IN DEFENCE OF STUDENT POLITICS

By Bradley Allsop

The only way to make the word ‘politics’, that great indicator of all manner of corruption and trickery, more contemptible is to plonk the word ‘student’ in front of it. It almost feels like you‘re not pronouncing ‘student politics’ right if you do it without a sneer, or at least a shudder. Student politics has an image problem.

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REVIEW – ANNA CATHENKA, THEY ARE REALLY MOLLUSCS

By Laura Potts

A real literary personality runs through the poems Anna Cathenka has cleverly curated and carefully linked in her new book they are really molluscs, recently published by Salò Press. In producing this collection, Cathenka notes that she drew on three Observer’s Pocket Books, and as a result each poem stands as if it could belong to a passage from a textbook, with references to strange organisms and a scientific rigidity of structure. We are offered an insight into the world of the Anna Cathenka, and a number of other strange worlds, through the unfamiliar and occasionally confusing lens of biological ocean life.

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BACK FROM THE BRINK?

by Stu Lucy

Cooped up in an office in Uganda, inputting into what seemed like never-ending columns of cells in Excel spreadsheets, I would often ruminate about other jobs I could be doing which at that moment would be relatively more fulfilling and life affirming. One of the jobs I kept ending back at was as a member of one of the security teams responsible for the protection of the last northern white rhinoceroses: Sudan, Najin and her daughter Fatu. While in reality I knew my poor grasp of Swahili and lack of weapons training made it unlikely I’d ever work with the rangers responsible for the security of these magnificent animals residing within Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, I became interested in their plight, following their turbulent existence ever since.

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THE 100FT TALL CANARY

by Stu Lucy

Back in the day, before Maggie had her way, there used to be a thriving northern powerhouse built on the foundations of a mining industry that provided thousands of jobs to people across a vast expanse of our fair isles. It was a dangerous job with the risks of explosions, cave-ins, and noxious fumes overpowering the brave men and women that dared descend into dark depths. One of the tools the miners had to protect themselves from some of the dangers of this perilous job was a tiny little yellow bird in a cage: a canary. When levels of noxious gases began to amass, this small bird would croak it, indicating to the miners it was time to get out. While hardly the most humane method of protecting themselves, it served its purpose and saved countless lives. The mines have now closed and canaries no longer employed to keep the miners safe, the metaphor however lives on, albeit in a somewhat larger capacity.Continue Reading

MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN AND THE POSSIBILITIES OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

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by Justin Reynolds

Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus, the classic novel by Mary Shelley that stands at the pinnacle of the gothic tradition and looks forward to the new genre of science fiction, was first published 200 years ago this month. Shelley’s visceral tale of the terrible consequences that follow the failure of brilliant young scientist Victor Frankenstein to take responsibility for the strange new life he creates, is both of its time and utterly contemporary.

It can be read as a high Romantic fantasy set against a background of electric storms, shimmering Alpine peaks, Rhineland forests and Arctic wastelands, and as a subtle meditation on themes of knowledge and responsibility that resonate with today’s hopes and fears for the possibilities opened by artificial intelligence (AI) and synthetic biology.Continue Reading

THE GIFT: DYSLEXIA

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by Alice Thomson

Igminae a wlrod wree the wetrtin wrod is as hrad to raed as tihs. Imagine that written word is in your first language, not a second or third. Imagine the difficulty it presents every day, how others perceive you, how exhausting it is to read, and understand. Some of you reading this won’t have to imagine. This is the world of a dyslexic.

