Presenting facts as ‘consensus’ bridges conservative-liberal divide over climate change

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Mon, 12/11/2017 - 16:13

In the murk of post-truth public debate, facts can polarise. Scientific evidence triggers reaction and spin that ends up entrenching the attitudes of opposing political tribes.

Recent research suggests this phenomenon is actually stronger among the more educated, through what psychologists call 'motived reasoning': where data is rejected or twisted - consciously or otherwise - to prop up a particular worldview.

However, a new study in the journal Nature Human Behaviour finds that one type of fact can bridge the chasm between conservative and liberal, and pull people's opinions closer to the truth on one of the most polarising issues in US politics: climate change.

Previous research has broadly found US conservatives to be most sceptical of climate change. Yet by presenting a fact in the form of a consensus - "97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused global warming is happening" - researchers have now discovered that conservatives shift their perceptions significantly towards the scientific 'norm'.

In an experiment involving over 6,000 US citizens, psychologists found that introducing people to this consensus fact reduced polarisation between higher educated liberals and conservatives by roughly 50%, and increased conservative belief in a scientific accord on climate change by 20 percentage points.

Moreover, the latest research confirms the prior finding that climate change scepticism is indeed more deeply rooted among highly educated conservatives. Yet exposure to the simple fact of a scientific consensus neutralises the "negative interaction" between higher education and conservatism that strongly embeds these beliefs.

"The vast majority of people want to conform to societal standards, it's innate in us as a highly social species," says Dr Sander van der Linden, study lead author from the University of Cambridge's Department of Psychology.

"People often misperceive social norms, and seek to adjust once they are exposed to evidence of a group consensus," he says, pointing to the example that college students always think their friends drink more than they actually do.

"Our findings suggest that presenting people with a social fact, a consensus of opinion among experts, rather than challenging them with blunt scientific data, encourages a shift towards mainstream scientific belief - particularly among conservatives."

For van der Linden and his co-authors Drs Anthony Leiserowitz and Edward Maibach from Yale and George Mason universities in the US, social facts such as demonstrating a consensus can act as a "gateway belief": allowing a gradual recalibration of private attitudes.

"Information that directly threatens people's worldview can cause them to react negatively and become further entrenched in their beliefs. This 'backfire effect' appears to be particularly strong among highly educated US conservatives when it comes to contested issues such as manmade climate change," says van der Linden.

"It is more acceptable for people to change their perceptions of what is normative in science and society. Previous research has shown that people will then adjust their core beliefs over time to match. This is a less threatening way to change attitudes, avoiding the 'backfire effect' that can occur when someone's worldview is directly challenged."

For the study, researchers conducted online surveys of 6,301 US citizens that adhered to nationally representative quotas of gender, age, education, ethnicity, region and political ideology.

The nature of the study was hidden by claims of testing random media messages, with the climate change perception tests sandwiched between questions on consumer technology and popular culture messaging.

Half the sample were randomly assigned to receive the 'treatment' of exposure to the fact of scientific consensus, while the other half, the control group, did not.

Researchers found that attitudes towards scientific belief on climate change among self-declared conservatives were, on average, 35 percentage points lower (64%) than the actual scientific consensus of 97%. Among liberals it was 20 percentage points lower.

They also found a small additional negative effect: when someone is highly educated and conservative they judge scientific agreement to be even lower.

However, once the treatment group were exposed to the 'social fact' of overwhelming scientific agreement, higher-educated conservatives shifted their perception of the scientific norm by 20 percentage points to 83% - almost in line with post-treatment liberals.

The added negative effect of conservatism plus high education was completely neutralised through exposure to the truth on scientific agreement around manmade climate change.

"Scientists as a group are still viewed as trustworthy and non-partisan across the political spectrum in the US, despite frequent attempts to discredit their work through 'fake news' denunciations and underhand lobbying techniques deployed by some on the right," says van der Linden.

"Our study suggests that even in our so-called post-truth environment, hope is not lost for the fact. By presenting scientific facts in a socialised form, such as highlighting consensus, we can still shift opinion across political divides on some of the most pressing issues of our time."

New evidence shows that ‘social fact’ highlighting expert consensus shifts perceptions across US political spectrum – particularly among highly educated conservatives. Facts that encourage agreement are a promising way of cutting through today’s ‘post-truth’ bluster, say psychologists.

Even in our so-called post-truth environment, hope is not lost for the factSander van der Linden Photo by Jose Moreno on UnsplashProtester in Seattle, US

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Industrial Revolution left a damaging psychological ‘imprint’ on today’s populations

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Sun, 12/10/2017 - 09:22

People living in the former industrial heartlands of England and Wales are more disposed to negative emotions such as anxiety and depressive moods, more impulsive and more likely to struggle with planning and self-motivation, according to a new study of almost 400,000 personality tests.

The findings show that, generations after the white heat of Industrial Revolution and decades on from the decline of deep coal mining, the populations of areas where coal-based industries dominated in the 19th century retain a “psychological adversity”. 

Researchers suggest this is the inherited product of selective migrations during mass industrialisation compounded by the social effects of severe work and living conditions.

They argue that the damaging cognitive legacy of coal is “reinforced and amplified” by the more obvious economic consequences of high unemployment we see today. The study also found significantly lower life satisfaction in these areas.   

The UK findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, are supported by a North American “robustness check”, with less detailed data from US demographics suggesting the same patterns of post-industrial personality traits. 

“Regional patterns of personality and well-being may have their roots in major societal changes underway decades or centuries earlier, and the Industrial Revolution is arguably one of the most influential and formative epochs in modern history,” says co-author Dr Jason Rentfrow, from Cambridge’s Department of Psychology.

“Those who live in a post-industrial landscape still do so in the shadow of coal, internally as well as externally. This study is one of the first to show that the Industrial Revolution has a hidden psychological heritage, one that is imprinted on today’s psychological make-up of the regions of England and Wales.”

An international team of psychologists, including researchers from the Queensland University of Technology, University of Texas, University of Cambridge and the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University, used data collected from 381,916 people across England and Wales during 2009-2011 as part of the BBC Lab’s online Big Personality Test.

The team analysed test scores by looking at the “big five” personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness. The results were further dissected by characteristics such as altruism, self-discipline and anxiety. 

The data was also broken down by region and county, and compared with several other large-scale datasets including coalfield maps and a male occupation census of the early 19th century (collated through parish baptism records, where the father listed his job).

The team controlled for an extensive range of other possible influences – from competing economic factors in the 19th century and earlier, through to modern considerations of education, wealth and even climate.

However, they still found significant personality differences for those currently occupying areas where large numbers of men had been employed in coal-based industries from 1813 to 1820 – as the Industrial Revolution was peaking.

Neuroticism was, on average, 33% higher in these areas compared with the rest of the country. In the ‘big five’ model of personality, this translates as increased emotional instability, prone to feelings of worry or anger, as well as higher risk of common mental disorders such as depression and substance abuse.

In fact, in the further “sub-facet” analyses, these post-industrial areas scored 31% higher for tendencies toward both anxiety and depression.

Areas that ranked highest for neuroticism include Blaenau Gwent and Ceredigion in South Wales, and Hartlepool in England. 

Conscientiousness was, on average, 26% lower in former industrial areas. In the ‘big five’ model, this manifests as more disorderly and less goal-oriented behaviours – difficulty with planning and saving money. The underlying sub-facet of ‘order’ itself was 35% lower in these areas.

The lowest three areas for conscientiousness were all in Wales (Merthyr Tydfil, Ceredigion and Gwynedd), with English areas including Nottingham and Leicester.   

An assessment of life satisfaction was included in the BBC Lab questionnaire, which was an average of 29% lower in former industrial centres. 

While researchers say there will be many factors behind the correlation between personality traits and historic industrialisation, they offer two likely ones: migration and socialisation (learned behaviour).    

