Hail the Scientist

Thank you for your continued efforts this last week or so. Reflecting upon our return, many of us may well have naïvely thought that we would establish some sort of rhythm and routine which would allow us to settle back into the new term. However, I now realise that each week will be very different from the previous and, in turn, from the next. The present circumstances globally, nationally and locally will continue to have an impact upon how we work; week in and week out. We are going to continue to need to be flexible, committed and positive. It will be challenging, day by day and many of us may well find some of the decisions that we have to take or which impact upon us  are a little uncomfortable. However, the schools and the college will always do what is right and necessary to safeguard children, young people and adults associated with our institutions.

It is important that we stand together and understand how our individual commitment, our personal positivity and our willingness to go along with things as they are, knowing they are not as we would always want them to be, is desperately important at this critical time. There may well be a very small number of people who want to disrupt, destabilise or engender discontent. We must stand against those malcontents. Together we are stronger.

I did say last week that I would endeavour to not dwell too much or too deeply on the COVID crisis, through and in these messages. Last week I broadly discussed the return of the football season. Some of you will have seen the word ‘football’ and immediately press delete. I understand that. However obvious that message might have seemed, I hope some of you felt that there was something more in it; maybe about community, or connections, or personal history. I hope that there might always be a broader message.

To reassure many of you I will move away from football this week (and not to Formula One – as has been requested – that really cannot be classed as a sport!) and I just briefly want to consider science. Obviously, scientists are at the heart of our response to the present crisis but it is great to see that scientific research into other areas of our world: be that our natural world, our physical world or space.

No, it’s not Venus and potential life in space that’s caught my eye this week, instead it’s been rather entertaining to consider the Ig Nobel awards. These awards are offered annually to scientists who have engaged in scientific studies which may seem a little tangential. You may well have seen the headlines about the winning team who gave helium gas to alligators, in an attempt to study communication in reptiles. The Ig Nobel awards are not to be confused with the Darwin awards (which I may well come to at some point in the future). These are serious scientists engaged in serious scientific research. They can often bring a smile to the face of those of us who aren’t scientists – mainly for the right reasons.

My favourite award went to a team studying peace. In an attempt to defuse tensions researchers have encouraged the governments of India and Pakistan to suggest to their diplomats that they surreptitiously ring each other’s doorbells, in the middle of the night, and then run away before anyone had a chance to answer the door. Brilliant!

The runners-up award, for me, goes to the team of material scientists whose study has shown that knives manufactured from frozen human faeces do not work that well. Genius! I hope they received a significant research fund for that.

Science, scientists, decent serious research and evidence-based decision-making are all desperately important at this critical time in our history. It’s absolutely right that we should take research seriously and ensure that as many of our research grants go to things that will make a tangible and significant difference. I’m reassured, having considered the Ig Nobel awards that the likelihood of war between India and Pakistan is marginally reduced as a consequence of some of the work which has taken place and now has been recognised. I’m also hoping that those countries’ armies, and other armies for that matter, might have a look at their weapons in the near future and maybe there will be some alternatively manufactured knives brought out of the freezer, at the point of any potential future conflict.

Much of that is utter nonsense, but may well bring a smile to a face or two in these difficult times.

‘We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.’ Carl Sagan