Posted by: Kash Farooq | October 31, 2016

Wow. EU delayed flight compensation is good!

In March we had a fantastic holiday in Iceland. We would definitely recommend it (and we want to go back again at some point). 200px-flag_of_europe

But it did not start well.

We flew Icelandair from Birmingham.
Our flight was supposed to leave at 12:25, but we got a text the night before travel telling us the flight time had been changed to 20:05.
Thankfully, with the advanced notice, we weren’t sitting around the airport for most of the day. However, instead of having an afternoon and evening lounging around the hot springs of the Blue Lagoon, we arrived at the hotel at about 1 am.
A waste of the first day of our holiday.

The EU has flight compensation rules, and Icelandair has to stick to them as stated on their website:

Compensation in case of denied boarding, cancellations or long delays on Icelandair flights from and to EU and EEC countries are restricted as followed: scheduled arrival should not be delayed more that:

A. Two (2) hours for Flights of 1,500km or less (EUR 250)
B. Three (3) hours for Flights between 1,500km and 3,500km (EUR 400)
C. Four (4) hours for flights more than 3,500km not falling under A or B (EUR 600) (1 km = 0.62 miles).

We fell into category B as the Birmingham to Reykjavík flight distance is about 1700 km.
I applied for compensation months ago and forgot about it.

I recently had an email from Icelandair stating that they did indeed owe us €400 per passenger. It has now been transferred to our bank account.
(Our flights cost £222 each!)


Posted by: Kash Farooq | July 29, 2015

Domino’s Pizza and the Area of a Circle

My excuse for this post: I’m between Open University modules at the moment and have spare time on my hands.

Make nice pizzas, but don't do maths.

Make nice pizzas, but don’t do maths.

We’ve just had our (seemingly monthly) Domino’s pizza menu through the door. The prices between the different sizes seemed odd so I created a spreadsheet…

The bog standard Cheese and Tomato:

Type Diameter (inches) Price Area (square inches) Price (pence) per square inch
Personal 7 £3.99 38.48451 0.1037
Small 9.5 £8.99 70.8821842 0.1268
Medium 11.5 £10.99 103.868907 0.1058
Large 13.5 £12.99 143.138815 0.0908

The small pizza works out much more expensive than the others.

The “mid-range” pizzas

Type Diameter (inches) Price Area (square inches) Price (pence) per square inch
Personal 7 £5.99 38.48451 0.1556
Small 9.5 £12.99 70.8821842 0.1833
Medium 11.5 £14.99 103.868907 0.1443
Large 13.5 £16.99 143.138815 0.1187

Whoa! Don’t get a small pizza! Compared to a small pizza, two “personal” pizzas will be cheaper per square inch, will give you more square inches in total (76 vs. 71) and will cost you £11.98 instead of £12.99.

The “high-end” pizzas

Type Diameter (inches) Price Area (square inches) Price (pence) per square inch
Personal 7 £6.99 38.48451 0.1816
Small 9.5 £13.99 70.8821842 0.1974
Medium 11.5 £15.99 103.868907 0.1539
Large 13.5 £17.99 143.138815 0.1257

Same again. Small pizzas are the most expensive. Two personal pizzas will give you more pizza in total, and costs the same as one small pizza.


The moral of the story: don’t buy small pizzas from Domino’s.


Posted by: Kash Farooq | September 3, 2014

How (not) to engage with the public

At Nottingham Skeptics last night, we hosted geologist Hazel Gibson to talk about fracking.

Andy and I have wanted to arrange a talk about fracking for a while. We don’t know much about it, and, as for all the talks we put on at Nottingham Skeptics, we wanted to hear something evidence based. We Googled to see which speakers were “on the Skeptics In The Pub circuit”, found Hazel, and persuaded her to come to Nottingham.

Hazel was brilliant. She delivered an excellent presentation, discussing her research into what three groups of people (scientists, activists and locals) think about fracking. There was a little bit of science at the start to explain what fracking is, but the talk was mostly covering the diverse opinions of the three groups of people. Fracking is not Hazel’s specialist area –  she is more interested in the people angle.