The people migrating into industrial areas were often doing so to find employment in the hope of escaping poverty and distressing situations of rural depression – those experiencing high levels of ‘psychological adversity’.

However, people that left these areas, often later on, were likely those with higher degrees of optimism and psychological resilience, say researchers.

This “selective influx and outflow” may have concentrated so-called ‘negative’ personality traits in industrial areas – traits that can be passed down generations through combinations of experience and genetics.

Migratory effects would have been exacerbated by the ‘socialisation’ of repetitive, dangerous and exhausting labour from childhood – reducing well-being and elevating stress – combined with harsh conditions of overcrowding and atrocious sanitation during the age of steam.

The study’s authors argue their findings have important implications for today’s policymakers looking at public health interventions.

“The decline of coal in areas dependent on such industries has caused persistent economic hardship – most prominently high unemployment. This is only likely to have contributed to the baseline of psychological adversity the Industrial Revolution imprinted on some populations,” says co-author Michael Stuetzer from Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University, Germany.   

“These regional personality levels may have a long history, reaching back to the foundations of our industrial world, so it seems safe to assume they will continue to shape the well-being, health, and economic trajectories of these regions.”

The team note that, while they focused on the negative psychological imprint of coal, future research could examine possible long-term positive effects in these regions born of the same adversity – such as the solidarity and civic engagement witnessed in the labour movement.  

Study finds people in areas historically reliant on coal-based industries have more ‘negative’ personality traits. Psychologists suggest this cognitive die may well have been cast at the dawn of the industrial age.

The Industrial Revolution has a hidden psychological heritage, one that is imprinted on today’s psychological make-up of the regions of England and WalesJason RentfrowWellcome ImagesIndustrial workplace

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

The Billingford Hutch and the moonwort fern – a medieval mystery solved

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Sun, 12/10/2017 - 01:53

A visitor to the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College may have solved the puzzle of a curious decorative detail on a chest dating from the early 15th century. The massive oak chest is known as the Billingford Hutch and takes its name from Richard de Billingford, the fifth Master of Corpus Christi (1398-1432).

Jeremy Purseglove, environmentalist and Cambridge resident, visited the Library during  Open Cambridge in September 2017. “It was a wonderful chance to get a glimpse of some of the Library’s medieval manuscripts,” he said.

“We were given a fascinating talk by Alexander Devine, one of the librarians. He showed us a massive chest that had recently been moved to the Library from elsewhere in the College. My eye was drawn to the leaf shapes in the metal work.”

The chest is made from oak planks and measures approximately 1.8m x 0.5m x 0.4m. It is reinforced by numerous iron bands and five iron hasps, secured in three locks, all operated by different keys. Each of the lock plates (the metal plates containing the locks, hasps and keyholes) is decorated with the outline of a plant punched into the metal.

No-one knew the significance of this decorative detail. Purseglove, who is passionate about plants, suspected the distinctive shape was likely to be that of moonwort, a fern much mentioned by 16th- century herbalists. He said: “I rushed home and looked it up. I found that it had been associated with the opening of locks and guarding of silver.”

According to the renowned herbalist Nicholas Culpepper, writing in the 17th century: “Moonwort is an herb which (they say) will open locks, and unshoe such horses as tread upon it. This some laugh to scorn, and those no small fools neither; but country people, that I know, call it Unshoe the Horse.” Moonwort is also mentioned by dramatist Ben Jonson as an ingredient of witches’ broth.

In both design and structure, the Billingford Hutch is similar to many surviving chests made for the storage of valuables in late medieval Europe, from strongboxes and trunks to coffers and caskets. However, what makes the Billingford Hutch remarkable is that it’s a loan chest, a rare example of late medieval ‘financial furniture’. 

University loan chests operated a bit like pawn shops and afforded temporary financial assistance to struggling scholars. “Richard de Billingford gave the College a sum of £20 which was placed in the chest under the guardianship of three custodians,” said Devine.

“Masters and Fellows of Corpus Christi were able to obtain loans up to a value of 40 shillings, around £2, by pledging objects of greater value, most often manuscripts, which would be held in the chest. After a specified time, the pledge – if unredeemed – would be sold and the original loan repaid to the chest with any profit going to the borrower.”

Billingford created the loan fund in 1420 but the chest itself may be even older. Other Cambridge colleges also had loan chests during the late Middle Ages but precious few survive. Corpus has retained not only the chest itself but also its register, containing its administrative records for more than 300 years.

The register offers great insight into the role of the chest in late medieval academic life at Corpus. Every one of the College’s Fellows and its Masters is named in the register, and many were repeat borrowers, demonstrating that the chest fulfilled a genuine need. The most frequent objects pledged to the Hutch were books. Other valuables included sacred vessels and chalices, silver spoons and salt cellars.

Devine said: “The Billingford Hutch is probably the best surviving example of its kind in Europe. To have a possible answer to the puzzle of its decorative motif is fantastic. We’re immensely grateful to Jeremy for enriching our understanding of its history. His wonderful discovery is further proof that sharing your collections with the public is the key to unlocking their secrets.”

Inset images: decorative motif on the hasp of the Billingford Hutch; the Hutch in its present position in the Parker Library; illustrations of 'the lunaria plant' from a 15th-century Catalan compilation of alchemical tracts (Corpus Christi College).




A heavy oak chest in the Parker Library (Corpus Christi College) was used to store objects left as collateral for loans of money. Its ironwork features the outline of a plant – but no-one knew why. Now a visitor to the Library may have unravelled the meaning of this decorative motif.

Jeremy Purseglove's discovery is proof that sharing your collections with the public is the key to unlocking their secrets.Alexander DevineParker Library, Corpus Christi CollegeDecorative detail on the Billingford Hutch

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

In praise of openness | Vice-Chancellor's blog

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 09:45

My first full term in office has flown by. It has not allowed me to get a full picture of the collegiate university’s activities, but it has served to confirm, in my mind, the excellent work that our students, lecturers, researchers, staff and alumni are involved in every day.

The past two months have given me the opportunity to reflect on one of the themes of my first address to the University, in which I pledged to work to make Cambridge even more open to the world. How does Cambridge put into practice this ideal of openness?

Being literal about it, one might note the University’s openness to the community through initiatives like the Festival of Ideas, which this year attracted over 23,000 people to some 230 mostly free talks, lectures, screenings and performances. This is an example of a university fully committed to sharing its spaces and communicating its ideas to a wider public.

So too are the Faculty of English’s new partnership with the BBC in its national short story awards, or the “Physics at Work” outreach initiative that attracts close to 2,400 secondary school students each year to the Cavendish Labs.

The University’s open approach to the issue of animal research has recently been commended. A series of films made by the university, which illustrate how research using animals helps us to better understand conditions like obsessive compulsive disorder, was earlier this week awarded a 2017 Openness Award.

I said on my first day in office that I wanted Cambridge to be “a fully inclusive university, as open as possible to talented people, no matter their geographic origins or their background”. This means, among other things, being able to attract global talent. But the pre-requisite for this is, of course, the ease of movement of people (and their skills and ideas) across borders. The university will continue to raise this crucial issue with the government, particularly to ensure that the rights of our European colleagues are fully protected as the UK prepares to leave the EU.

Diversity in our student intake – geographical as well as social – is also essential. Our excellence is built on it.

I experienced first-hand what happens when a university chooses the path of openness and diversification. I was a teacher of public international law in Canada, in the eighties, when universities started admitting a much higher number of international students. This had a profound and positive impact on my classroom. The diversity of viewpoints in class meant that suddenly my students were exposed to perspectives they had never considered before. It made for better and more interesting discussions in class. I learned that we are all strengthened intellectually when our assumptions are challenged by people whose life experience is fundamentally different from our own.

The same is true about UK students from communities that have not historically sent many of their members to Cambridge. They, too, enrich the cultural, social and intellectual fabric of the university. We have a duty to be open to students irrespective of race, class and origin. More hard work is required, but Cambridge has achieved a great deal in its outreach programmes, in its financial support to students, and in its admissions processes.

