- professional scientists of postgraduate level and above
- anyone else with a non-professional interest in science, including undergraduate students
The Wellcome Trust has announced the launch of its Science Writing Prize 2012, describing it as an opportunity to “join a new generation of science writers”. Winning articles will be published in either the Guardian or Observer newspapers, with winners receiving a cash prize of £1000. The deadline for entries is 25 April 2012.
The judges are looking for 800-word articles that address any area of science and demonstrating that entrants have thought about and understood their audience and can bring a scientific idea to life.
To enter, you must be a non-published writer based in the UK or the Republic of Ireland. You can enter in either of two categories, with the winner of each receiving a prize. By ‘published’, the organisers explain they are referring to professional journalists and authors who already write for money, and that they welcome entries from bloggers and student journalists.
The categories are:
The judges are looking for originality, bright ideas and a distinctive writing style. Your article should show a passion for science and encourage the general public to consider, question and debate key issues in science and society.
To help with your entries, the Trust will be publishing a series of blog posts and films about science communication.
The Higher Education Academy (HEA) STEM’s first Annual Conference takes place at Imperial College London and the Royal Geographical Society 12–13 April. Over 150 delegates have already registered so places are limitied; if you would like to attend, register for the conference asap.
The HEA is a national body for enhancing learning and teaching in higher education in the UK. It works with institutions across the HE system to help bring about change in learning and teaching to improve the outcomes for students. To do this HEA recognises and rewards excellent teaching, bringing together people and resources to research and share best practice and by helping influence, shape and implement policy.
As part of its annual conference HEA STEM is running a competition to encourage students to think about why they are following their current course of study and to encourage others to consider the same.
Students from the STEM disciplines are invite dto submit a photograph or digital image that captures the essence/excitement of their subject and might motivate others to study it. All submissions will be displayed at the HEA STEM annual conference in poster format and the images will be judged by the delegates of the STEM conference.
The winner will be awarded a £250 book token and invited to attend the Higher Education Academy National Annual Conference in July 2012 (all expenses paid), where the prize will be awards to the winner and the other discipline winners at the conference dinner.
Submissions must be emailed to HEA’s academic development officer Karen Fraser by 1 April 2012.
Organisations seeking to build a data-driven culture need to seek out people who “ask the right questions” rather than looking for those “who seem to have all the answers”, bit.ly chief data scientist Hilary Mason has said.
According to Mason, the emerging profession of data scientist requires enquiring, flexible people who are ready to learn new skills through either formal or self-education.
In an interview with Forbes magazine Mason described data scientists as “awesome nerds”. There are few people who currently have the necessary expertise in statistics, computer science, a deep knowledge of internet architecture – and the ability to successfully combine these skills to “actually make something work”.
Mason, who is also a Dataist, co-founder of HackNY and a member of NYC Resistor, was recently included on on Fortune’s 40 Under 40: Ones to Watch list. She says data science is part analysis – “counting” – and part finding insights through developing tools and techniques.
As the volume and diversity of data generated mushrooms, so does the range of tools to collate, analyse and visualise it. So she advises that organisations be supportive to questioning and experimentation, and do not get tied into any single technology.
The advent of cheaper, ‘commodity’ big data technologies such as Hadoop and proliferation of easy to use visualisation tools has lowered the barriers to entry to data science. And the basic skills can be picked up in hours rather than years. But more complex tasks will require the skills of the ‘priesthood’, a select group of academics and skilled programmers.
And while technology continues to advance rapidly Mason stresses the importance of ‘human contextual interpretation’. Understanding and explaining the nature – and limitations – of data is a vital task. So data scientists need communications skills too.
Other prominent practitioners echo this sentiment. At a recent TED talk, New York Times Data Artist in Residence Jer Thorp stressed that technology alone is not the complete answer and that the human context was required if big data is to achieve its potential.
Thorp, who has worked with UCLA statistics professor Mark Hansen to develop new visualising tools, talked about the need for empathy and the role for creative skills. With the involvement of “artists, poets and writers” big data can be taken to “tremendous places”, he said.
The first in a new series of residential graduate training courses provided by the Royal Statistical Society with support from EPSRC will take place at Newcastle University from 23-27 July this year.
The topic for the first residential week will be ‘Advanced Computational Bayesian Inference’, which comprises two courses:
Modern Computational Statistics: Alternatives to MCMC; presented by Paul Fearnhead (Lancaster University)
- Designing Markov chain Monte Carlo methods based on Diffusions and Geodesic Flows on Manifolds: The Differential Geometry of MCMC; presented by Mark Girolami (University College London).
The courses are mainly aimed at PhD students in their second and third years, though others may be able to attend.
The course registration fee for GTP 2012 is £150. Accommodation and subsistence, including a conference dinner, will be provided free for EPSRC-funded students from Sunday-Friday. Capacity is limited, so places on the course will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
The aim of the Graduate Training Programme (GTP) is to provide a series of high level and specialist courses in Statistics and Applied Probability to graduate statisticians. The 2012 GTP follows on from previous successful EPSRC/RSS programmes running from 2002-2007.
Ideas under consideration at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to charge for core reference datasets such as the Ordnance Survey mapping data, postcodes, and company data are likely to stifle enterprise and impede more open government, open data advocate Chris Taggart has asserted.
In an open letter to business minister Vince Cable Taggart, co-founder and CEO of OpenCorporates, founder of openlyLocal.com and a member of the Local Public Data Panel said that by pursuing “a relatively minor source of revenue” the BIS plans put the nation’s future at risk.
Instead, he urged Cable to focus “on a ‘connected approach across government’”. The government should be be able “to reuse and publish its own data without the corrosive and restrictive licences placed upon it by the likes of Ordnance Survey, and thus have a truly connected approach,” he said.
Government departments lacked “the right skills, experience” to come up with what Cable’s former deputy Ed Davey had called ‘innovative charging models’, Taggart wrote.
The letter stressed that entrepreneurs like himself should be taking the risks. In one year, Taggart’s OpenCorporates venture has grown to be the largest open database of corporate data in the world – without “any help, encouragement or cooperation from BIS”.
A new search feature on OpenCorporates’ free service allows journalists, fraud investigators, investors, civil society, customers and suppliers to understand companies by looking for directors across multiple jurisdictions. But UK companies are not included because the data held by Companies House has to be paid for.
Taggart noted that part of the government’s growth agenda was based upon opening non-personal government data. But much of the “considerable amount” of data it had already published “is almost useless without the core reference to tie it together – data which is under the control of your department.”
“One vision for the future would include making the UK a genuinely open and transparent place to do business … where all data is available openly and without charge. It would include making the UK leaders in the field of open data, not just generating a world-leading ecosystem of companies … but pioneering the use of open data by companies of all types and sizes,” Taggart wrote.
Taggart’s letter to Vince Cable was published in the same week that cabinet office minister Francis Maude told the Information Commissioner’s conference that his mission is to get Whitehall to share data more effectively.
Maude said that swapping information would improve public services and cut their cost. But while promising a comprehensive overhaul of statutes governing the use of official data, he did not spell out the legislative changes the government envisaged.