It was almost a talk about the public perception of science and science communication. For example, how scientific terms can be completely misunderstood by members of the public. One planning application complaint in Wales focused on the word Devonian, and how bringing gas extracted by fracking in Devon all the way to Wales would cause traffic problems.

During the Q&A, Hazel was polite, measured and calm. Which is more than I can say for a certain group of people in the audience.

Here is the tweet that has inspired me to write this blog post:


0 - Frack Free to Nottingham Skeptics

Let me rephrase this Tweet in some other ways to explain how this came across to me:

Disappointed that you invited a biased doctor to tell people about vaccines and autism. Total nonsense.

Disappointed that you invited a biased evolutionist to tell people about creationism. Total nonsense.

Disappointed that you invited a biased climate scientist to tell people about global warming. Total nonsense.

Going to a talk and not having your beliefs confirmed does not automatically imply that the speaker must be biased.

This tweet sums up how Frack Free Nottinghamshire came across to our audience:

And there are some comments from various people on our Facebook group:

“I found that as someone who is undecided about fracking, the questions from the anti-fracking crowd (especially the aggressive delivery of questions) might make me lean on the pro-fracking side of things. Overall still undecided. Really enjoyed the speaker though.”

“I was personally very disappointed that the anti fracking attendees came across in such a negative way. And this is coming from someone who has considerable concerns about fracking and it’s impact on the planet. It was never advertised as a ‘pro’s and con’s of fracking’ debate, but many people who attended wanted it to be so. Fair play to Hazel for staying calm and retaining her sense of humour.”

“I think we got a consummate lesson in how NOT to do public engagement from the environmentalists last night.”

“It must really suck to do research, talk about it for an hour and then be asked so many questions that aren’t directly relevant to your research or what you’ve spoken about, especially when the exclusion of that content was already explained at the start, and then several times in the Q&A. And a lot of the questioning did come across as hostile, which was fully unnecessary.”

There are also many tweets sent directly to Hazel such as:

1 - Frack Free to Hazel

Or how about this conversation between a local science blogger that is planning to write up the event?

2 - Frack Free to Ash

“She’s geologist, she’s going to PRO the technology”. Spot that logical fallacy. Non sequitur, I believe.

There are plenty more where this came from. Just check out the @FrackFreeNotts’ timeline. You’ll probably find some Argumentum ad hominem fallacies too.

For any scientist, last night’s Q&A (and Tweets) perfectly demonstrate how not to engage with the public.  Scientists and science communicators could learn a lot from watching this sort of approach take place at an event. Just go to a scientist-led talk on fracking!

Basically: “Coming on too strong turns people off to your cause” (another quote from Holly).

I thought I should include my brief thoughts about fracking. Well….it’s another dead dinosaur fuel, isn’t it? That can’t be good. Will fracking postpone any much needed research into renewables? That’s my top concern.

Related posts

Posted by: Kash Farooq | December 30, 2013

The Pop Sci Book Club – Book 6

Psocoptera - an order of insects that are commonly known as booklice.

Psocoptera – an order of insects that are commonly known as booklice.

[If you are unsure what this is all about, see The Pop Sci Book Club – an introduction]

PopSciBookClub Book 6 has been selected by Regan Naughton. It is “How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming” – by Mike Brown (271 pages). So, please buy the book and join in with the Pop Sci Book Club forum discussions.

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming - by Mike Brown

Related posts

Posted by: Kash Farooq | November 10, 2013

Can you explain your PhD to a layperson?

Update: This is now officially a “thing”. Dozens of speakers have already volunteered to explain their PhD to a bunch a people in a pub. Head over to the PubhD blog for more information.

Can you explain you PhD to a layperson?

Can you explain your PhD to a layperson?

At the end of a recent Nottingham Skeptics talk, a few of us were discussing ideas for future events. We weren’t trying to come up with different talks and subjects areas, but completely different formats. We thought getting PhD students to practice for upcoming vivas by explaining their thesis to an audience like us would make an interesting event.

After further conversations, Regan and I refined this. It wouldn’t really be viva practice for the PhD students – at a viva, students would be speaking to experts in their field of study, not laypeople like us.

So, here is our idea:


Can you explain your PhD to a layperson?