It is not only students who underpin our diversity. We need to promote access throughout the university, and at all levels – encouraging, for instance, more women into professorships and positions of senior leadership, or finding and promoting talent in other traditionally underrepresented groups.

Openness to new ideas is a central part of the university experience – even when we disagree fundamentally with some of them. It is also a part of the university experience to challenge those ideas, robustly but respectfully, without shutting down free debate.

And might openness apply, also, to increasing the transparency of our own processes? The “Breaking the Silence” campaign, launched at the beginning of this term, sets a new standard for the way in which the university safeguards its students and staff, while nurturing a culture of mutual respect and consideration.

So is there a downside to openness? Occasionally – as we found out when experimenting with ways of being more open about how we communicate knowledge. When Professor Stephen Hawking’s PhD thesis, Properties of expanding universes, was recently published in digital form through our Open Access repository, the usually resilient system was very nearly overwhelmed by the demand. To date, Professor Hawking’s thesis has been viewed over 2 million times and downloaded by over 750,000 people. Openness indeed!

Before signing off until my next post, allow me to take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and restful holiday season.


The University of Cambridge welcomes comments on its pages. All comments are moderated. Please see our moderation guidelines.

I am very pleased to share the first in a series of regular posts collecting some of my thoughts on our university and its future.

I experienced first-hand what happens when a university chooses the path of openness and diversification.Prof. Stephen Toope

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

“All this cancer talk is new to me, but I do know there isn’t a stage five”

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 08:00

Read more about how clinical researchers, physicists, engineers and social scientists are among those collaborating as part of the Cancer Research UK Early Detection Programme.

Kate Gross was just 36 years old when she died of cancer. Researchers at Cambridge – including her husband – are trying to ensure that others receive their diagnoses early enough to stop their cancer. 

Billy Boyle/William CollinsKate Gross

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Genetics study adds further evidence that education reduces risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 12/07/2017 - 00:01

Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia. Its chief hallmark is the build of ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’ of misshapen proteins, which lead to the gradual death of brain cells. People affected by Alzheimer’s experience memory and communication problems, disorientation, changes in behaviour and progressive loss of independence.

The causes of Alzheimer’s are largely unknown, and attempts to develop drug treatments to halt or reverse its effects have been disappointing. This has led to increasing interest in whether it is possible to reduce the number of cases of Alzheimer’s disease by tackling common risk factors that can be modified. In fact, research from the Cambridge Institute of Public Health has shown that the incidence of Alzheimer’s is falling in the UK, probably due to improvements in education, and smoking reduction and better diet and exercise.

“Many studies have shown that certain risk factors are more common in people with Alzheimer’s disease, but determining whether these factors actually cause Alzheimer’s is more difficult,” says Professor Hugh Markus from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge.

“For example, many studies have shown that the more years spent in full time education, the lower the risk of Alzheimer’s. But it is difficult to unravel whether this is an effect of education improving brain function, or whether it’s the case that people who are more educated tend to come from more wealthy backgrounds and therefore have a reduction in other risk factors that cause Alzheimer’s disease.”

Professor Markus led a study to unpick these factors using a technique known as ‘Mendelian randomisation’. This involves looking at an individual’s DNA and comparing genes associated with environmental risk factors – for example, genes linked to educational attainment or to smoking – and seeing which of these genes are also associated with Alzheimer’s disease. If a gene is associated with both, then it provides strong evidence that this risk factor really does cause the disease.

As part of a project known as CoSTREAM, researchers studied genetic variants that increase the risk of a variety of different environmental risk factors to see if these were more common in 17,000 patients with Alzheimer’s disease. They found the strongest association with genetic variants that predict higher educational attainment.

“This provides further strong evidence that education is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” says first author Dr Susanna Larsson, now based at the Karolinska Institute, Sweden. “It suggests that improving education could have a significant effect on reducing the number of people who suffer from this devastating disease.”

Exactly how education might reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s is uncertain. Previous studies have shown that the same amount of damage in the brain is associated with less severe and less frequent Alzheimer’s in people who have received more education. One possible explanation is the idea of ‘cognitive reserve’ – the ability to recruit alternative brain networks or to use brain structures or networks not normally used to compensate for brain ageing. Evidence suggests that education helps improve brain wiring and networks and hence could increase this reserve.

The researchers also looked at other environmental risk factors, including smoking, vitamin D, and alcohol and coffee consumption. However, their results proved inconclusive. This may be because genes that predispose to smoking, for example, have only a very small effect on behaviour, they say.

The study was supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme.

Larsson, SC et al. Modifiable pathways in Alzheimer’s disease: Mendelian randomisation analysis. BMJ; 7 Dec 2017; DOI: 10.1136/bmj.j5375 

The theory that education protects against Alzheimer’s disease has been given further weight by new research from the University of Cambridge, funded by the European Union. The study is published today in The BMJ.

Many studies have shown that certain risk factors are more common in people with Alzheimer’s disease, but determining whether these factors actually cause Alzheimer’s is more difficultHugh MarkusCambridge UniversityDarwin Lecture Series

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Clean energy: experts outline how governments can successfully invest before it’s too late

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 12/06/2017 - 18:01

Governments need to give technical experts more autonomy and hold their nerve to provide more long-term stability when investing in clean energy, argue researchers in climate change and innovation policy in a new paper published today.

Writing in the journal Nature, the authors from UK and US institutions have set out guidelines for investment in world-changing energy innovation based on an analysis of the last twenty years of “what works” in clean energy research programs.

Their six simple “guiding principles” also include the need to channel innovation into the private sector through formal tech transfer programmes, and to think in terms of lasting knowledge creation rather than ‘quick win’ potential when funding new projects.

The authors offer a stark warning to governments and policymakers: learn from and build on experience before time runs out, rather than constantly reinventing aims and processes for the sake of political vanity.    

“As the window of opportunity to avert dangerous climate change narrows, we urgently need to take stock of policy initiatives around the world that aim to accelerate new energy technologies and stem greenhouse gas emissions,” said Laura Diaz Anadon, Professor of Climate Change Policy at the University of Cambridge.

“If we don’t build on the lessons from previous policy successes and failures to understand what works and why, we risk wasting time and money in a way that we simply can’t afford,” said Anadon, who authored the new paper with colleagues from the Harvard Kennedy School, as well as the University of Minnesota’s Prof Gabriel Chan.

Public investments in energy research have risen since the lows of the mid-1990s and early 2000s. OECD members spent US$16.6 billion on new energy research and development (R&D) in 2016 compared to $10b in 2010. The EU and other nations pledged to double clean energy investment as part of 2015’s Paris Climate Change Agreement.     

Recently, the UK government set out its own Clean Growth Strategy, committing £2.5 billion between 2015 and 2021, with hundreds of million to be invested in new generations of small nuclear power stations and offshore wind turbines.

However, Anadon and colleagues point out that government funding for energy innovation has, in many cases, been highly volatile in the recent past: with political shifts resulting in huge budget fluctuations and process reinventions in the UK and US.

For example, the research team found that every single year between 1990 and 2017, one in five technology areas funded by the US Department of Energy (DoE) saw a budget shift of more than 30%. The Trump administration’s current plan is to slash 2018’s energy R&D budget by 35% across the board.

In the UK, every Prime Minister since 2000 has created new institutions to manage energy innovation and bridge the public and private sectors. Blair’s UK Carbon Trust; Brown’s Energy Technologies Institute; Cameron’s Catapults; May’s Faraday Challenge as part of the latest industrial Strategy.

“Experimentation has benefits, but also costs,” said Anadon. “Researchers are having to relearn new processes, people and programmes with every political transition – wasting time and effort for scientists, companies and policymakers.”

“Rather than repeated overhauls, existing programs should be continuously evaluated and updated. New programs should only be set up if they fill needs not currently met.”

