we really have a lot to talk about.

NB: No formal philosophy training required. Most people who turn up don’t have any formal philosophy education, but we do love to explore philosophical subjects. The group is accessible and a great night out, no matter what your training.

This book (Do You Think What You Think You Think?) is a really manageable (and rather fun) pop introduction to philosophy. You’ll probably find it infuriating at first – I wanted to yell at this book in a similar way to how I shout at Question Time – but it’s just encouraging you to think critically about what you believe and what you say you believe. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to leave much room for manoeuvre, with quite rigid and simplistic ways of looking at an argument; but it gets you thinking, right?


The name for this blog came from my four-year-old daughter, who tearfully said to me, “I can’t be a science lady, because I can’t do science”. This filled me with both joy and sadness, because on the one hand I thought the concept of “science ladies” sounded quite sweet (although I usually refer to myself as a scientist, rather than a science lady – for some reason it sounds a bit more professional); and on the other I wondered who had given this idea to a four-year-old child.

There are many articles, papers, and stories in the media about how our attitudes towards women’s abilities and career choices are shaped at a very young age. My current favourite is this one, from The Huffington Post:Powerful Ad Shows What A Little Girl Hears When You Tell Her She’s Pretty

Additionally, this is one of my favourite books on the topic: Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine.

In this book, the author describes a systematic review of various studies that consider gender differences, and encourages the reader to think critically about what the outcomes of such studies really tell us. You can buy the book and check out some very detailed customer reviews via the link on the right.

Oh, and you can be a science lady, if you want to. It’s hard work but definitely worth it.