A monthly event at which 3 or 4 local PhD student speakers, from any discipline from Art History to Quantum Mechanics, would explain their work to a layperson. The talks would be about 10 minutes long and would be followed by up to 20 minutes of (friendly!) Q&A.

The “friendly” aspect is important. This isn’t about bringing PhD students into a “lion’s den” to be grilled about their studies. The audience, we hope, will be genuinely interested in hearing about a wide variety of academic areas.

What the PhD students get out of it

A pint!

Plus public speaking and public engagement practice.

What the audience gets out of it

Something interesting to listen to on a Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday night (the days of the week when we should be able to get a pub room for free).


We want to make this as cheap as possible. We’d get in touch with local universities for the PhD students (so the travel costs will be low). And we would just have a whip-round to buy each of the speakers a pint. Perhaps, £1 into a pint glass passed around?


We don’t think this event fits under the “Skeptics In The Pub” banner. It’s actually similar to Science Showoff, but is not restricted to science. There are PhDs in all disciplines, so this event would be for all disciplines. Plus the format is different from the “Showoff” events (e.g. there will be a Q&A at this event).

So, we need a new name. Some ideas to get you thinking:

  • PhD and a Pint (from Suze)
  • Pint of PhD (from Suze)
  • PhD in the Pub (from me)
  • #PubPhD (from me, h/t #PubSci)
  • Doc-chat (from Regan)
  • PubhD (from Xamonas Chegwé)
  • Viva Imbiber (from Yves van Gennip)

I think PubhD is my favourite at the moment.

Over to you…

So, what do you think? Do you think it will work? Has this already been done?

As a layperson, would you go to such an event? As a PhD student, would you be willing to speak at such an event?

If there is positive feedback, I’ll approach the local universities to see if they are interested (and would be able to provide, say, 3-4 students per month).

And what should we call it?!

[Image adapted from images created by Wiki Commons users Will Murray (Willscrlt) and Stannered]


There is sufficient interest from an audience perspective, so we’ve gone with the name PubhD (thanks Xamonas!) and started a blog.

Now we just need to find some speakers. So, if you are a PhD student, or post-doc, and are interested in explaining your work to an audience of laypeople in exchange for a pint or two, please contact us!

Posted by: Kash Farooq | October 13, 2013

The Pop Sci Book Club – Book 5

Psocoptera - an order of insects that are commonly known as booklice.

Psocoptera – an order of insects that are commonly known as booklice.

[If you are unsure what this is all about, see The Pop Sci Book Club – an introduction]

Our fifth book is The Self Illusion: Why There is No ‘You’ Inside Your Head – by Prof. Bruce Hood.

So, please buy the book and join the Pop Sci Book Club forum.

The book specific forum for this book: The Self Illusion: Why There is No ‘You’ Inside Your Head (Prof. Bruce Hood).

The Self Illusion - by Prof. Bruce Hood

Related posts

This is a quick blog post as a follow up to my previous blog post: “Has alien life been found in a meteorite? Or the sky? Or [Insert Location Here]?

The recent “Alien Life Detected In The Atmosphere” headlines all arise from this paper: “Isolation of a diatom frustule fragment from the lower stratosphere (22-27km) – evidence for a cosmic origin” (PDF). It was published in the Journal of Cosmology.

In summary: a team of scientists sent a balloon to an altitude of 22-27 km. When they retrieved it, they claimed to have found a diatom (a microscopic plant). They state that the only way that this diatom could have been found at an altitude of 22-27 km was if it had come from space. Hence, they have discovered that panspermia is indeed real and, in fact, is still going on.

If you open the PDF paper you’ll see that it was accepted for publication on August 9th 2013.

And if you read the abstract you’ll see:

Sampling of the stratosphere at heights between 22 and 27 km was carried out in the UK on 31st July 2013…

The “scientists” sent the balloon up on 31st July 2013, “the sampling drawer was opened for 17 minutes as the balloon rose from 22026m to 27008m”, and then the “sampling apparatus was returned to Earth (by parachute) undamaged and completely intact”.

Then, within 10 days, the “scientists”:

  • Inspected the sampling apparatus.
  • Searched for biological matter.
  • Found and imaged the diatom.
  • Concluded that it was alien.
  • Wrote a paper.
  • Submitted the paper to a “scientific” journal.
  • Had this paper, which detailed the most remarkable discovery in the history of science, …ahem…peer reviewed.
  • Had the paper accepted into the “scientific” journal.

Impressive turnaround, don’t you think? *.

Now excuse me while I mock all my scientist friends that take months (or even years) getting their papers published, what with all the revisions that the peer review process forces them do. Perhaps if they wrote better papers in the first place, there would not be so many to-ings and fro-ings. 😉

* I’m not a scientist. I’m assuming that this sort of incredible news would take longer to get accepted into a journal.

There are going to be lots of articles in the next few days like this one: Alien life found living in Earth’s atmosphere, claims scientist.

The first thing you should do when you see such an article is search for “Journal of Cosmology” in the article text. If you find a match, take the article with a gigantic pinch of salt.

The Journal of Cosmology has form. They seem to discover alien life frequently. I wrote about one such announcement a couple of years ago: Meteorites, the Phobos-Grunt LIFE project and the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

Some things to note and remember about the Journal of Cosmology

Their website hurts your eyes (I’m not going to link to it). This may seem like an odd thing to note, but there does seem to be a correlation between pseudoscientific websites and poor website design. Someone should do a study.

The superb RationalWiki website has a page about them. I don’t think journals normally end up with dedicated pages on anti-pseudoscience websites. One of the quotes from the website:

The Journal of Cosmology is a supposedly-scientific journal

The journal does not appear to have an impact factor. I asked a friend and he responded with (thanks Dave!):

I couldn’t find a reference to an impact factor on the web anywhere. Normally journals tend to big up their IF somewhere. The ultimate repository of impact factors is the Thompson web of science. A search for “journal of cosmology” on web of science yields zero hits.

The journal has a very quick peer review process: “Scientists: how long does it typically take between data collection and paper acceptance?”. Does 10 days sound reasonable for such an amazing discovery?

One of the main people behind the Journal of Cosmology is Chandra Wickramasinghe. From Wikipedia:

During the 1981 scientific creationist trial in Arkansas, Wickramasinghe was the only scientist testifying for the defense, which in turn was supporting creationism. In addition, he wrote that the Archaeopteryx fossil finding is a forgery, a charge that the expert scientific community considers an ‘absurd’ and ignorant’ statement.

PZ Myers was subtle as ever when discussing the journal:

The ginned-up website of a small group of crank academics obsessed with the idea of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe that life originated in outer space and simply rained down on Earth. Unsurprisingly, it is not in fact peer reviewed, despite claiming to be.

The respected Bad Astronomy blogger, Phil Plait, keeps on having to debunk stories coming from the journal again, and again and again. From one of Phil’s posts:

The Journal of Cosmology is an online site that claims to be peer reviewed. However, the papers it publishes are not always of the highest quality. One paper they published a few years back claimed to have found fossils in meteorites, and it was roundly ridiculed by biologists familiar with the field—one even used the word “pathetic.” Ouch.

The journal has been awarded the Pigasus Award – an annual tongue-in-cheek award presented by skeptic James Randi. Past winners include Uri Geller. JREF refered to the journal as “crackpot”.

In summary

I just wanted to use this meme as a summary.

Journal of Cosmology summed up in one image

Related articles – new

Related articles – previous Journal of Cosmology ‘discoveries’

Posted by: Kash Farooq | September 8, 2013

Bradgate Park and Precambrian Life

Bradgate Park is a country park in the Charnwood Forest area of Leicestershire. It is very picturesque, has lots of deer roaming around and has lots of history (the 500+ year old Bradgate House is thought to be the birthplace of Lady Jane Grey, for example). It’s free to get in, and parking costs £5 for the day. For these reasons alone, I would recommend a visit.

Deer, Bradgate Park.

Deer, Bradgate Park.

Bradgate Park is also very interesting for scientific reasons. It has some of the most ancient rock in the UK, and probably the oldest rock in England. Within 3 km2, you can look at geology 220 to 560 million years old.

Twice a year, around May and September, local paleontologist John Martin takes people on a guided geological tour of the park: “Geology of Bradgate Park – 500 million years in one afternoon!“.

This weekend I went on the guided walk. I’ll write about what we learnt from John about the geological history of the park in more detail in a later blog post. Here is a tip: put the next walk into your calendar now. Seriously. Do it now. I highly recommend it.

For this blog post I wanted to write about one particular story.

During the walk we were lucky in that we had two experts guiding us – paleontologist John and keen geologist Roger. Throughout the afternoon, with John leading the walk, Roger would contribute extra details in his areas of expertise.

The whole walk was scenic and scientifically fascinating. Learning how to “read the rocks” added to the beauty of the park.

The walk ended at this rock face.

Precambrian rock face, Bradgate Park, Leicestershire.

Precambrian rock face, Bradgate Park, Leicestershire.

It’s not much to look at in this image, but it (and others like it in the area), are scientifically very, very important. It is Precambrian rock – i.e. older than the Cambrian Period, which started about 540 million years ago.

John started telling the story of the discovery made in this type of rock, in this area of England. It’s a story I knew well after seeing David Attenborough talk about it in a couple of documentaries.

The accepted scientific view at the time was that life emerged in the Cambrian period. The Cambrian Explosion was the period in which most major animal phyla appeared. There was no point in looking for life in rock older than Cambrian rock – you’d just be wasting your time.

But there was something in the Precambrian rocks of Leicestershire. Tina Negus, a 15-year-old schoolgirl, had seen something in the rocks, but her geography teacher wouldn’t believe her (and didn’t think to check).

I’ll let John Martin continue the story:

In 1957, three Leicester school boys who were into rock climbing had gone to quarry on the other side of the forest near Charnwood Golf Course. In the rock they saw what looked like marks on the rock surface. They kind of knew that you weren’t supposed to find fossils in the Precambrian.

One of the lads had a relative who was on the staff at the university in Leicester, and this relative knew the geologist Trevor Ford.

And that lad was called Roger Mason. And that’s him.

John pointed at Roger. The guy who had been walking around with us as a punter, helping John explain the geology here and there.

Roger Mason, Bradgate Park, 2013-09-07 - standing in front of a Precambrian fossil bed.

Roger Mason, Bradgate Park, 2013-09-07 – standing in front of a Precambrian fossil bed.


Needless to say, the geologist Trevor Ford did check the school boys’ story and a new species was catalogued.

We were gob smacked. I’ve been telling this story for years, and here I was, getting geological insights about the area from the discoverer of Charnia. The image below is of the actual fossil Roger and friends found:

Charnia masoni - discovered by Roger Mason and friends (New Walk Museum, Leicester).

Charnia masoni – discovered by Roger Mason and friends (New Walk Museum, Leicester).

[Wikimedia Commons image by Andy Dingley]

The full species name is Charnia masoni. Yes, it’s named after the area where it was discovered and Roger Mason.

Incidentally, it is difficult to pick out the signs of life in these fossil bed rock faces. But if the light catches it just right, e.g. when the Sun is low in the sky but still bright, you can easily see the fossils. And this happened while we were there. Signs of life leap out.

It was stunning.


Roger sent me a photograph from the local newspaper at the time of the discovery:

Roger Mason - Leicester Mercury - 1957

Roger Mason – Leicester Mercury – 1957

Related articles

Well worth a read: An account of the discovery of Charnia – by Tina Negus. Tina discovered Charnia a year before Roger, but her geography teacher wouldn’t listen!

Posted by: Kash Farooq | August 29, 2013

The Pop Sci Book Club – Book 4

Psocoptera - an order of insects that are commonly known as booklice.

Psocoptera – an order of insects that are commonly known as booklice.

[If you are unsure what this is all about, see The Pop Sci Book Club – an introduction]

Our fourth book has been selected by Stephen Henstridge: we are going to read Philosophy of Science – A Very Short Introduction – by Samir Okasha (160 pages).

So, please buy the book and join the Pop Sci Book Club forum.

The book specific forum for this book: Philosophy of Science – A Very Short Introduction (Samir Okasha).

Philosphy of Science - A Very Short Introduction - by Samir Okasha

Philosphy of Science – A Very Short Introduction – by Samir Okasha

Related posts

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