More autonomy for project selection should be passed to active scientists, who are “best placed to spot bold but risky opportunities that managers miss,” say the authors of the new paper.

They point to projects instigated by the US National Labs producing more commercially-viable technologies than those dictated by DoE headquarters – despite the Labs holding a mere 4% of the DoE’s overall budget.

The six evidence-based guiding principles for clean energy investment are:

  • Give researchers and technical experts more autonomy and influence over funding decisions.
  • Build technology transfer into research organisations.
  • Focus demonstration projects on learning.
  • Incentivise international collaboration.
  • Adopt an adaptive learning strategy.
  • Keep funding stable and predictable.

From US researchers using the pace of Chinese construction markets to test energy reduction technologies, to the UK government harnessing behavioural psychology to promote energy efficiency, the authors highlight just a few examples of government investment that helped create or improve clean energy initiatives across the world.

“Let’s learn from experience on how to accelerate the transition to a cleaner, safer and more affordable energy system,” they write. 

Researchers distil twenty years of lessons from clean energy funding into six ‘guiding principles’. They argue that governments must eschew constant reinventions and grant scientists greater influence before our “window of opportunity” to avert climate change closes.

We urgently need to take stock of policy initiatives around the world that aim to accelerate new energy technologies Laura Diaz AnadonRiccardo AnnandaleUnsplash

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Local environmental projects could receive boost from Sustainable City grants

Cambridge Council Feed - Wed, 12/06/2017 - 15:44

LOCAL projects aimed at improving energy efficiency, reducing waste, promoting sustainability and countering the effects of climate change could be in line for funding of up to £10,000 from Cambridge City Council.

Sustainable City grants are now available for voluntary or community groups looking to run environmental projects in Cambridge from April 2018 to March 2019, which will help the council meet its own environmental objectives.

These objectives are set out in the council’s Climate Change Strategy 2016-2021 and include:

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

£85 million gift from the Dolby family to transform Cambridge science

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 12/06/2017 - 00:10

The Dolby family gift is the largest philanthropic donation ever made to UK science, and will support the Cavendish Laboratory, the world-leading centre for physics research where Ray Dolby received his PhD in 1961. Thanks to this exceptional gift, the University has now surpassed the £1 billion milestone in its current £2 billion fundraising campaign. This is the second generous gift to Cambridge from the Dolby family, who donated £35 million to Pembroke College, Cambridge in 2015. The Dolby family is now the largest donor to the fundraising campaign, and the second-largest donor to the University in its 808-year history.

In recognition of this gift, the flagship building of the Cavendish Laboratory redevelopment will be named the Ray Dolby Centre, and is expected to open in 2022. In addition, a new Ray Dolby Research Group will be established at the Cavendish, which will significantly expand research capability and expertise within the new building. The group, which will be led by a new endowed Ray Dolby Professorship, will build on and further strengthen the Cavendish Laboratory’s status and impact as one of the greatest centres of physics research in the world.

“This unparalleled gift is a fitting tribute to Ray Dolby’s legacy, who changed the way the world listened - his research paved the way for an entire industry,” said Cambridge Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Toope. “A century from now, we can only speculate on which discoveries will alter the way we live our lives, and which new industries will have been born in the Cavendish Laboratory, in large part thanks to this extraordinarily generous gift.”

“The Ray Dolby Centre will complete the development of the new Cavendish Laboratory. In addition to serving as a home for physics research at Cambridge, it will be a top-class facility for the nation,” said Professor Andy Parker, Head of the Cavendish Laboratory. “This extremely generous gift from the Dolby family is the most significant investment in physics research in generations, and a truly transformational gift in Cambridge’s history.”

“The University of Cambridge played a pivotal role in Ray’s life, both personally and professionally,” said Dolby’s widow, Dagmar. “At Cambridge and at the Cavendish, he gained the formative education and insights that contributed greatly to his lifelong groundbreaking creativity, and enabled him to start his business.”

“My father’s time at the Cavendish provided him with an environment where he got a world-class education in physics, and many of his successful ideas about noise reduction were stimulated by his Cambridge experience,” said Dolby’s son David. “Our family is pleased to be able to support the future scientists and innovators who will benefit from the thoughtfully designed Ray Dolby Centre.”

Ray Dolby, who died in 2013 at the age of 80, came to Cambridge as a Marshall Scholar in 1957. He received his PhD from the Cavendish in 1961, and was a student and later a Fellow of Pembroke College.

In 1965, he founded Dolby Laboratories in London and invented the Dolby System, an analogue audio encoding system that forever improved the quality of recorded sound. He moved the company in 1976 to San Francisco, where it has been headquartered ever since.

The new Cavendish Laboratory will be its third home since its founding in 1874, and was first announced by the government in its 2015 Spending Review. It promised a £75 million investment in the Cavendish, which has been confirmed today, helping maintain Britain’s position at the forefront of physical sciences research. The funding will be delivered by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Work on the new facility is expected to begin in 2019.

“This generous £85 million donation from the Ray Dolby estate along with the £75 million government has already pledged is a testament to the importance of this facility and the UK’s leadership in science,” said Science Minister Jo Johnson. “The UK is one of the most innovative countries in the world, and through our Industrial Strategy and additional £2.3 billion investment for research and development we are ensuring our world-class research base goes from strength to strength for years to come.”

“A successful nation invests in science, and this grant signals our intent to lead the world,” said Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC's Chief Executive. “The facilities will be open to researchers across the country and encourage collaborative working between academics and institutions. Clearly Ray Dolby valued the university that nurtured his talents and, in making his bequest, has made a truly generous contribution to future generations.”

Inset image: Ray Dolby

The University of Cambridge has received an £85 million gift from the estate of Ray Dolby, founder of Dolby Laboratories and its world-renowned Dolby Noise Reduction, Dolby Surround, and successor audio signal processing technologies, which have revolutionised the audio quality of music, motion pictures, and television worldwide. 

This unparalleled gift is a fitting tribute to Ray Dolby’s legacy, who changed the way the world listened - his research paved the way for an entire industry.Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen ToopeJestico + WhilesEntrance to Ray Dolby Centre at the Cavendish Laboratory

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Cambridge fundraising campaign passes £1 billion milestone

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 12/06/2017 - 00:09

The Dear World… Yours, Cambridge campaign was publicly launched in 2015 to raise £2 billion. Thanks to the generosity of alumni and supporters, a total of £1.08bn has been raised to attract the brightest minds regardless of background or means, create the resources and environment for world-class research and ensure that Cambridge remains uniquely placed to address society’s most pressing challenges, in the UK and the rest of the world.

To date more than 47,000 donors have contributed to the campaign, at all giving levels and from across the world. Across the Colleges and University gifts from alumni, friends and partner organisations are funding new scholarships, high impact research and academic posts, and new and improved facilities and buildings.

Philanthropic support is enabling Cambridge to deliver answers to some of the most critical issues of our time. Ground-breaking research is being funded to explore core needs including different forms of energy, new approaches to addressing biodiversity loss, preventing the diseases associated with ageing and propelling fresh economic thinking. New academic posts are driving innovation, developing the skills of engineers to address economic and social needs in the UK and globally, and giving a deeper understanding of Africa’s past. Across diverse fields, visionary gifts are ensuring that Cambridge’s impact on the world is huge.

Dr Mohamed El-Erian (Queens’ 1977), co-chair of the campaign, said: “We are extremely grateful to all those who have contributed so generously to this campaign. As an alumnus of Cambridge I am privileged and honoured to be part of the work that is having such a profound impact.”

The University surpassed the £1 billion milestone thanks to an £85 million donation from the estate of Ray Dolby, founder of Dolby Laboratories, to support the Cavendish Laboratory, a world-leading centre for physics research where Dolby received his PhD in 1961. The gift, which was announced in San Francisco on 5 December, represents the largest philanthropic gift ever made to UK science. It will complete the development of the new Cavendish Laboratory as a new home for physics research in Cambridge, and a top-class facility for the nation.

