Tricky Dick, Leicester’s own

Except he wasn’t of course. Just murdered and buried there, poor sod. He should be re-buried in Yorkshire. Anyhoo, by majority vote, the Leicester archaeology team did a fine job. It was all very exciting and splendid, and a lovely boost for my second Alma Mater… so of course here are a few carpings : (is carping a noun? Ed)

(1) Did you see the Channel 4 documentary? It was both fun and worrying – all that nervous weeping, buried-under-the-R stuff, and interviews with nutty Ricardians. I guess it was planned as a jokey look at over-keen amateurs and the usual “aren’t the eggheads funny”  stuff, presented by a comedian, but bugger me they spoiled the plot by actually finding the bastard. Still… it was enjoyable.

(2) Big press release before the paper is refereed? Oooohhh dear …. Martian meteorite anyone? As far as I can tell, the team did do a very thorough job, but you never know. Somewhere I saw some dark mutterings about “only thirty base pairs”. Where was that? Probably somewhere in the Grauniad, but unless @wikimir points me to the right page, I don’t know where to look. Anyway, with something as big as this, they probably had no choice.

(3) The only bit that grated for me was the  corporate wording of the announcement. “So, the academic conclusions of the University of Leicester are..”. Not, you’ll notice  “..the conclusion that I, learned scholar, have come to is…”. Boy those Leicester people have their scientists well trained ! There was me thinking that universities are multilithic cultures, convenient agglomerations of scholars. Well of course we are all under pressure, so one can’t blame an organisation for trying. My first Alma Mater and current employer has got about a quarter of the way towards house training Peter Higgs. But somehow I can’t help feeling it could be done with a little more subtlety. You don’t find starlets on chat shows saying “well, in my latest Warners Bros movie…” but somehow Warner Bros make a decent living …

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28 Responses to Tricky Dick, Leicester’s own

  1. Phil Evans says:

    I have replied to you on Twitter, but one thing I will say in defence of Leicester Uni (and not just because I work here, as a post-doc). I thought the press conference was *really* well done, with the various scholars explaining their findings, their reasoning, the process that things go through and how confident they are in each step of the process. Of course, the snippets on the news will always be subjective, and some of the comments afterwards by “experts” for the media annoyed me because they were so much more superficial and less reasoned, but if you get a chance to see the full press conference do watch it. I think it was a great advert for academic process, and also (especially the bit showing how the guy had part of his head sliced off by a halberd) a really good way of inspiring the next generation of academics.
    Unfortunately, I can’t find the actual press conference online at the moment, but I trust it will be posted soon!

  2. Tony says:

    I saw there was a facial reconstruction due to be released today. Will be interesting to see how that compares to the painting.

  3. Michael Merrifield says:

    My objection isn’t so much that universities have corporate PR machines; it is that those PR machines are so bad at what they do. Doing admissions, I find it astounding that Marketing seem to struggle to grasp that a slick corporate message sends exactly the message that most prospective students do not want to hear.

    The University of Leicester would surely have done better out of this opportunity if they had put their logo in the background of shots, left the journalists to say “Leicester” lots of times, and generally let subliminal advertising work its magic.

    • andyxl says:

      Mike – exactly right ! Of course you need PR, but the slick-corporate thing puts off the potential customers (seventeen year olds filling in their UCAS forms). And Phil, I do agree that within this context, the scientists did it very well. I didn’t see the live press conference, but within the jokey documentary, you could see them patiently explaining and maintaining their dignity. I think we are all in love with that nice Jo Appleby now.

  4. Tony says:

    Ha. Just heard that my daughter and her friends used to play over the remains when the site was the Leicester Grammar playground. Hope they don’t get done for treason.

  5. You don’t find starlets on chat shows saying “well, in my latest Warners Bros movie…” but somehow Warner Bros make a decent living …

    I did once hear a musician refer to herself and colleagues as “BMG artists”. :-|

  6. I didn’t see it, but (rather disconcertingly) this morning my colleagues informed me that I was actually in the documentary.