Often people think of dyslexia as word blindness, or even attribute it to a low intelligence score. When I was a Primary School teacher I often heard people referring to dyslexia as a “nice way of calling middle-class children slow”. This attitude horrified me. Many attitudes in school staff-rooms towards learning horrified me. As a child, I remember my mother would explain out to my teachers my dyslexia at every parents evening. The same teachers, every year,  and it was always a surprise to them. As an adult and an educator, I had hoped attitudes had changed, but in my experience this is not the case.Continue Reading

A GREEN REVOLUTION?

by Gunnar Eigener

The election of Donald Trump and the result of the Brexit referendum have thrown the prospect of a greener future into doubt. Trump’s threat to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement and promise to boost the ailing US coal industry overshadow the current surge in renewable energy. The UK government’s decision to sell the Green Investment Bank (GIB) has been attacked amid fears of asset-stripping.

Social media is full of individuals and climate groups recoiling in horror at the potential of such actions pushing back the advancement of environmental progress. Many are counting down the days until Trump’s inauguration and the eradication of environmental regulations that is predicted to follow. Yet is the future really as bleak as many would have us believe?Continue Reading

NO MAN’S SKY – A REVIEW

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by Paige Selby-Green

I stand in the shadow of a yawning cave mouth bristling with brightly coloured crystals and glowing mushrooms. The sky is emerald, the hills are teal. A scarlet starship squats, smoking, on the ground. A polite voice tells me that my life support is low. The planet is Peonidas. The game is No Man’s Sky. Continue Reading

THE CLIMATE BETRAYED AGAIN — AND WHO BETTER TO DO IT?

by George Laver

With the recent news that the Swedish government has backtracked on its pledges at the Paris climate agreement by selling off state-owned coal assets to private buyers EPH, now is a better time than ever to ask: when is it enough?

It should come as no surprise that governments will betray the public façade of agreement on positive terms. Such is the cycle of history. I am thinking, in particular, of the Paris Agreement that took place just last year. Not yet past its stage of infancy, and already it has been shot in the back. The selling off of a lucrative coal asset to private industrial proprietors has set a clear line for where their favour lies and where the climate — which has recently passed a dire milestone — sits in the rank of importance.

This agreement, climate scientists from Stockholm University have warned, will violate the terms of the Paris Agreement. Even so, it is not as if it can be claimed that the Swedish government has worked around loopholes in the agreement. At least if this were the case, with all technicalities applied, the government would not be violating the agreement — that is not to say that they would not be violating climate integrity. But even so, the case as it exists is one of straight up betrayal — and who else could we expect it from?Continue Reading

THE RIGHT TO HATE: SEX, SCIENCE, AND THE ANIMAL KINGDOM

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by Paige Selby-Green

TW: sexual assault, rape.

It’s time we talked about sex. Or, actually – it’s time we talked about how we talk about sex. For people who put sex in every conceivable form of media, we get awfully squeamish when it comes to talking about it like grown-ups. We’d rather let ways of talking about sex remain unchanged for decades than update them to be less 1950s and a lot more healthy.

Let’s get to the point: how is it that the same species that can build spaceships and write masterpieces such as Hamilton came up with the phrase “the right to mate?” And why is it still in common use?Continue Reading

HOW CAN WE LEARN TO IDENTIFY WITH OUR PLANET?

by Liam Hawkes

I haven’t read a lot of science fiction. I have only heard of a handful of authors, and probably couldn’t name many of their books. But as soon as I turned the first page of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, I was hooked. His beautiful philosophical musings – in Bill Johnston’s English translation – about the nature of consciousness, perception, and the environment struck a chord with me. Which started me thinking about how we interact with our own environment here on Earth, and how perhaps we could benefit from a revaluation of our ideals. Continue Reading

CONSTELLATIONS

by Alex Valente

Original Italian by Gilda Musa (1922-1999), ‘Costellazioni’

Coppering of stars, gold
illuminated designs, visible flashing
vanguards of a thousand million invisibiles,
sigils of a space that’s close and signs
of remote spacesContinue Reading

OUR ENVIRONMENT: STARING INTO THE ABYSS

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by Gunnar Eigener

“When the last tree has been cut, when the last river has been poisoned, when the last fish has been caught then we will find out that we can’t eat money.” Anonymous proverb

We look to politicians, policy-makers and leaders of industry for guidance and reassurance that the world we live in is being taken care of, for us to live in now and for future generations to enjoy. We shouldn’t bother. When it comes to the environment it’s hard to know where to turn to and who to trust.  Donald Trump once tweeted that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” According to a Greenpeace report, the Koch brothers have invested about $79 million in anti-climate change research and like-minded groups. Last week saw the sale of National Geographic to Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox whose news channel, Fox News, was found in 2013 to be only 72% accurate when reporting on science-related segments.

