Sunday, December 15, 2013

Brian and Robin's Christmas Compendium of Reason

This was a fantastic event (and for various charities too. Scholarships for those who are the first generation to go to Uni; The Sophie Lancaster Foundation; and Medecins Sans Frontieres) Each slot only had 6 - 10 minutes, as you can see a lot was packed in. In four hours we were treated to:

Comedy from: Josie Long on learning maths; Stewart Lee on his wives, real and imaginary wives and Chris Addison on being Science Interested.

Musics from: A laser harp (I can't remember the player's name unfortunately); the fantastic Grace Petrie singing about a letter written to Charles Darwin by his wife Emma, who worried about his soul; Hi Top Drop singing how the geeks shall inherit the Earth; Emperor Yes paying homage to Carl Sagan; Barry Cryer & Ronnie Golden asking for peace and quiet and Commander Chris Hadfield (with Prof. Brian Cox on piano) performing Space Oddity (needless to say, this was a particular highlight!).

And of course, the main attraction: a big bunch of reason in the form of Simon Singh on maths and The Simpsons; Andrea Seller on how cool the element mercury is; Aoife McLysaght on chimerism and microchimerism; Prof Alice Roberts on how the human body is an example of terrible design; all of physics in 6 minutes with Jim Al-Khalili and Prof Brian Cox; Festival of the Spoken Nerd giving us a tease of their Full Frontal Nerdity; a Q&A with Chris Hadfield, Prof Brian Cox, Ross Noble and a tub of humous; Ben Goldacre on the importance of (go check it out) and the work that's preceded it.

This was all wonderfully (and interestingly) compered by the amazing Robin Ince. It was a fantastic night - so thanks to Robin and Brian for putting it together.

It's not possible to list all the highlights, awesomeness and interesting things - it was an excellent evening all round, but here are three things that I learnt about and hope you will enjoy too:

Microchimerism - I'd already learnt about chimerism (where twins fuse in the womb, so are born as one person, but with two genomes), but never knew this existed, and is really cool. Microchimerism operates on a smaller scale - cells from embryos can end up in their mothers tissues. This was discovered when male DNA was found in just over 60% of women in their 70s and 80s. These cells take part in tissues for the long term. Amazing, and I'm looking forward to find out more!

Prof Brian Cox talked about two wonderful results from 2013. One was the Planck mapping of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. The other was that, based the data of planets found by Keplar, 1 in 5 stars has a potential Earth like planet. You must check out the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

I've long had a man crush on Ben Goldacre, and he demonstrated why - talking at 100 mph he showed how he's making the world a better place by talking about the successes he has helped lead in trying to stop the pharmaceutical companies from hiding negative results of  their products. This practice means that doctors don't have access to the full information on the drugs they prescribe, which needlessly endangers and kills patients. Case in point: reboxitine - Dr Goldacre himself prescribed this, based on the published papers that showed good evidence it helped. He stopped when he found the unpublished ones didn't have evidence it worked. With all the data on show, it turned out to be nothing more than a placebo, but a dangerous one, as unlike sugar pills or homeopathy, this placebo came with side effects. So please, go to and get involved.

If you get a chance to see one of the shows Robin Ince puts on, you really should. They're fab!

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