Tuesday, January 17, 2012

More press coverage for Pete

After last week's appearance in the Times Higher, I'm glad to see that Pete's research has been picked up by the local press. There's a pretty impressive shot of him in today's Manchester Evening News, accompanied by an article that does a decent enough job of presenting our work. Yakub Qureshi seems to give the impression that we've creating some big new piece of modelling software, when what Pete actually did was to analyse existing evacuation simulations using a novel technique based on information theory. This "mutual information" measure appears to have become conflated with the notion of "social forces", but I'm glad that the quote in the final paragraph was kept, as it accurately sums up what we did. I gather Pete is greatly enjoying his new status as an official "disaster expert".

Unfortunately, though, I appear to have forgotten the cardinal rule: when talking to a journalist, there is no such thing as an "off the cuff" remark. I remember vaguely mentioning the computer game The Sims, as a way of trying to get across the notion of agent-based modelling. Yakub has enthusiastically run with this idea, and, sure enough, there's a picture of The Sims 2. Why, I'm not sure. I don't think the next version will include smoke modelling or exit awareness profiling, but this has only served to remind me that tiny, inconsequential remarks will suddenly become the entire focus of the article, unless you're very, very careful.

Take this example, from the Liverpool Daily Post, April 22, 1998. I'd not long been awarded my Ph.D., which happened to be the first in the field of DNA computing. I was talking to a local reporter, and, while explaining the labelling of the bases making up DNA strands (A, G, C, T), pointed out, in passing, that the name of the film Gattaca (starring Uma Thurman) is a string over this alphabet (and, indeed, will be commonly found in the average human genome). When the final piece appeared, describing this complex scientific research, sure enough, there's a picture of... Uma Thurman.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Weeknote #46

There's been a bit of a gap since the last weeknote, mainly due to Christmas, followed by the start of term and the usual last-minute rush before a big European Commission funding deadline...

The crush paper I recently published with Pete and Steve has attracted a certain amount of media attention; the story (see the scan to the right) was used as the centrepiece in the campus roundup section of yesterday's Times Higher Education, and we're expecting local newspaper coverage next week. Apart from the obvious high quality of the science and the significant potential impact of the work ;-) I'm convinced that one of the reasons that the story has been given such prominence is that we published the paper in an open-access journal. If the paper had been buried away behind a journal paywall, I'm not sure people would have been so keen to cover it, and anyone who sees the story and searches for the work will be able to read it, whether they're affiliated to a University or not (and not be asked for $30 for the privilege, or whatever the going rate is...) Of course, we had to pay $1,350 to have the paper published (not considered for publication...), but we could have applied for a fee waiver had we been unable to find the money (and reviewers/editors don't know the payment status when they consider papers).

The proof is in the access statistics; the paper was published just over three weeks ago, and it's been viewed over 800 times already. It's been argued that the average number of readers for an academic article is about 5, so this is clearly an improvement!