Why Hollywood gets it wrong, part 2

By Gordon Rugg

The first article in this short series looked at one reason for movies presenting a distorted version of reality, namely conflict between conventions.

Today’s article looks at a reason for movies presenting a simplified version of reality. It involves reducing cognitive load for the audience, and it was studied in detail by Grice, in his work on the principles of communication. It can be summed up in one short principle: Say all of, but only, what is relevant and necessary.

At first sight, this appears self-evident. There will be obvious problems if you don’t give the other person all of the information they need, or if you throw in irrelevant and unnecessary information.

In reality, though, it’s not always easy to assess whether you’ve followed this principle correctly. A particularly common pitfall is assuming that the other person already knows something, and in consequence not bothering to mention it. Other pitfalls are subtler, and have far-reaching implications for fields as varied as politics, research methods, and setting exams. I’ll start by examining a classic concept from the detective genre, namely the red herring.

five red herrings bannerHerring image by Lupo – Self-made, based on Image:Herring2.jpg by User:Uwe kils, which is licensed {{GFDL}}, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2610685

Continue reading

Will the world end if I don’t get a job soon?

By Gordon Rugg

The short, reassuring answer is no, the world probably won’t end if you don’t get a job soon.

However, if you’re trying to find a job and haven’t found one yet, it can easily feel as if your personal world is closing in around you and about to collapse. This article is about some ways of handling that feeling and of handling the situation so that you get something good and positive out of it.

To set a good, positive mood as a starting point, here’s a picture of a hammock on a tropical beach.

798px-HammockonBeachImage source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HammockonBeach.jpg

Continue reading

Catastrophic success

By Gordon Rugg

Sometimes, you know a concept, but don’t know a name for it. I’m grateful to Colin Rigby for introducing me to a name for this article’s topic, namely catastrophic success.

It’s a concept that’s been around for a long time, in fields as varied as business planning and the original Conan the Barbarian movie. It’s simple, so this will be a short article, but it’s a very powerful concept, and well worth knowing about.

banner

Continue reading

Some myths about PhDs

By Gordon Rugg

This article covers three myths about PhDs that seem to be popular at the moment.

  • First myth: You have to find a PhD topic by looking for advertised PhD studentships
  • Second myth: You have to have a 2:1 or a distinction to get onto a PhD
  • Third myth: You have to start in September, or you’ve missed your chance till the next year

All three beliefs contain enough truth to look discouraging to many people who might be thinking of doing a PhD, but who don’t fit the criteria set out in the myths. However, that doesn’t mean that those myths tell the full story. The full story is longer and more complex (which may be why it isn’t as widely known as it should be) and is also more hopeful for anyone who isn’t able to follow the usual PhD route.

Before we get into the details, here’s an encouraging pair of classical pictures to put you in an appropriate mood, showing the transformation from solitary uncertainty in the wilderness to public adulation and success…

bannerv1

Continue reading

Research ethics

By Gordon Rugg

I have done questionable things….

Note: I’ve written this article, like all the other Hyde & Rugg blog articles, in my capacity as a private individual, not as a member of Keele University.

This article intended as an explanation of why researchers need to pay serious attention to research ethics. It’s not intended as a complete overview of all the issues that ethics committees have to consider, which would require a much longer article. For example, I don’t discuss the issue of informed consent, although this is a very important topic. Similarly, I don’t discuss whether ethical review could lead to a chilling effect on research. Instead, I’ve focused on the underlying issue of why a researcher’s own opinion about ethics isn’t enough.

Research ethics committees are interesting places. The ethics committees I attend are the only committee meetings that I actively look forward to. This is partly because everybody is focused on doing a good, professional job as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then getting back to our other work. It’s also partly because the cases that we deal with are often fascinating.

Most research students view ethics committees as an obstacle to be passed, taking precious time and effort. The reality is very different. If you’re a researcher, whether a novice or an expert, the ethics committee is a valuable friend, and can help you avoid all sorts of risks that might otherwise cause you serious grief.

In this article, I’ll discuss some ways that ethics committees help you, and some things that could go wrong in ways that you might not expect. Some of those risks are seriously scary. I’ve avoided going into detail about triggering topics wherever possible, but some of the things that go wrong with ethics might trigger some readers. By way of a gentle start, here’s a restful image of a tropical beach.

798px-HammockonBeach

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HammockonBeach.jpg

Continue reading

Patents, pensions, and printing

By Gordon Rugg

The Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution are often portrayed as a flowering of bright new ways of thinking about the world, shaking off the dull orthodoxy of previous centuries. Well, in some ways that’s true, but there’s also a fair amount of unglamorous practical underpinning that usually receives less attention.

This article is about those underpinnings.

One of the striking things about technological developments before the Renaissance is how many of them spread slowly, if at all. Why was that?

If you look at the question from the viewpoint of a mediaeval inventor who has just come up with a bright new idea, then you start seeing the importance of various factors that don’t get much attention in popular history.

Unglamorous and glamorous views of how inventions happenbanner2

Continue reading

Grand Unified Theories

By Gordon Rugg

If you’re a researcher, there’s a strong temptation to find a Grand Unified Theory for whatever you’re studying, whether you’re a geologist or a physicist or psychologist or from some other field.

That temptation is understandable. There’s the intellectual satisfaction of making sense of something that had previously been formless chaos; there’s the moral satisfaction of giving new insights into long-established problems; for the less lofty-minded, there’s the prospect of having a law or theory named after oneself.

Just because it’s understandable, however, doesn’t mean that it’s always a good idea. For every Grand Unified Theory that tidies up some part of the natural world, there’s at least one screwed-up bad idea that will waste other people’s time, and quite possibly increase chaos and unpleasantness.

This article explores some of the issues involved. As worked examples, I’ll start with an ancient stone map of Rome, and move on later to a Galloway dyke, illustrated below.

bannerv2Sources for original images are given at the end of this article

Continue reading