Here,in the UK, the Conservatives have cut support for onshore wind farms and solar installations and changed their minds about fracking on sites of scientific interest (SSSIs).to make any place fair game. New legislation ensures that the United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA) must change its selection process for members, potentially giving more influence to energy and fuel industry representatives and reducing the level of expertise available to the board. Meanwhile, going as far back as 2011, Florida officials within the Department of Environmental Protection were told not to use the terms ‘climate change’, ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability’.

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DARK NIGHT STRANGLES THE TRAVELLING LAMP

by Jake Reynolds

In response.

Commander Coates of New Earth Transfers descends
from a helicopter’s exoskeleton and battles the gales
to signal Anna Garvey, protestor, handcuffed to the rubble
of a Wonder. He fixes goggles to his eyes, flashes his ID.

Don’t tell me, he says. You swallowed the key.

These streets have spent a year in the tinny grips
of radio screech. He tells her she’s going to catch
her death, and reaches in a pouch on his belt
for a halo of rusty keys. Drones stare from the helicopter.

Don’t tell me, he says. You’ve made up your mind.Continue Reading

I’M PROUD TO BE A FEMINIST ‘BULLY’

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by Robyn Banks

Last week Nobel Prize winning scientist, Sir Tim Hunt, addressed an audience of senior female scientists at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea. “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls”, he said, “Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry.” This was reportedly met with stony silence, which is hardly a surprise. He later clarified that, although the comments were intended as a “joke”, he meant what he said and was just trying to be “honest, actually”. Women present at the conference took to twitter to voice their discomfort, sparking a twitter storm of derision, humour and critique. The story made the national press and less than 48 hours later, Sir Tim Hunt had resigned from his faculty position at University College London.

This week, the Daily Mail published a story by Sarah Vine titled ‘March of the feminist bullies!’. In it she referred to the complaining women as humourless “feminazis”, as “stupid, pampered, spoilt” and lamented the fact that “men like [Tim Hunt] can’t be allowed to go around the place making giant scientific breakthroughs of the kind that may one day lead to, oh I don’t know, a cure for cancer, unless and until they have fully submitted to the will of the mob”. And, in true sisterly fashion, wrote that she despaired of her sex.Continue Reading

A COMET, THEY SAID

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by Alex Valente

Original Italian by Mariangela Gualtieri (1951 -), from ‘Bestia di Gioia’.

They said it was a comet
smashing into the hardness of Earth
that brought water to the rocks
of our planet.Continue Reading

CAN SCIENCE BE RADICAL?

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by Ella Gilbert

One of the most fundamental rules of science that any student will learn is the importance of objective thought. The strength of scientific observation lies in the ability to weigh up evidence without assuming pre-defined outcomes, while investigating all possible hypotheses with equal exactitude. The triumvirate of ‘reliability, accuracy and precision’ are concepts drilled into students throughout their education, and the importance of withholding judgment until conclusions can reliably be drawn is underlined in experimentation and practice. Indeed, the process of science in itself is about careful, reasoned consideration of the available evidence, rigorous data analysis and logical extrapolation and conclusion. Science’s strength lies in its claims to objectivity – it wouldn’t work without it. Any deviation from these well-defined parameters and rules constitute ‘bad science’, tainted with opinion, ideology or personal belief. So, in this context, can science be radical? Or should it?Continue Reading