Cambridge’s laboratories, lecture theatres and libraries are being funded to ensure the best environment for world-class teaching and research; and across the University’s 31 Colleges, the generosity of hundreds of alumni and supporters is providing new student accommodation and facilities.

Studentships and bursaries are supporting the most financially disadvantaged undergraduate students to meet the cost of their studies, ensuring that the brightest students, from all backgrounds and circumstances, can benefit from a Cambridge education. 

Sir Harvey McGrath (St Catharine’s 1971), co-chair of the campaign, said: “As a result of the support shown by so many alumni, we are able to attract, inspire and support the brightest in the world, irrespective of their background or financial capacity. We must continue to do so, and I am delighted to be working as co-chair to ensure that students who would not otherwise be able to come to Cambridge have the financial support they need, now and in years to come.”

Since the campaign was launched in 2015, 81 postdoctoral fellowships and 134 postgraduate studentships have been funded through philanthropy.  These scholars will drive cutting-edge and vital research in fields from politics to engineering and chemistry to sociology.

Speaking about the announcement Professor Michael Proctor, Provost of King’s College and Chair of the Colleges’ Committee, said: “Collegiate Cambridge is an exceptional environment in which to be a student and an academic. It is a hugely supportive community that places a high value on collaboration, innovation and freedom of thought, driven by a strong desire to have a positive impact on the wider world.  It is these strengths that have been recognised by the generosity of our supporters.”

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, said of the campaign: “This outstanding achievement reflects the extraordinary commitment and support of so many alumni and donors to the Collegiate University, and I am honoured to be assuming the mantle of this campaign at such an important time for Cambridge. Cambridge has had a huge impact on the world for more than 800 years, and our role in society at a time of increasing global complexity and anxiety is more important than ever.

There is still much to do; but with generosity such as this from our alumni, friends and partners, I am confident that the University of Cambridge will remain an unstoppable force for knowledge, inclusivity, greater understanding and the betterment of our shared world

Find out more about how the campaign is enabling Cambridge to make an impact


The campaign for the University and Colleges has reached the £1 billion mark, enabling Cambridge to respond to the new and complex challenges facing the world. 

I am honoured to be assuming the mantle of this campaign at such an important time for Cambridge.Stephen ToopeSir CamGraduation

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Cambridge Academy of Therapeutic Sciences receives Wellcome funding to support translational research

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 12/05/2017 - 16:19

Cambridge is one six institutions to receive funding to create partnerships with Wellcome. The others are the Universities of Bristol, Edinburgh and Manchester, Imperial College London, and Oxford University through the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit.

Researchers can face a number of barriers to taking the first step to translating their research – and often need more than financial support, including mentorship and regulatory advice, say Wellcome. Making the transition between discovery science and translation easier is one of the core aims of Wellcome’s Innovation for Impact strategy.

Through its new translational partnerships, Wellcome says it will explore new ways of supporting transition and to share best practice. Support through the new partnerships will be primarily, but not exclusively, for Wellcome-supported scientists and will include a portfolio of activities, such as: developing seed funds, identifying mentors and entrepreneurs in residence; offering access to Wellcome’s network of advisers, experts and mentors; and providing introductions to potential partners to take promising advances forward.

"We want to make sure there’s every opportunity for the people and organisations we support to translate great scientific discoveries into innovations with broad, lasting impact," says Stephen Caddick, Director of Innovation at Wellcome.

Wellcome says it will continue to identify new partners in order to build a broad global network to help share and spread great ideas and practice in translation and innovation.

Professor Chris Abell, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Cambridge, says: “We are very grateful to Wellcome for its support, which will help us foster new and innovative approaches to important health questions. The funding will allow us to encourage unique and unexpected collaborations that bring in expertise from across the University, including from outside traditional biomedical disciplines.

“We expect, too, to capitalise on our position within the largest biotech cluster outside the United States, to stimulate new partnerships with industry. These collaborations will provide an important pipeline of ideas that we hope will ultimately translate to tangible patient benefits.”

The Cambridge Academy of Therapeutic Sciences (CATS) has been awarded £1million over two years by Wellcome as a part of a new scheme to find new ways to translate scientific discoveries into real world impact.

The funding will allow us to encourage unique and unexpected collaborations that bring in expertise from across the University, including from outside traditional biomedical disciplinesChris Abell University of Cambridge

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Cambridge Street Aid raises over £18,000 to help rough sleepers in its first year

Cambridge Council Feed - Mon, 12/04/2017 - 16:01

MORE than £18,000 has been donated to Cambridge Street Aid since it was launched one year ago.

The charitable fund, which is supported by Cambridge City Council, has now paid out more than £15,000 in grants to help vulnerable people to get off, or stay off the streets.

The money generously donated by residents, businesses and visitors to the fund is all allocated towards grants of up to £750 to help people on the streets with the support, accommodation and employment they need to turn a corner in their life.

Examples of how the grants have been used include:

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Theatre production aims to show young people why 'Money Matters'

Cambridge Council Feed - Mon, 12/04/2017 - 14:41

A PLAY being performed in Cambridge this week is giving young people the opportunity to think about some of the financial challenges they may face after leaving school.

Cambridge City Council’s Children and Young People’s Participation Service (ChYpPS) worked with the theatre company AlterEgo to devise a play to raise young people’s awareness of the importance of good financial management in a fun and engaging way.

The result is Money Matters, a funny and entertaining play which will be performed for 10 and 11 students at every secondary school in the city.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Pop-up mints and coins made from prayers

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Mon, 12/04/2017 - 09:38

We’re used to the kind of circular coins that jangle in your pocket. But this one is lozenge-shaped and features a crude impression of a castle on its face. Its edges are sharp.

A silver shilling piece, it was made in 1648 during the bloody siege of Pontefract Castle. Today it’s one of 80 examples of currency on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum. The temporary exhibition – Currencies of Conflict – is thought to be the first dedicated exclusively to emergency money.

The focus is on coinage that reflects the turmoil of the English Civil War. But the exhibition also sets these coins within a wider context of 2,500 years of history and features some rarely shown items from the Fitzwilliam’s outstanding collection.

Between 1644 and 1649, the Royalist stronghold of Pontefract Castle was besieged three times by the Parliamentary forces led by Oliver Cromwell. Royalists loyal to King Charles 1 also held out at Carlisle, Newark and Scarborough Castles. All eventually fell to the Parliamentarians.

Examples of siege coinage from all four castles appear in the display. These coins were made by craftsmen working within the fortress walls, using metal obtained from melting down objects requisitioned from the occupants of the castle and town.

People, and especially soldiers, had to be paid to ensure their continued loyalty. “We don’t know how many emergency coins were made during these sieges but a contemporary journal entry from Carlisle suggests that £323 of shilling pieces were struck from requisitioned plate. They show how a micro-economy developed during times of siege,” said curator Richard Kelleher.

Although the quality and weight of the silver, and (rarely) gold, was generally good, the manufacture was often much less sophisticated. In temporary mints, pieces of metal were stamped with ‘dies’ of varied workmanship, from the crude designs at Carlisle to the accomplished work of the Newark engraver.

“In the emergency conditions of a siege, coins were sometimes diamond-shaped or hexagonal as these shapes were easier to cut to specific weights than conventionally minted coins which required the specialist machinery of the mint,” said Kelleher.

In the medieval period, numerous mints operated across England but by 1558 there was only one royal mint and it was in the Tower of London. During the Civil War, Charles I moved his court to Oxford, establishing a mint in the city. A stunning gold ‘triple unite’ (a coin worth £3 – one of the largest value coins ever minted) is an example of the fine workmanship of the Oxford mint.

