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.

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