  7. Ken Rice says:

    Mary Beard caused a bit of a Twitter storm yesterday by questioning the historical significance of the discovery. She’s written what I think is quite a good clarification of what she was suggesting on her blog, A Don’s Life.

    http://timesonline.typepad.com/dons_life/2013/02/richard-of-york-gave-battle-in-vain.html

  8. Tony says:

    Yet more bollocks about the peerless peer review process. Face it, peer review as currently practised is CRAP. Any process which takes months or years to get sight of and validate results is rubbish. It might have been valid when a letter to colleagues overseas and around the country took months to get to them, but in the age of email, blogs, wikis and twitter, it really is silly. I don’t pretend to have an answer but it is time academics and their funding agencies got the whole area sorted out so that science and academic research could approach the speed of technology development.

    • andyxl says:

      Hmmm .. half agree Tony. Yes its slow, and we should find a more modern way of doing it, but the process is still crucial. You have to know what you can trust. Otherwise our corporate masters will push us into more and more shallow gibberish. Technology may be in a hurry, but the truth can wait. And sometimes there is just no alternative but for the dust of a thousand truths to settle upon your head.

      • Tony says:

        But the truth doesn’t have to wait. Imagine if OPERA had blogged or wiki-ed their setup and ongoing results exactly as they happened. Maybe someone would have picked up the inconsistent setup and they wouldn’t have wasted so much time on faster than light errors (entertaining as the whole circus was).

        For all the complaints about corporatising the academy, is there anything more capitalist than hiding your setup, process, intermediate findings and results until being certain that you and only you can get the full benefit (ie, the kudos)?

  9. andyxl says:

    So… are you saying “we don’t need peer review” or “we need a better way of doing peer review”? Do you want science assessed by experts, or democratically by any member of the public? Have you read the Daily Mail comment stream?

    • Tony says:

      Certainly that we need a better, or at least faster, way. Maybe some way of gaining micro-kudos based on incremental work instead of one paper at the end of five years work listing seventy five contributors. The system seems neither fair nor efficient, more akin to Scrooge’s counting house than any sort of modern enterprise (meant in the non-commercial sense).

      • andyxl says:

        Tony – peer review is not about getting the kudos. We all know that matters to academics, but its not what the peer review is for. Peer review is for protecting what we read, so we know we can trust it, rather than protecting what we create. Lets solve these two problems separately!

      • ian smail says:

        if anything astronomy is moving in the direction of many more, even more minor, communications – which makes it increasingly difficult to keep track of developments – there’s no synthesis.

        spending 5 years doing a study, before you publish anything, is virtually unknown. at least at present in the UK – your funding wouldn’t last 5 years if you weren’t producing anything…

  10. [...] but perhaps not surprising that the reactions to yesterdays Tricky Dicky post were all about University PR and Corporatism. Universities are in a tricky situation; its quite [...]

  11. Phil Evans says:

    Just to close the loop on my comments on the whole coporate doo dah vs academic integrity &c; the actual press conference is now online: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91R-LkW2x3s

    It is 40 mins, but well worth a watch: I haven’t seen the C4 documentary but have heard nothing but criticism of it; on the other hand, this press conf I think (and many others did) on the whole was presented in a good, academic way.

  12. jtedds says:

    Any comments on the Newsnight piece? Sadly superficial I thought – as they did for the initial discovery – more concerned with actors who played Richard III.

    Otherwise I’ve been struck by how people have noticed different kinds of research coming together to make this possible so quite inspirational I would hope.

  13. Mark Taylor says:

    Carping is a noun, yes. It is a gerund, as any fule kno.

    • andyxl says:

      We, yes, I would have no doubt about “carping” but am worried about “carpings”. Carping is a continuous activity or entity – like water – rather than a discrete countable entity, like “dog”… But then again, if we can have “waters”????

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    • Considering the username* of the reply to which I am now replying, I wonder if he was attracted by the tricky dick in the title of Andy’s original post. :-)

      *I can’t bring myself to write “moniker” if there is more than one word involved.

  15. andyxl says:

    I am sure there is a gag in here somewhere about descanting on my own deformity … but can’t think of the punchline

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