On its face it shows a finely executed bust of the king holding a sword and olive branch, while the reverse carries the Oxford Declaration: "The Protestant religion, the laws of England, and the liberty of Parliament." Another rare coin from Oxford is a silver pound coin weighing more than 120g showing the king riding a horse over the arms of his defeated enemies.

Also displayed is a silver medal, made during the short Protectorate headed by Oliver Cromwell. It commemorates the Battle of Dunbar of 1650 when Cromwell’s forces defeated an army loyal to Charles II. Its face shows the bust of Cromwell with battle scenes in the background, while the reverse shows the interior view of Parliament with the speaker sitting in the centre.

The earliest piece in the exhibition is an electrum coin dating from the 6th century BC. It originates from the kingdom of Lydia (western Turkey) and depicts a lion and a bull in combat. The earliest reference to coinage in the literature records a payment in coin by the Lydian king for a military purpose.

A Hungarian medal, commemorating the recapture of Budapest, provides a snapshot of a famous siege in progress. The walls are surrounded by cavalry and infantry complete with the machinery of siege warfare – artillery pieces – which have breached the walls.

This medal was also used as a vehicle for propaganda. The reverse carries the image of the Imperial eagle (representing the Habsburg Empire) defending its nest from an attacking dragon which represents the threat of the Ottoman Empire.

Much less elaborate are examples of coins made in circumstances when precious metals were in short supply. A 16th-century Dutch token is made from compressed prayer books and a piece from occupied Ghent in the First World War is made of card.

Extremely vulnerable to damp, these coins’ survival is little short of miraculous. During the siege of Leiden the mayor requisitioned all metal, including coins, for the manufacture of weapons and ammunition. In return, citizens were given token coins made from hymnals, prayer books and bibles.

Bringing the narrative of currency and conflict into the 20th century are paper currencies of the Second World War. Britain and its American allies issued currency for liberated areas of Italy and France, and for occupied Germany.

The temporary exhibition Currencies of Conflict: siege and emergency money from antiquity to WWII continues at the Fitzwilliam Museum until 23 February 2018. Admission is free.

Inset images: England, Charles 1 (1625-49) silver shilling siege piece, 1645, Carlisle; England, Charles 1 (1625-49) gold triple unite, 1643, struck at Oxford; Commonwealth (1649-60), silver medal of 1650 commemorating the Battle of Dunbar; Lydia, Croesus (561-546 BC), Gold stater. Foreparts of bull and lion facing each other; Leopold I (1658-1705) silver medal, 'Budapest defended 1686' by GF Nurnberger; Netherlands, Leiden, paper siege of 5 stuivers, 1574; Germany, Allied Military Currency, 1 mark, 1944.






In the tumultuous upheaval of the English Civil War, Royalist castles under siege used ‘pop-up’ mints to make coins to pay their soldiers. A unique display at the Fitzwilliam Museum tells the centuries-old story of emergency currency made from gold, silver and compressed prayer books.

Emergency coins show how a micro-economy developed during times of siege.Richard KelleherFitzwilliam MuseumEngland, Charles I (1625-49) lozenge-shaped silver shilling siege piece, 1648, Pontefract

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Sir Isaac Newton’s Cambridge papers added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Fri, 12/01/2017 - 09:36

Held at Cambridge University Library, Newton’s scientific and mathematical papers represent one of the most important archives of scientific and intellectual work on universal phenomena. They document the development of his thought on gravity, calculus and optics, and reveal ideas worked out through painstaking experiments, calculations, correspondence and revisions.

In combination with alchemical papers at King’s College, Cambridge and his notebooks and correspondence at Trinity College, Cambridge and the Fitzwilliam Museum, this represents the largest and most important collection of Newton’s papers worldwide.

Katrina Dean, Curator of Scientific Collections at Cambridge University Library said: “Newton’s papers are among the world’s most important collections in the western scientific tradition and are one of the Library’s most treasured collections. They were the first items to be digitised and added to the Cambridge Digital Library in 2011 and featured in our 600th anniversary exhibition Lines of Thought last year. In 2017, their addition to the UNESCO International Memory of the World Register recognises their unquestionable international importance.”

The Memory of the World Project is an international initiative to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity against collective amnesia, neglect, the ravages of time and climatic conditions, and wilful and deliberate destruction. It calls for the preservation of valuable archival, library and private collections all over the world, as well as the reconstitution of dispersed or displaced documentary heritage, and the increased accessibility to and dissemination of these items.

Newton’s Cambridge papers, and those at the Royal Society, now join the archive of Winston Churchill, held at Cambridge University’s Churchill Archives Centre, on the UNESCO Register. They also join Newton’s theological and alchemical papers at the National Library of Israel, which were added in 2015.

The chief attractions in the Cambridge collection are Newton’s own copies of the first edition of the Principia (1687), covered with his corrections, revisions and additions for the second edition.


The Cambridge papers also include significant correspondence with natural philosophers and mathematicians including Henry Oldenberg, Secretary of the Royal Society, Edmond Halley, the Astronomer Royal who persuaded Newton to publish Principia, Richard Bentley, the Master of Trinity College, and John Collins, mathematician and fellow of the Royal Society who became an important collector of Newton’s works.

Added Dean: “One striking illustration of Newton’s experimental approach is in his ‘Laboratory Notebook’, which includes details of his investigations into light and optics in order to understand the nature of colour. His essay ‘Of Colours’ includes a diagram that illustrates the experiment in which he inserted a bodkin into his eye socket to put pressure on the eyeball to try to replicate the sensation of colour in normal sight.”

Another important item is Newton’s so-called ‘Waste Book’, a large notebook inherited from his stepfather. From 1664, he used the blank pages for optical and mathematical calculations and gradually mastered the analysis of curved lines, surfaces and solids. By 1665, he had invented the method of calculus. Newton later used the dated, documentary evidence provided by the Waste Book to argue his case in the priority dispute with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz over the invention of the calculus.

Cambridge University Librarian Jess Gardner said: “Newton’s work and life continue to attract wonder and new perspectives on our place in the Universe. Cambridge University Library will continue to work with scholars and curators worldwide to make Newton’s papers accessible now and for future generations.”

Isaac Newton entered Trinity College as an undergraduate in 1661 and became a Fellow in 1667. In 1669, he became Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, a position he held until 1701.

Among the more personal items in the Cambridge collections are Newton’s daily concerns as recorded in an undergraduate notebook which records Newton’s expenditure on white wine, wafers, shoe-strings and ‘a paire of stockings’, along with a guide to Latin pronunciation.

A notebook of 1662-1669 records Newton’s sins before and after Whitsunday of 1662, written in a coded shorthand and first deciphered between 1872 and 1888. Among them are ‘Eating an apple at Thy house’, ‘Robbing my mothers box of plums and sugar’ along with the more serious ‘Wishing death and hoping it to some’ before a list of his expenses. These included chemicals, two furnaces and a recent edition of one of the most comprehensive compilations of alchemical writings in the western tradition Theatrum chemicum, edited by the publisher Lazarus Zetzner.

Cambridge University Library is also hosting a series of talks open to the public by Sarah Dry and Patricia Fara on Newton’s manuscripts and Newton’s role in Enlightenment culture and polite society on December 7 and December 14 respectively. For details and bookings, see:

The Cambridge papers of Sir Isaac Newton, including early drafts and Newton’s annotated copies of Principia Mathematica – a work that changed the history of science – have been added to UNESCO’s International Memory of the World Register.

Newton’s papers are among the world’s most important collections in the western scientific tradition and are one of the Library’s most treasured collections.Katrina DeanCambridge University LibraryImage from Newton’s own annotated copy of Principia Mathematica

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'Populism' revealed as 2017 Word of the Year by Cambridge University Press

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 11/30/2017 - 14:02

Choosing a winner required looking at not only the most searched-for words but also spikes – occasions when a word is suddenly looked up many more times than usual on or around a particular date. 

