Tag Archives: Science Cafe

The Science (Café) of Logic

Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.

Through the Looking-Glass
Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)

On Tuesday night I made my second appearance on Science Café, BBC Radio Wales’ flagship weekly science and technology programme, which aims to explore the science and technology stories making the headlines and reveal the latest Welsh scientific research.

The topic of this week’s programme was logic: a two thousand year old system of reasoning and argumentation which (some) humans use every day, as well as being the foundation of computation and modern technology. I was joined on the panel by two distinguished colleagues, Professor John Tucker (Professor of Computer Science at Swansea University) and Professor Christopher Norris (Distinguished Research Professor in Philosophy at Cardiff University).

The discussion was driven by the expertise of the panel: starting from the development of “classical logic” as a formal system of the principles of inference and rational reasoning, all the way back to Aristotle and the classical trivium. Then moving into the mathematical logic of the late 19th century and early 20th century with Hilbert and his program to clarify the foundations of mathematics, how Gödel shattered Hilbert’s dream, and in particular, the significant contributions to philosophy, mathematics and logic of the Welsh-born Bertrand Russell. Logic cuts to the heart of computer science as it emerged as a discipline: Turing‘s work on the Entscheidungsproblem followed from Gödel’s work on the incompleteness theorems, with the notion of computation and general-purpose computers being of fundamental importance to the designers of the computer machinery in the 1940s. This rapidly moved on to a discussion of expressing human knowledge using logic with mathematical notation, developing “intelligent” thinking machines and the problems of artificial intelligence (especially so-called strong AI). This (briefly) touched upon my work using logic programming for real-world declarative problem-solving, particularly for provably optimal code generation and improving the efficiency of microprocessors.

In essence, the key point was made about how logic is pervasive in our modern technological society: in every piece of digital electronics and especially in software — a clear manifestation of logic. This led to an important education question: shouldn’t we be developing these important deductive reasoning, problem-solving and computational thinking skills at school? I certainly think so. Finally, in a move that may come back to haunt me in later years, I was asked to finish with a joke about logic…

The Science Café “Logic” programme is now available on iPlayer (but only for seven days after broadcast). You can also read about my week with the Science Café team in Wrexham in August 2011.

BBC Wales in Swansea

The BBC studio in Swansea, where Dylan Thomas made many of his radio broadcasts.

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A week at the Science Café

As part of my 2011 British Science Association Media Fellowship at BBC Wales (see other posts). I spent a week in Wrexham working on Science Café (@BBCScienceCafe), BBC Radio Wales’ flagship weekly science and technology programme presented by Adam Walton. It aims to explore the science and technology stories making the headlines and reveal the latest Welsh scientific research; in this way it differentiates from BBC Click by focusing more on science and scientists rather than consumer technology.

Science Café is based at the new BBC North East Wales site at the Centre for the Creative Industries, Glyndŵr University. I spent a week working with Jeremy Grange and Alan Daulby, two excellent BBC producers, discussing ideas for future Science Café programmes.

BBC in Wrexham

I had initially planned on pitching programme ideas to raise the perception of computer science research, as well as the importance of computing education and the wider societal impact of technology. However, an idea quickly developed around a “Desert Island Discs for scientists”, to understand what inspired researchers in Wales to become scientists. This very quickly evolved into a programme that was recorded on Thursday 18th August and broadcast on Tuesday 23rd August; I was joined on the programme by two other scientists based in Wales:

  • An astronomer, Dr Edward Gomez, who is Education Director for Las Cumbras Observatory Global Telescope Network in Cardiff University.
  • Dr Anna Croft, a bio-chemist at Bangor University looking at biological interactions and reaction mechanisms.

