New CS4 website

I help organise the Complex Systems Seminar Series (CS4) talks that are held at the University of Southampton. Organising academics is, as the saying goes, like herding cats and it’s not the easiest job in the world at times. But it’s certainly worth the effort as the talks are fascinating and I often get to spend the day with the speakers. A decent lunch and nice evening meal with them and some staff and students helps too.

To coordinate things there is a new and quite shiny website:

Stay tuned for schedule details, news and videos of the talks and interviews with the speakers.


How to print money

How much are academic journals worth? The following table gives some indication of dollar costs and how they have changed over a 5 year period.

LC Classification Average
Anthropology $389 $543 40%
Chemistry $2799 $3690 32%
Engineering $1530 $2047 34%
History $183 $263 44%
Philosophy and Religion $205 $281 37%
Political Science $365 $539 48%

Reproduced from

That’s a hefty increase. Did producing academic journals become over 30% more expensive in that period? No. In fact the cost of producing journals should be much less than it used to be. Many journals are no longer physically printed and so there is a reduction in manufacturing and distribution costs. The typesetting of papers is increasingly done by authors using desktop tools (such as the absolutely fabulous Latex). The people who write the papers are not paid. The people who review the papers are not paid. The editors of the respective journals are not paid. There will be some paid staff at the journal to coordinate, undertake aspects of typesetting and proof reading. Important jobs but ones that do not command very high salaries. So just were is all this extra money going to? Continue reading

Why do I do what I do?

The Curiosity rover is currently trundling its way across the surface of Mars in a quest to understand if Mars was ever able to support life and perhaps even detect evidence of past life. We’ve come a long way from fearing an attack from a hostile Martian civilisation. The Earth is at no risk from Martian rockets, heat rays or tripods. Mars, like our other nearest Solar System neighbour Venus, is a barren world devoid of any life. Why is the Earth the way it is and not more like Mars or Venus?

Photo: JPL / NASA

Prior to joining the Institute for Complex Systems Simulation at the University of Southampton I thought about this question rather a lot. It was a central part of my previous job as a member of the Helmholtz Alliance funded Planetary Evolution & Life project that I worked on at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena.

But my interest in this question predates my time in Germany. Continue reading

Read all about it!

I currently have a few papers in press or recently published, so I thought I would briefly mention them and see if I can convince you to  invest the time on clicking on a download link and having a look to see what they are about.

Data, data everywhere…

We are producing more data about the Earth. More satellites in space looking down and charting the changes in the planet. More high altitude balloons. Aircraft based sensors. Flux towers. And people in the field. Struggling and sweating their way through rain forests collecting bugs and measuring the thickness of tree trunks.

Unfortunatey all this new data doesn’t immediately translate into new knowledge. In fact at times it seems as if we are drowning in data. Last year I was very fortunate to work with a group of very clever folk with the aim of trying to develop a new method for using some of this data to make better models of vegetation coverage. Continue reading

So you want to do a PhD?

That’s great. Perhaps you would be interested in me supervising you? If so, you have impeccable taste. In any event let’s talk some more. Being paid to spend several years researching something in today’s economic environment is an amazing opportunity. Competition for PhD places can be incredibly fierce. If you are successful and not only get a position but a fully funded position then congratulations! I’m going to assume that you want to do a PhD in order to end up working in academia. If not then some/most of the following will not be of relevance, but perhaps still of interest. And most importantly, I’m going to assume that notwithstanding what I just said, you are well aware of the arguments for why doing a PhD isn’t a very good idea at all. You’re not? Ah.

Continue reading

A life of science

How is this not a good talk?

  • Reads from a script
  • Wears a hat that shades his eyes
  • Stiff even a little stilted delivery

And none of that matters. All the emphasis on polish and pitch and engagement and audio/visual presentation is irrelevant. It’s what he says that makes this a riveting talk. And I would hazard a guess that even if you strongly disagree with Hansen (and quite a few do) you would still find the talk riveting because he quickly focusses in on what the issue of climate change is about: to what extent are we affecting the Earth’s climate and what are the consequences to us and future generations?

Hansen is someone worth listening to because he has largely framed this debate (in the USA at least). He’s got a very interesting perspective: a life of science and reflection on what he has learnt and how that informs what he should do with the rest of his life.