As Donald Trump, a polarizing candidate was being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on January 22, 2017, searches for the word 'inauguration' on the online Cambridge Dictionary spiked. But so did searches for the word 'populism' because, on that same day, Pope Francis warned against a rising tide of populism in a widely reported interview with El Pais newspaper. In mid-March, after another high-profile interview with the pontiff – this time with the German newspaper Die Zeit – searches for populism spiked again.

Wendalyn Nichols, Publishing Manager at Cambridge University Press, said: 'Spikes can reveal what is on our users’ minds and, in what’s been another eventful year, plenty of spikes can be directly connected to news items about politics in the US (nepotism, recuse, bigotry, megalomania) and the UK (shambles, untenable, extradite). The much-anticipated Taylor Review of working practices in the UK caused the term 'gig economy' to spike in July, and of course the spectacular solar eclipse is reflected in the spike for eclipse on 21 August.

'What sets populism apart from all these other words is that it represents a phenomenon that’s both truly local and truly global, as populations and their leaders across the world wrestle with issues of immigration and trade, resurgent nationalism, and economic discontent.'

Populism is described by the Cambridge Dictionary as ‘political ideas and activities that are intended to get the support of ordinary people by giving them what they want’. It includes the usage label ‘mainly disapproving’. 

Populism has a taint of disapproval because the -ism ending often indicates a philosophy or ideology that is being approached either uncritically (liberalism, conservatism, jingoism) or cynically (tokenism).

Evidence from the Cambridge English Corpus – a 1.5-billion-word database of language – reveals that people tend to use the term populism when they think it’s a political ploy instead of genuine. Both aspects of -ism are evident in the use of populism in 2017: the implied lack of critical thinking on the part of the populace, and the implied cynicism on the part of the leaders who exploit it.

The word 'populism' has been announced as the Cambridge Dictionary 2017 Word of the Year. 

What sets populism apart from all these other words is that it represents a phenomenon that’s both truly local and truly global, as populations and their leaders across the world wrestle with issues of immigration and trade, resurgent nationalism, and economic discontent.Wendalyn NicholsThe White House (official Flickr)President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks at Yokota Air Base | November 5, 2017 (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

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£5.4 million centre will help transform the UK’s construction sector for the digital age

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 11/30/2017 - 13:19

The Centre is a partnership between the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the University to support the transformation of the construction sector using digital technologies to better plan, build, maintain and use infrastructure. It will focus on the ongoing transformation of the built environment through the digital tools, standards and processes that are collectively known as Building Information Modelling (BIM). BIM enables the people building and managing our transport networks, cities and major infrastructure projects to take advantage of advances in the digital world to intelligently deliver better services and end products for UK citizens.

Led by Professor Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor: Enterprise and Business Relations, the Centre builds on the expertise and experience of faculty from the Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC), Cambridge Big Data, the Distributed Information and Automation Lab (DIAL), the Cambridge Service Alliance (CSA) and the Institute for Manufacturing. The Cambridge researchers work with a team of specialists from Digital Built Britain Programme and partners from industry and academia to develop and demonstrate policy and practical insights that will enable the exploitation of new and emerging technologies, data and analytics to enhance the natural and built environment, thereby driving up commercial competitiveness and productivity, as well as citizen quality of life and well-being.

"The Centre for Digital Built Britain will work in partnership with Government and industry to improve the performance, productivity and safety of construction through the better use of digital technologies," said Professor Neely.

“The achievement of the BIM Task Group in delivering the Level 2 BIM programme has provided both the UK and increasingly a worldwide platform for the digitisation of the construction and services sectors.  We welcome the vast experience and capability Cambridge brings to the team and the creation of the Centre for Digital Built Britain,” said Dr Mark Bew MBE, Strategic Advisor to the Centre for Digital Built Britain.

“The construction and infrastructure sector are poised for a digital revolution, and Britain is well placed to lead it. Over the next decade advances in BIM will combine with the Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics, data-driven manufacturing and the digital economy to enable us to plan new buildings and infrastructure more effectively, build them at lower cost, operate and maintain them more efficiently, and deliver better outcomes to the people who use them,” said Dr Jennifer Schooling, Director of the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction. “This is a wonderful opportunity to put the breadth of research and industry engagement expertise from Cambridge at the heart of Digital Built Britain.”

The UK is leading the world with its support of BIM implementation in the construction sector through its commitment to the Digital Built Britain Programme. By embedding Level 2 BIM in the government projects such as Crossrail, the programme has contributed significantly to Government’s £3 billion of efficiency savings between 2011 and 2015. Since 2016, all UK centrally funded projects require Level 2 BIM, which has achieved considerable cost savings for its construction procurement to date. Tasked with supporting innovation in the construction sector, the Construction Leadership Council has also put BIM at the heart of its sector strategy Construction 2025; which commits to cut built asset costs by 33 percent, and time and carbon by 50 percent. The Centre will continue and build on this transformative approach.

The Centre for Digital Built Britain will be based in the Maxwell Centre in West Cambridge and will be formally launched in Spring 2018.

The Government have announced £5.4 million in funding to launch the Centre for Digital Built Britain at the University of Cambridge, which will help people make better use of cities by championing the digital revolution in the built environment. The Centre is part of a landmark government-led investment in growing the UK’s construction sector.

This is a wonderful opportunity to put the breadth of research and industry engagement expertise from Cambridge at the heart of Digital Built Britain.Jennifer Skyline

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Prehistoric women’s manual work was tougher than rowing in today’s elite boat crews

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 11/29/2017 - 19:01

A new study comparing the bones of Central European women that lived during the first 6,000 years of farming with those of modern athletes has shown that the average prehistoric agricultural woman had stronger upper arms than living female rowing champions.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology say this physical prowess was likely obtained through tilling soil and harvesting crops by hand, as well as the grinding of grain for as much as five hours a day to make flour.  

Until now, bioarchaeological investigations of past behaviour have interpreted women’s bones solely through direct comparison to those of men. However, male bones respond to strain in a more visibly dramatic way than female bones.

The Cambridge scientists say this has resulted in the systematic underestimation of the nature and scale of the physical demands borne by women in prehistory. 

“This is the first study to actually compare prehistoric female bones to those of living women,” said Dr Alison Macintosh, lead author of the study published today in the journal Science Advances.

“By interpreting women’s bones in a female-specific context we can start to see how intensive, variable and laborious their behaviours were, hinting at a hidden history of women’s work over thousands of years.” 

The study, part of the European Research Council-funded ADaPt (Adaption, Dispersals and Phenotype) Project, used a small CT scanner in Cambridge’s PAVE laboratory to analyse the arm (humerus) and leg (tibia) bones of living women who engage in a range of physical activity: from runners, rowers and footballers to those with more sedentary lifestyles.

The bones strengths of modern women were compared to those of women from early Neolithic agricultural eras through to farming communities of the Middle Ages.   

“It can be easy to forget that bone is a living tissue, one that responds to the rigours we put our bodies through. Physical impact and muscle activity both put strain on bone, called loading. The bone reacts by changing in shape, curvature, thickness and density over time to accommodate repeated strain,” said Macintosh.

“By analysing the bone characteristics of living people whose regular physical exertion is known, and comparing them to the characteristics of ancient bones, we can start to interpret the kinds of labour our ancestors were performing in prehistory.”

Over three weeks during trial season, Macintosh scanned the limb bones of the Open- and Lightweight squads of the Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club, who ended up winning this year’s Boat Race and breaking the course record. These women, most in their early twenties, were training twice a day and rowing an average of 120km a week at the time.

The Neolithic women analysed in the study (from 7400-7000 years ago) had similar leg bone strength to modern rowers, but their arm bones were 11-16% stronger for their size than the rowers, and almost 30% stronger than typical Cambridge students.

The loading of the upper limbs was even more dominant in the study’s Bronze Age women (from 4300-3500 years ago), who had 9-13% stronger arm bones than the rowers but 12% weaker leg bones.