The 30 minute programme was based around a panel discussion, with each of us describing our main influences and inspiration as scientists, especially what first hooked us as children. My childhood influences possibly adhered to the geek stereotype (although, geek chic is now rather fashionable): the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (passim on this blog), Star Trek (predominantly TNG), Doctor Who, the BBC Micro and Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, as well as a couple of inspiring science and maths teachers at my secondary school in Oxford (particularly Steve Drywood, who sadly passed away a few years ago). The scientists who I felt had inspired or influenced me over my formative years were Richard Feynman, Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking (although due to the editing, I only mentioned Professor Steve Furber, who is best known for his work at Acorn, where he was one of the designers of the BBC Micro). We finished with some future gazing, describing our own research and its possible wider impact on society. I did notice some of my idiosyncrasies, particularly a penchant for saying “kind of” when I start to ramble on. However, it was very well edited by Alan, squeezing the best bits of the c.45 minute discussion into the programme.

Overall, a big thanks to Jeremy and Alan for making me feel welcome in Wrexham (especially in the quiet week after the 2011 National Eisteddfod of Wales!) and I look forward to working with Science Café in the future. Keep an eye out for future programmes on logic and computing education…

The “Inspiration” Science Café programme is now available on iPlayer!
(UPDATE: unfortunately the programme is only available on iPlayer for seven days after being broadcast…but I do have my own personal copy if you are desperate to listen to it.)

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2011 British Science Association Media Fellowship

This week I am starting my 2011 British Science Association Media Fellowship with BBC Wales. The Media Fellowships aim to create a greater awareness and understanding of the workings of the media amongst practising scientists, social scientists, clinicians and engineers. The Media Fellows spend 3 to 8 weeks working within the national press, broadcast or internet media to better understand how scientists can interact with the media (increasingly relevant for academics), as well as learning how to produce accurate and relevant pieces about developments in science. The scheme has been running since 1987 and reflects the British Science Association’s wider commitment to working with the media to build greater understanding between science and society. The Media Fellows will also attend the British Science Festival 2011, to be held in Bradford in September, reporting for their hosts.

My six week placement with BBC Wales will be predominantly with BBC Radio Wales in Cardiff, working on Good Morning Wales and Good Evening Wales. I will also be spending a week in Wrexham with Science Cafe, BBC Radio Wales’ weekly science and technology programme, as well as some time on TV with BBC Wales Today (the BBC’s national news programme for Wales) and online with BBC News Wales. BBC Wales do not currently have a dedicated science correspondent, so I hope to try and increase and broaden their science output by highlighting relevant research and policy developments in Wales.

I have already been working on Good Evening Wales for two days last week, taking a news story from inception to broadcast: with the publication of the Bateson report [PDF] on primate research last Wednesday, this raised wider discussions about the effectiveness and importance of animal research in the UK. This was in light of a recent YouGov poll, in which 69% of the British public support the Government taking action to replace and reduce experimentation on animals (albeit with a slightly leading question IMHO). I arranged an interview with the communications and public engagement manager from Understanding Animal Research (with thanks to the Science Media Centre!), which went out live at 5:40pm. It was interesting to see how a story develops from the morning production meeting to going out on air in the evening, as well as how news is prioritised (especially during a busy news week).

I will be blogging throughout my time with BBC Wales, so keep an eye on the Media Fellowship tag. You can also contact me on my swanky BBC email address: dr.tom.crick@bbc.co.uk (N.B. I did not request this! But I appear to be in rather illustrious company).

The ten 2011 Media Fellows are:

  • Ms Leila Battison (Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford), with BBC Radio and BBC News Online.
  • Ms Amy Chesterton (Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Cambridge), with the Naked Scientists.
  • Dr Tom Crick (Senior Lecturer in Computer Science, UWIC), with BBC Wales.
  • Dr Nathan Green (Northwest Institute for BioHealth Informatics, University of Manchester), with the Guardian.
  • Dr Elena Hoika (Lecturer in Developmental Psychology, University of Stirling), with the Scotsman in Edinburgh.
  • Dr Hamish Pritchard (British Antarctic Survey), with BBC Radio and BBC News Online.
  • Dr Amy Strange (Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford) with the Irish Times in Dublin.
  • Dr Lee Sweetlove (Reader in Plant Biochemistry, University of Oxford), with Nature.
  • Mr Richard Walters (Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford), with the Times.
  • Dr Andrew Wright (Reader in Building Engineering Physics, De Montfort University), with the Times Higher Education.
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