A possible explanation for this fierce arm strength is the grinding of grain. “We can’t say specifically what behaviours were causing the bone loading we found. However, a major activity in early agriculture was converting grain into flour, and this was likely performed by women,” said Macintosh.

“For millennia, grain would have been ground by hand between two large stones called a saddle quern. In the few remaining societies that still use saddle querns, women grind grain for up to five hours a day.

“The repetitive arm action of grinding these stones together for hours may have loaded women's arm bones in a similar way to the laborious back-and-forth motion of rowing.”     

However, Macintosh suspects that women’s labour was hardly likely to have been limited to this one behaviour. 

“Prior to the invention of the plough, subsistence farming involved manually planting, tilling and harvesting all crops,” said Macintosh. “Women were also likely to have been fetching food and water for domestic livestock, processing milk and meat, and converting hides and wool into textiles.

“The variation in bone loading found in prehistoric women suggests that a wide range of behaviours were occurring during early agriculture. In fact, we believe it may be the wide variety of women’s work that in part makes it so difficult to identify signatures of any one specific behaviour from their bones.”

Dr Jay Stock, senior study author and head of the ADaPt Project, added: “Our findings suggest that for thousands of years, the rigorous manual labour of women was a crucial driver of early farming economies. The research demonstrates what we can learn about the human past through better understanding of human variation today.”

The first study to compare ancient and living female bones shows that women from early agricultural eras had stronger arms than the rowers of Cambridge University’s famously competitive boat club. Researchers say the findings suggest a “hidden history” of gruelling manual labour performed by women that stretched across millennia.  

By interpreting women’s bones in a female-specific context we can start to see how intensive, variable and laborious their behaviours wereAlison Macintosh Alastair Fyfe for the University of CambridgeCambridge University Women’s Boat Club Openweight crew rowing during the 2017 Boat Race on the river Thames in London. The Cambridge women’s crew beat Oxford in the race. The members of this crew were among those analysed in the study.

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Eye contact with your baby helps synchronise your brainwaves

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 11/29/2017 - 08:29

When a parent and infant interact, various aspects of their behaviour can synchronise, including their gaze, emotions and heartrate, but little is known about whether their brain activity also synchronises – and what the consequences of this might be.

Brainwaves reflect the group-level activity of millions of neurons and are involved in information transfer between brain regions. Previous studies have shown that when two adults are talking to each other, communication is more successful if their brainwaves are in synchrony.

Researchers at the Baby-LINC Lab at the University of Cambridge carried out a study to explore whether infants can synchronise their brainwaves to adults too – and whether eye contact might influence this. Their results are published today in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The team examined the brainwave patterns of 36 infants (17 in the first experiment and 19 in the second) using electroencephalography (EEG), which measures patterns of brain electrical activity via electrodes in a skull cap worn by the participants. They compared the infants’ brain activity to that of the adult who was singing nursery rhymes to the infant.

In the first of two experiments, the infant watched a video of an adult as she sang nursery rhymes. First, the adult – whose brainwave patterns had already been recorded – was looking directly at the infant. Then, she turned her head to avert her gaze, while still singing nursery rhymes. Finally, she turned her head away, but her eyes looked directly back at the infant.

As anticipated, the researchers found that infants’ brainwaves were more synchronised to the adults’ when the adult’s gaze met the infant’s, as compared to when her gaze was averted Interestingly, the greatest synchronising effect occurred when the adults’ head was turned away but her eyes still looked directly at the infant. The researchers say this may be because such a gaze appears highly deliberate, and so provides a stronger signal to the infant that the adult intends to communicate with her.

In the second experiment, a real adult replaced the video. She only looked either directly at the infant or averted her gaze while singing nursery rhymes. This time, however, her brainwaves could be monitored live to see whether her brainwave patterns were being influenced by the infant’s as well as the other way round.

This time, both infants and adults became more synchronised to each other’s brain activity when mutual eye contact was established. This occurred even though the adult could see the infant at all times, and infants were equally interested in looking at the adult even when she looked away. The researchers say that this shows that brainwave synchronisation isn’t just due to seeing a face or finding something interesting, but about sharing an intention to communicate.

To measure infants’ intention to communicate, the researcher measured how many ‘vocalisations’ infants made to the experimenter. As predicted, infants made a greater effort to communicate, making more ‘vocalisations’, when the adult made direct eye contact – and individual infants who made longer vocalisations also had higher brainwave synchrony with the adult.

Dr Victoria Leong, lead author on the study said: “When the adult and infant are looking at each other, they are signalling their availability and intention to communicate with each other.  We found that both adult and infant brains respond to a gaze signal by becoming more in sync with their partner. This mechanism could prepare parents and babies to communicate, by synchronising when to speak and when to listen, which would also make learning more effective.”

Dr Sam Wass, last author on the study, said: “We don’t know what it is, yet, that causes this synchronous brain activity. We’re certainly not claiming to have discovered telepathy! In this study, we were looking at whether infants can synchronise their brains to someone else, just as adults can. And we were also trying to figure out what gives rise to the synchrony.

“Our findings suggested eye gaze and vocalisations may both, somehow, play a role. But the brain synchrony we were observing was at such high time-scales – of three to nine oscillations per second – that we still need to figure out how exactly eye gaze and vocalisations create it.”

This research was supported by an ESRC Transformative Research Grant to Dr Leong and Dr Wass.

Leong, V et al. Speaker gaze increases infant-adult connectivity. PNAS; 28 Nov 2017; DOI: 10.1101/108878

Making eye contact with an infant makes adults’ and babies’ brainwaves ‘get in sync’ with each other – which is likely to support communication and learning – according to researchers at the University of Cambridge.

When the adult and infant are looking at each other, they are signalling their availability and intention to communicate with each otherVictoria LeongLucy Kivlin and her baby GinnyResearcher profile: Dr Victoria Leong

Dr Victoria Leong is an Affiliated Lecturer at Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, and also an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Her research aims to understand how parents and infants communicate and learn from each other, and the brain mechanisms that help them to interact effectively as social partners.

“The Baby-LINC lab is designed to look like a home living room so that mothers and babies feel comfortable,” she says.  In the lab, they use a wireless EEG system to measure infants’ brain activity, which means that babies don’t have to be tethered to a computer and we can conduct recordings for longer periods of time. “This is invaluable if the baby needs a nap or a nappy change in-between doing our tasks!”

Dr Leong says she is passionate about “real-world neuroscience”. In other words, “understanding and not ignoring the very real – and often very messy – human social contexts that infiltrate brain processes”. This means that in addition to world class facilities and methods, the ability to collect robust data also depends on keeping the infants relaxed and happy. “Many a tantrum can be averted by the judicious and timely application of large soapy bubbles and rice cakes. The ability to blow large charming bubbles thereafter became a key criteria for recruiting research assistants!”

The research project came about “over a cup of tea [with Sam Wass] and a notepad to scratch out some frankly outlandish ideas about brain-to-brain synchrony”. They received £3,995 with the help of Cambridge Neuroscience and Cambridge Language Sciences for a pilot project and within a year went on to secure an ESRC Transformative Research Grant, which allowed them to significantly scale-up research operations, and to build the first mother-infant EEG hyperscanning facility in the UK (the Baby-LINC Lab).

“Cambridge is one of probably only a handful of highly-creative research environments in the world where young, untested post-doctoral researchers can organically come together, develop ambitious ideas, and have the support to try these out,” she says. “I am very proud of our humble beginnings, because they remind me that even a small handful of resources, wisely invested with hard work, can grow into world-class research.”

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A force to be reckoned with

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Mon, 11/27/2017 - 16:04

Think you know what gravity is? Think again. New research is revealing how little we know about this most mysterious of forces. Read the rest of the article from the latest version of CAM, the University's alumni magazine, here.

Gravity is one of the universe's great mysteries. We decided to find out why.

La TigreSupermassive black holes

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire