Sunday, December 30, 2012

Science, the public, the history of science, historians, and philosophers of science

"Science, the public and the history of science"

What made historians and philosophers of science get all of a flutter on Twitter yesterday?


Rebekah Higgitt   

December 21st, 2012

Some Twitter-types may have noticed that the New Statesman editorial by Brian Cox and Robin Ince on science [see below], evidence and policy provoked some discussion and debate between the authors and various people loosely within the fields of History and Philosophy of Science and Science and Technology Studies.

One interesting post on the piece has been written by Jack Stilgoe here in the Guardian. Let me say straight up that, like Stilgoe, there was plenty I agree with in the piece. Particularly the meat of their article, in paragraphs 4 to 7, including the clear acknowledgement that science is work-in-progress and that it cannot be the only thing that policy-makers take into account.

Likewise, most of those engaged in the Twitter discussion would have been in complete agreement that science is an excellent way of producing evidence vital for informed policy and that the scientific evidence on climate change is clear.

So why the fuss? It was an opinion piece that discussed the nature of science and the role of science in society. These are areas that people in HPS and STS have devoted their careers to researching. The view of science that was presented here does not chime with the current consensus within these disciplines, and that naturally provoked a reaction – just as scientists are provoked to react by those who reject or ignore their research.

Both sides of this discussion have more in common than not, and the criticism was made in good faith and with a genuine belief that science, science communication and the use of scientific evidence in government policy, would benefit. We aim to aid, not to jeopardise understanding of scientific evidence, by following the evidence uncovered by our disciplines (and, yes, there are other kinds of evidence than scientific).

Broadly, my objections fall into two categories:

1. The piece suggests that science is separated from the "moral, geopolitical and economic components", even if they rightly acknowledge that it must be part of policy-making

2. Some large and a-historical claims are made regarding changing attitudes to science and technology

On the first, I agree with what Stilgoe has written: "Climate science cannot be separated from climate politics", for scientists are people and they are funded by people. Choices about scientific research and its interpretation are also influenced by geographic, economic, moral and other frameworks. Failing to acknowledge this places an impossible burden on science and its practitioners and inhibits good discussion around different kinds of evidence and opinion.

While there are lots of good phrases about this in the piece, it remains the case that we have scientific evidence on one side of the equation and everything else on the other. It is right to say that scientific evidence "should not be seen or presented … as a body of inviolate knowledge against which policy should be judged", and yet it and "the scientific method" are given a unique place in this discussion. It is the only thing placed as an "adjudicator above opinion", and they explicitly see a border between science and politics, even if it is portrayed as an unclear one.

The second issue arises in the article's framing, especially the big opening: "The story of the past hundred years is one of unparalleled human advances, medically, technologically and intellectually. The foundation for these changes is the scientific method". This was bound to get the historical and philosophical radar twitching, even if it seems peripheral to the focus of the piece.

"[U]nparalleled human advances" is questionable, for almost any other 100-year period can give a similar sense. In the West in recent centuries, science and technology have certainly played a huge part in those changes, but claiming that the kind of technological innovations Ince and Cox are referring to are due to "the scientific method" is something most scholarship in the history and philosophy of science rejects. Firstly, there are many scientific methods and many, when studied in detail, are not particularly methodological. Secondly, new technology tends to lead to new scientific research, rather than vice versa.

This is fairly trivial in the context, however galling to those who carry out research that demonstrates these points. However, more problematic is the fact that the piece goes on to claim that our cushy life and unquestioning consumption of incomprehensible technology is leading us to be less impressed by and accepting of such novelties. Apparently we are devolving:

    The technology and advances in knowledge that cosset us have removed, to a large extent, the need to use our ingenuity and to think rationally. Believing complete drivel was once selected against; now it gets you an expert slot on daytime TV.

In fact, historical research suggests that levels of "believing complete drivel", like those of greeting innovations with "excitement and awe" or boredom or suspicion have not changed a great deal. There is no evidence that "humbug and charlatanism are able to creep into our lives with greater ease", and I have yet to find anyone arguing that "we are no longer obliged to continue the scientific exploration of nature" or that "scientific progress is no longer desirable or necessary".

It is untrue and unhelpful to claim that those who question or ignore certain scientific findings are opposed to science in general. Such statements set up unnecessary dualisms and a "you're either with us or against us" feeling. Frankly, if people only accept part of the package, better that than none. We need to avoid situations where people, who for whatever cultural, religious or personal reasons are unconvinced by scientific arguments in one area, find themselves forced into taking sides in a science/anti-science dichotomy.

How are we to proceed? We should simply accept that "It is not logical to challenge the findings of science unless there are specific, evidence-based reasons for doing so". But the trouble is that people do challenge, and being told that they can't isn't likely to stop them. There is no call here to improve communication with those who have doubts about the message. In the end, we are left simply with "Believe us".

Finally, I do think that scientists are better at science than me, and that successful science communicators are better at communicating science (to a large audience, if not to all audiences). I also think that when scientists, rightly, get involved with discussing the nature of science (philosophy) and its role in society (history, social sciences) they might accept that there are other realms of scholarship that have thought about these things long and hard, and have important things to add to the conversation.

"Brian Cox and Robin Ince: Politicians must not elevate mere opinion over science"

Climate science is just one area that has become controversial for primarily non-scientific reasons. Controversies like this risk undermining confidence in the very idea of science.


Brian Cox and Robin Ince

December 18th, 2012

The story of the past hundred years is one of unparalleled human advances, medically, technologically and intellectually. The foundation for these changes is the scientific method. In every room in your house, there are innovations that in 1912 would have been considered on the cusp of magic. The problem with a hundred years of unabated progress, however, is that its continual nature has made us blasé. We expect immediate hot water, 200 channels of television 24 hours a day, and the ability to speak directly to anyone anywhere in the world any time via an orbiting network of spacecraft. Any less is tantamount to penury. Where once the arrival of a television in a street or the availability of international flight would have been greeted with excitement and awe, and the desire to understand how those innovations came into being, it is now expected that every three months you’ll be queuing outside the Apple store for a new wafer-thin slab of brushed metal, blithely unaware that watching a movie in the palm of your hand has been made possible only through improbable and hard-won leaps in the understanding of the quantum behaviour of electrons in silicon.

With each new generation, the memory of appallingly high child mortality rates, tuberculosis and vast slums grows fainter and fainter. As the past becomes hazy, we start to believe that there can be no other sort of world. We become nonchalant about vaccines, to the point of seeing them as a lifestyle choice akin to a decision to eat only organically farmed fruit, because we attend fewer and fewer funerals of those who died too young. The technology and advances in knowledge that cosset us have removed, to a large extent, the need to use our ingenuity and to think rationally. Believing complete drivel was once selected against; now it gets you an expert slot on daytime TV.

Against this rather depressing introductory backdrop, however, there are faint glimmers of hope, because science, rational think-ing and evidence-based policy-making are enjoying a revival. Part of the evidence for this statement can be found on the pages of a certain type of newspaper, where the idea that there may be an adjudicator above opinion is treated as an affront to the ideology of the columnist. The adjudicator in question is nature, the universe beyond the Notting Hill basement kitchen, and the wonderful thing about nature is that opinions can be tested against it. The key to science is in this simple statement from the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Richard Feynman, who once remarked: “It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is – if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong.”

The assertion is surely uncontroversial, but implementing it can be prohibitively difficult, primarily because it demands that everything be subordinate to evidence. Accepting this is fraught with cultural difficulty, because authority in general rests with grandees, gods, or more usually some inseparable combination of the two. Even in a secular democracy, a fundamental tenet of the system is that politicians are elected to reflect and act upon the opinions of the people, or are at least given temporary authority by the people to act upon their own. Science is a framework with only one absolute: all opinions, theories and “laws” are open to revision in the face of evidence. It should not be seen or presented, therefore, as a body of inviolate knowledge against which policy should be judged; the effect of this would be to replace one priesthood with another. Rather, science is a process, a series of structures that allow us, in as unbiased a way as possible, to test our assertions against Nature.

Let us take the politically controversial issue of climate change as an example. Climate scientists make measurements of observable properties of our planet, such as sea surface temperatures and the area of Arctic sea ice. Over many years, these measurements have formed a large data set. The only grounds for arguing with the data would be specific technical issues with the measurements themselves. One could assert that the satellites measuring sea temperatures were not calibrated correctly, or that there was a methodological error in the measurement of the area of the sea ice. Such criticisms are relatively rare. A more common criticism is of the interpretation of the data using computer models.

All models are, by nature, an approximation to reality. But they are the best we can do, given our current understanding and the power of our computers. The important words here are “the best we can do”. There is no other way of predicting the probability of weather in the future. The only legitimate criticisms would be of specific issues with specific models, or of specific inferences drawn from them. It would certainly be wrong to assert that the ensemble of climate models from various research groups around the world encompassed all possible uncertainties about the future, but it is not logical to attack climate science as a whole, because to do so is to attack scientific method.

The loud criticism of climate science is motivated in the main not by technical objections, but by the difficult political choices with which it confronts us. This is important, because there must be a place where science stops and politics begins, and this border is an extremely complex and uncomfortable one. Science can’t tell us what to do about our changing climate. It can only inform us that it is changing (this is a statement based on data) and tell us the most probable reasons for this given the current state of our understanding. For a given policy response, it can also tell us how likely that response is to be effective, to the best of our understanding. The choice of policy response itself is not a purely scientific question, however, because it necessarily has moral, geopolitical and economic components.

Climate science is one of a series of areas that, for primarily non-scientific reasons, has become controversial; and these controversies risk undermining confidence in the very idea of science. Others are the use of genetically modified crops, vaccination policy and even (God help us) the teaching of evolution in schools. These socio-political-religious controversies risk damaging public confidence in science, partly because of the tactics employed by their advocates, which, if unchecked, will have grave consequences because we live in a society dominated by science. People who rail against science risk becoming disenfranchised, because many of the most important decisions we face as a society have a scientific component. And the larger and more vocal the disenfranchised minority, the less likely we are to make decisions based on the best available evidence and understanding.

Science is the framework within which we reach conclusions about the natural world. These conclusions are always preliminary, always open to revision, but they are the best we can do. It is not logical to challenge the findings of science unless there are specific, evidence-based reasons for doing so. Elected politicians are free to disregard its findings and recommendations. Indeed, there may be good reasons for doing so. But they must understand in detail what they are disregarding, and be prepared to explain with precision why they chose to do so. It is not acceptable to see science as one among many acceptable “views”. Science is the only way we have of exploring nature, and nature exists outside of human structures.

We live in exciting times; our access to knowledge has never been greater, but this also means that humbug and charlatanism are able to creep into our lives with greater ease. We cannot afford to sit back and enjoy the achievements of previous generations, and decide that we are no longer obliged to continue the scientific exploration of nature. Fortunately for us, Michael Faraday was not dazzled by the convenience of gaslight. We must not use our comparative comfort and luxury to elevate opinion above science or, even worse, to argue that scientific progress is no longer desirable or necessary. It would be a gross mistake to assume, for the first time in human history, that there are no great discoveries left to make.

[Robin Ince is a writer and comedian. Brian Cox is a broadcaster and professor of physics at the University of Manchester.]

Physics and females

"Why don't more girls study physics?"

Despite efforts to get more women into science labs almost half of Britain's co-ed schools have no female students taking A-level physics. Are sexist attitudes still to blame – or is it a fear of being thought uncool? One London school is showing how it is possible to buck the trend.


Elizabeth Day   

December 29yj, 2012   

The Observer

Alice Williams is 16, and her eyes are gleaming. As she speaks, her face grows pink with excitement and her hands wave around expressively. You might expect her to be talking about the latest Twilight film or a teenage boy band. But no: Alice is talking about heat resistance. More specifically, a heat-resistance experiment in her A-level physics class.

"The most exciting experiments are when a normal one goes horribly wrong," says Alice, a sixth-former at Lampton School in Hounslow, west London. "One time we were testing the resistance in wire, and if it's too hot it starts to glow. We thought the power was off, but it was on, and it was glowing to the point of fire. It burnt a hole through the ruler. We tried to hide it from the teacher because we were a group of three girls, and it was the beginning of the year, and people were still giving us a bit of stick."

Alice was being given "a bit of stick" from the boys in her class, because the sight of three girls studying physics at school is an increasingly rare one. For the past two decades, female students have accounted for only one-fifth of those taking the subject at A-level. It is the fourth most popular subject for boys, yet slips to 19th in the rankings for girls. According to a recent study by the Institute of Physics, using information provided by the National Pupil Database, 49% of state co-educational schools in England did not send any girls to study physics at A-level in 2011. By contrast, girls were almost two and a half times more likely to take the subject at A-level if they were at a single-sex school – a finding that suggests there might be an ingrained cultural perception in co-educational establishments that physics is somehow "not for girls".

The numbers continue to slip at university. Around 17% of girls apply to do physics at undergraduate level, followed by a more substantial decline in the numbers moving into permanent academic jobs – only 7.9% of these undergraduates stay on to become senior lecturers and 4% professors. Why is this happening? Is there some endemic sexism within the world of physics? Or do women simply not find it appealing?

Athene Donald, a professor of experimental physics and gender equality champion at the University of Cambridge, says there is a risk that the subject is not seen as "cool" by girls of school age. "It might be that the problem is embedded in the ethos of the school and that teachers are tending to interact more with boys who are more outgoing," Donald says. "There are all sorts of subtle messages that 'Girls don't do physics'."

A number of pupils I talk to at Lampton agree. They say that biology is perceived as more girl-friendly, because it is the gateway to medicine and involves more human interaction. By contrast, physics is seen to be an academically challenging subject, with students carrying out dull, repetitive experiments on a lab bench and struggling with equations. The anecdotal evidence is borne out by the statistics – whereas girls account for 20% of all students who opt for physics at A-level, they account for 55% of pupils who opt for biology.

"I suppose the way we portray physicists and engineers is as if it is not normal for girls to do these things," says Donald. "They are often seen as quite nerdy men in programmes like The Big Bang Theory. They are posed as inarticulate and that's not the kind of thing a girl is going to aspire to when she is 12, 13, 14."

Or, as Sir Peter Knight, president of the Institute of Physics, put it: "The English teacher who looks askance at the girl who takes an interest in physics … can play a part in forming girls' perception of the subject."

Lampton is bucking the national trend, with a quarter of girls studying physics at A-level. Jessica Hamer, a science teacher at the school, attributes this to a concerted effort on their part to counteract any negative stereotypes about what physicists might do, or be like, in the real world: "We realised there was a dearth of girls, so we tried to get more speakers and role models to come into the school and talk to the pupils."

The impact has been noticeable, and the girls I meet are extremely bright and enthusiastic about their chosen subject. "It's very encouraging to know there are women out there who have actually succeeded," says Sadaf Rezay, 16, who is taking physics A-level. "But there aren't that many on TV or in the media," counters Alice Williams. "Physics is not all just theory. A lot of people think it's theory, theory, theory, and that puts them off. You need to see how it's applied practically as well. It's involved in everything we do: you pick up a book – that's mechanics. You throw a ball – that's mechanics … Nuclear fusion could be used potentially as alternative energy."

Sushmanjit Kaur, 17, says: "And physics isn't just limited to the earth. It goes beyond that, into exploring space."

"It answers more of the fundamental questions," Alice concludes.

The three of them chat on, at one point insisting that they're looking forward to a school trip to the Large Hadron Collider at Cern in Geneva. When their conversation about particle physics becomes too baffling for me (single science GCSE, 1994), Alice breaks off to explain. "Particle physics is looking into what makes up protons and electrons," she explains, kindly.

Did these forthright, clever girls feel peer pressure not to study physics, I wonder? Rezay nods. "I think in year 10 and 11, girls are put off because of peer pressure and none of their friends are doing it."

"It's not cool to be clever at the moment, especially as a girl," adds Williams. "Boys don't mind being thought of as geeks, but girls do. I do English lit as well, and I'm the only one in the class who also takes physics. Everyone in the class was kind of like, 'You do physics?'" She curls her lip in disgust. "But we're good because we've got a whole group of friends [doing physics as well]."
The importance of a supportive network of friends taking the same subject is key. But it is also, as Alice points out, a question of seeing more positive role models on television and in schools. Although there are prominent male presenters in popular science – Brian Cox, David Attenborough – there are hardly any female counterparts. And when female scientists do make it on to the pages of newspapers, or into television studios, the way they are presented can be extremely patronising. A 2010 paper by academics at the University of Cardiff examined 51 interviews with scientists, eight of whom were women, pulled from a sample of 12 UK national papers in 2006. Half of the profiles of the women referred to their clothing, physique or hairstyle, compared with 21% of the profiles of men. The male scientists interviewed were often used to signal gravitas, while women were more likely to be said to make science "accessible" or "sexy".

Alice Bell, a science journalist and research fellow at the University of Sussex, sees this as part of the problem: "We should celebrate it when we see a female scientist on TV. We should say, 'Yes, she was wonderful', and not necessarily just look at their bottom."

However, it is a trend with a dispiritingly long history. In the 1960s, when female scientists were few and far between, they were routinely portrayed in the media as wives and mothers, and praised for their bakery skills or ability to sew their own clothes. The eminent astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell made one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century when she uncovered the existence of pulsars. And she recalled in a recent radio interview that the subsequent press interest was focused on "how tall I was, and, you know, chest, waist and hip measurements, please, and all that kind of thing. They did not know what to do with a young female scientist … you were a young female, you were page three, you weren't a scientist."

Bell Burnell felt ill-equipped to complain about such treatment. "I hadn't finished my PhD, I was dependent on senior colleagues for references, and maybe even for the PhD, and I wasn't in a position to offend the press because the lab needed the publicity," she said. "If there had been a sort of senior woman around she might have been in a strong enough position to weigh in and say to the press 'Look, these are irrelevant questions'… but there wasn't."

The sexism had serious consequences: Bell Burnell's discovery resulted in a 1974 Nobel prize – not for her, but for her male supervisor and colleague. Fortunately, there are a handful of more senior female physicists around these days, but some of the issues remain. When the European commission launched an initiative earlier this year to encourage more girls to pursue careers in the sciences, they released a kitschy video featuring young women sashaying around a neon-lit laboratory wearing high heels, miniskirts and blowing kisses at test tubes. The video was roundly derided on social networking sites and students at Bristol University swiftly put together this YouTube spoof [above], featuring a suggestive use of latex gloves and female scientists applying lipstick while wearing lab glasses.

But do such cultural stereotypes have a real impact on the day-to-day experience of working scientists? Athene Donald, one of only eight women out of 100 students in their final year as undergraduate physicists at Cambridge, thinks it does. "You had to be able to say 'So be it', and if you feel uncomfortable in that situation it can still be a deterrent," she says. "I have seen situations where you get a very confident young man putting down a lab partner who is female. Now that can happen if you're male or female, but that may be enough to put off a girl if she's already feeling vulnerable because she's in a minority.

"That can come into play at a later stage too," Donald adds. "There are some very well-established women in science now who will still say they are in the minority at conferences, and they feel uncomfortable going to the pub, as the men do, to network after a talk."

And yet there are signs that the culture is changing. It's not just the clever young women I meet at Lampton who signal the dissolution of previously entrenched ideas, but also those physicists currently working in postgraduate fields. Aki Matsushima, a 26-year-old studying for a PhD in quantum physics at Imperial College, London, insists that the lifestyle of a research scientist "is very flexible and actually accommodating, and in that respect it can be really good for women who have other responsibilities, like childcare. There's been a lot of encouragement and funding to get more women in, and once you're in there's no discrimination. In fact, there's lots of encouragement."

However, Matsushima acknowledges that the lack of female professors is a problem. She, like Donald, attended an all-girl school and then chose to attend a single-sex college at Cambridge. "I knew the course was going to be all men," she explains, "so I applied to a women's college so I could hang out with girls as well." But once Matsushima had made it into the male-dominated world of physics, she found it was – and continues to be – an extremely fair environment, with no gender discrimination.

"Maybe at lunchtime you're hanging out with a load of guys talking about computer games, but that's about it,"
she says. This year, Matsushima was a finalist in the BBC's Masterchef and came into contact with some professional chefs who told her she would have to work "twice as hard" to make it as a woman. "In cooking, there is a kind of discrimination internally," she says. "That hasn't happened to me in physics."

All of which sounds relatively hopeful for the A-level pupils at Lampton. What can they see themselves doing in the future?

"Chemical engineering," says Alice Williams.

"Psychiatry," says Sadaf Rezay.

"Astrophysics," says Sushmanjit Kaur.

Perhaps the future of physics has started to look a little bit more female.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Physics' labs in a budget crunch

"Physics labs face fiscal fireworks"


Dan Vergano

December 29th, 2012


Atom smashers drill down into the recesses of the innermost regions of reality. But fiscal reality is that they cost money, and some may be casualties of the federal budget fight.

The recipe for an atom smasher requires physicists, their machines, atoms and money. And money, it turns out, is the hardest part of the ingredient list to solve.

As Congress squabbles over millionaires' tax rates this weekend, a quieter collision is playing out in one part of the U.S. scientific enterprise, three U.S. labs that look at the humblest element of the universe, the atom.

On Jan. 7, a Department of Energy advisory panel headed by Texas A&M physicist Robert Tribble will weigh in on the future of three facilities that right now are the reason the USA leads the world in nuclear physics research. Nuclear physicists seek to understand how the innards of atoms, such as protons and neutrons, interact with each other. The field is essential to nuclear power and nuclear weapons, as well as our basic understanding of nature.

Science fans likely know these labs from discoveries that re-created matter unseen since the Big Bang, or that probed the proton, the positively charged physics particles packed into the center of atoms. One lab shocked physicists in 2009 with the discovery that these goobers aren't perfectly round.

"Just as we are poised to reap the bounty of a tremendous investment in nuclear physics in research and technology, we are looking at shuttering facilities, which seems tremendously wasteful, in addition to the loss of U.S. leadership in this vital area of science," says Steven Vigdor of Brookhaven National Laboratory, which hosts one of the threatened labs, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC). The others are the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (JLab) in Newport News, Va., and Michigan State University's planned Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, a $615 million lab, which has already received $153 million from the Energy Department and $31 million from the university.

Now, the Tribble committee faces "projected constrained budgets," with federal budget cutbacks ahead, as the Energy Department and National Science Foundation put it in an organizational letter, meaning it essentially could decide the fate of the labs. The labs' futures were first mapped out in 2007 before the economic crash, along with the rest of the U.S. nuclear physics effort. That effort is largely funded by the Energy Department to the tune of about $550 million a year. (To put that in perspective, that is about one-tenth of the cost of one of 12 nuclear-armed SSBN-X subs that the Defense Department now has on its shopping list, despite the Cold War ending two decades ago.)

You may be surprised to learn there are any big U.S. atom smashers left at all, with Europe's CERN lab and its Large Hadron Collider (LHC) getting all the attention this year for its detection of a Higgs boson (better known as the "God particle" to the dismay of physicists). Once upon a time, U.S. leadership in high-energy physics was assured, too, before it was overtaken by CERN, but in 1993, President Clinton killed the gigantic atom smasher in Texas that almost undoubtedly would have found the "God particle" about a decade ago, if it had been built (it was partly the victim of another fight over the budget deficit).

As the Tribble committee heard at a September fact-gathering meeting, the U.S. labs are building on the findings at CERN. For example, RHIC smashes together the centers of gold atoms at nearly the speed of light to create "quark-gluon" plasma, a super-heated fluid of the sub-atomic particles normally hidden inside atoms, which represents how things looked in the billionths of a second after the universe started. RHIC and the other lab will sweep up behind the LHC's higher-energy Higgs boson results, plumbing interesting areas of nuclear physics suggested by its findings as well as exploring many still-mysterious facets of atomic behavior.

The shortfall in funding facing all three labs, and the rest of U.S. nuclear physics, is about $100 million total in 2013. (The overall shortfall adds up to about $900 million over five years from 2014 to 2018.) So far, it looks like one of the three labs won't be funded, Vigdor says. If the fiscal cliff "sequestration" of federal funds goes through next year, the Energy Department faces a 7.7% cut in funds, and perhaps two labs will be shut down. "That will likely end U.S. leadership in this area, which we have enjoyed since World War II," Vigdor says. Other nations, such as China and India, are making plans to expand such research, even as the U.S. cuts back. "Our leadership is being drained to other countries," he says.

Of course, things are tough all over. A White House report in September said that sequestration would trigger $417 million in cuts at NASA, $2.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health and $7.5 billion in Defense Department research. "Please do not turn away from your commitment to the scientific research our country so vitally needs," read a Dec. 18 letter from 21 Nobel Prize-winners to President Obama, decrying the planned NIH cuts. The letter noted that every dollar invested in research tends to pay off many times over, a finding that economists have made for decades. Atom smashers, as one example, have played a role in the development of lasers, the World Wide Web and nuclear medicine, which uses radioactive isotopes as medical tracing devices in diagnoses and surgeries.

One irony of the cuts coming to science is that the 2007 build-up of nuclear physics came as a result of congressional concern over a National Academy of Sciences report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm." The report trumpeted fears of the lost U.S. leadership in science and a resultant economic decline. So, the "Long-Range Plan" for U.S. nuclear science, just as in many other areas of research, made promises that look empty now with Washington's focus turned to cutting budgets.

"Everyone can understand the U.S. budget situation and the reality of the deficit," says Vigdor, who is retiring this week. "But all this is just a symptom of the poor budget planning of the U.S. government that has been going on for a long time." If lab bosses knew cuts were coming, Vigdor says, they could have planned things better, instead of facing the boom-and-bust spending that characterizes congressional decision-making.

The good news for the committee contemplating the future of U.S. atom smashers is that they are to submit two plans, one for flat funding (effectively a cut due to inflation) and one for slight growth in the budget for nuclear physics (effectively a flat line in funding for the same reason). By Jan. 7, when their report comes due, the fight over the fiscal cliff may have resolved enough to tell us which path the nation ends up following for the future of U.S. nuclear physics, and the rest of the scientific enterprise.

"The Mountain Eagle"...missing Hitchcock film

Alfred Hitchcock at work on The Mountain Eagle in Obergurgl.

"Austrian village holds out hope for lost Hitchcock film"

The Mountain Eagle, the director's second work, was filmed in Obergurgl but disappeared 90 years ago


Kate Connolly

December 28th, 2012

Afred Hitchcock arrived in the Tyrolean village of Obergurgl in October 1925, clad in knickerbockers, hiking boots and a felt hat, scouting for a location that resembled Kentucky. When he left several months later after completing his second film, the British-German co-production The Mountain Eagle, it's fairly safe to assume locals were glad to see the back of him.

Not only had he ordered the alpine meadows to be cleared of snow, caused a roof to collapse and become stricken by some sort of altitude sickness, he caused offence by declining to stay in the village inn and complaining about the guttural sound of their dialect.

Years later his sins have been forgiven, and now the Tyroleans are far more focused on what happened to the film, which, though released in 1927, has been considered lost for the best part of 90 years. Some fear it may have been destroyed because of its highly flammable nitrate base, but many still have faith that the picture, which has been ranked at the top of the British Film Institute's (BFI) "most wanted of the most wanted films", is still to be found in a fireproof safe or a film buff's attic.

Hopes were raised earlier this year by the discovery of 24 still photographs in the archive of one of Hitchcock's closest friends. The stunning shots were auctioned in Los Angeles earlier this month for $6,000 (£3,700).

Johannes Köck is among the hopefuls. "Wherever I go in the world talking to people from the film industry, I always appeal to them to go and look in their cellars, their attics, to call me any time of day or night if they find it," he says. The head of the Tyrolean film commission, CineTirol, whose job it is to lure filmmakers in search of dramatic alpine landscapes, Köck has been searching for the film since the celebrations of the centenary of Hitchcock's birth in 1999, when he first stumbled on evidence that the film was made in Obergurgl.

"Hitchcock came to this God-forsaken place simply on the basis of finding a postcard of the romantic Oberburgl landscape that he had picked up at a kiosk in Munich," he said.

Köck went to LA where he found Hitchcock's notebooks, in which he described in detail his gruelling journey from Munich to Obergurgl, first by train, then horse and cart, and finally on foot.

"Coming to Obergurgl then would be the equivalent today of heading to a village in the Himalayas – remote and without any modern transport or proper roads," says Köck.

The film project started rather inauspiciously, with Hitchcock waking up on the first day to find the meadows covered in snow. After waiting in vain for four days for it to thaw, he employed members of the local volunteer fire brigade to blast the snow away with their hoses. But in the process, a woman's roof was destroyed. The mayor demanded compensation from Hitchcock of one schilling, but he gave her two.

Filming was interrupted after Hitchcock suffered a bout of vomiting, which he later described as a physical reaction to his dislike of the guttural sounds of the Tyrolean dialect. Although he was a German speaker, he failed to understand the local tongue.

Such discomforts were somewhat offset by the bottle of Cointreau, a few bottles of whiskey and the lemons he had in his luggage. "Hitchcock had brought a whole sack of lemons with him, so at least he did not have to go without his favourite lemonade," says Köck.

It is though that the poor box-office success of the film, which was known in the US as Fear o' God and in German-speaking countries as Der Bergadler, may have had something to do with its obscure subject matter. Its plot revolved around a wicked father, a crippled son and a teacher. Both father and son fall in love with the teacher who flees to the mountains following the father's advances. A recluse falls in love with her, marries her, and there is a final showdown in which the father is accidentally shot.

Hitchcock was never happy with the film, referring to it in an interview with the French director François Truffaut as awful.

But fears that the picture – made years before Hitchcock's huge successes like Psycho, Vertigo and The Birds – might turn out to be disappointing have done nothing to deter cinephiles.

"Is it the great lost masterpiece?" asks Bryony Dixon, BFI's silent-film curator. "Probably not, but it's a Hitchcock, isn't it? So it would be sensational if it turned up."
Theories as to where it might be range from New Zealand, which in the 1920s was typically the last destination in the worldwide distribution chain, to Russia, where, as one belief goes, it may have ended up as war booty.

Yet experts are united on one aspect of the story: the Tyrolean landscape.

"That is its saving grace," says Dixon. "Hitchcock was very aware of the power of a good location, knowing that it sells your film for you."

It also helps Köck bring filmmakers to the region. "When they hear Hitchcock was here, their eyes often light up with delight," he says.

If the film ever turns up, Köck would love it to be shown in the now 400-strong community of Obergurgl, these days a buzzing ski resort.

"Then again, if it ever did turn up," he says, "it might be something of a disappointment that this beautiful, enduring mystery is no more."

Master of suspense and terror...Alfred Hitchcock's birthday

"Corpse Flower" blooms

A titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), also known as "corpse flower" or "corpse plant" due to its odor, is displayed at the Inhotim Art Institute and Botanical Garden in Belo Horizonte, in the Brazilian southern state of Minas Gerais, on December 26, 2012. Hundreds of visitors are flocking daily to the garden to watch the rare blooming of the world's smelliest and largest tropical flower.

"World's smelliest and largest flower blooms in Brazil"

December 27th, 2012

Also known as the "corpse flower" because of a smell likened to rotting flesh, it began blooming on Christmas Day and is already beginning to close, botanist Patricia Oliveira told AFP. The flower "has a lifespan of 72 hours, during which its stink and meat-coloration attract pollinators: carrion flies and beetles," added Oliveira, who works at the Inhotim garden, about 445 kilometers (275 miles) from Rio de Janeiro, housing the massive flower. Titan arum, also known by its scientific name, "Amorphophallus titanum," which means misshapen giant penis, is native to the rainforests of western Sumatra. It rarely flowers, is incredibly difficult to cultivate and takes six years to grow. Thursday, this Brazilian specimen reached 167 centimeters (5 feet 3 inches) in height, but the species can grow up to over three meters (10 feet) tall. This "is the second time it bloomed. The first time was in December 2010," Oliveira said. When it flowers, the bloom has the same temperature as that of the human body, which helps spread its pungent smell. The species was first described in 1878 by Italian natural scientist Odoardo Beccari. Ten years later, it bloomed in a London botanical garden and its next flowering occurred in 1926.

Amorphophallus titanum [Wikipedia]

Friday, December 28, 2012

Deceased--Archie E. Roy

Archie E. Roy
June 24th, 1924 to December 26th, 2012

"Academic and writer Archie E Roy dies aged 88"

December 28th, 2012


The renowned Scottish academic and writer Archibald Edminston Roy has died in Glasgow aged 88.

Known as Archie E Roy, he was Professor Emeritus of Astronomy at Glasgow University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

During a lengthy career, he published 20 books - six of them novels. He also had an asteroid named after him and conducted research into the paranormal.

Professor Roy died on Wednesday afternoon in Drumchapel Hospital.

He is survived by his wife Frances and three sons David, Archie and Ian.
'Glasgow's ghostbuster'

Professor Roy was a regular contributor to BBC Scotland television and radio programmes on areas as diverse as astronomy and the paranormal.

His son David said this was a source of amusement to the family.

"We used to find it funny as a family that he was sometimes referred to as Glasgow's ghostbuster," he said.

"But he was equally as proud of both his achievements within academia and astronomy as well as his innovative work looking for scientific evidence of the paranormal."

David Roy said his father was "fascinated by life in general".

"I remember as a small child him talking about the greatest area of discovery was still the human brain," he said.

"I think he was just fascinated by knowledge and by extending knowledge and hopefully education, which ultimately, I think, was his real passion."

Mr Roy said his father started out as a physics teacher at Shawlands Academy in Glasgow, before completing a doctorate in the 1950s, which opened the doorway to his lengthy career as an academic and professor.

He added: "When he was asked by someone what he did, he would refer to himself as 'just a teacher'.

"That's what he was most proud off, the way that he could hopefully help people to discover new knowledge and new things about themselves."

Distinguished career

Professor Roy was educated at Glasgow's Hillhead High School and later studied at Glasgow University, where he went on to teach.

During his long and distinguished career, he conducted research in areas such as astrodynamics, celestial mechanics, archaeoastronomy and neural networks.

Professor Martin Hendry, head of Physics and Astronomy at Glasgow University, paid tribute to his former colleague.

"Archie Roy was a tremendous academic who inspired not only generations of students, including myself, but also the general public through his books and media work,"
he said.

"He will be much missed by friends and former colleagues at the University of Glasgow and our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time."

Professor Roy was a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and the British Interplanetary Society.

Memorial medal

The academic was also a Founding President of The Scottish Society for Psychical Research and a member and past president of the London-based Society for Psychical Research.

He was awarded the latter's Myers Memorial Medal in 2004 for outstanding contributions to psychical research.

The inner main-belt asteroid 5806 Archieroy was named after Professor Roy shortly after its discovery in 1986.

He was also elected a member of the European Academy of Arts, Sciences and the Humanities.

Other positions included Patron of the Churches Fellowship (Scotland) for Psychical and Spiritual Studies and a member of the Scientific and Medical Network.

"Astronomy professor and 'Glasgow ghostbuster' Archie Roy dies"

December 28th, 2012


Astronomy professor and writer Archie Roy, known as the ‘Glasgow Ghostbuster’ for his expertise in explaining physical phenomenon, has died.

Professor Roy, who was born in Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, was Emeritus Professor and honorary senior research fellow in the department of physics and astronomy at Glasgow University.

The father-of-three had an asteroid, (5806) Archieroy, named after him in recognition of his work in his field. On Thursday, he died at Drumchapel Hospital in the city, aged 88.

He was a member of the European Academy of Arts, Sciences and the Humanities, as well as being a patron of the Churches Fellowship (Scotland) for Psychical and Spiritual Studies.

During his long career at Glasgow, Professor Roy published 20 books, including six novels, as well as scientific papers and scores of articles. In 2004 he was awarded the Myers Memorial Medal for outstanding contributions to psychical research by the Society for Psychical Research.

He was married to Frances with whom he had three sons: Dr. Archie W N Roy, Ian Roy and David Roy.

His son David paid tribute to his father: "My father was a man of the Scottish Enlightenment. Equally proud of his achievements in academia, novel writing and psychical research. In 1964 he placed a bet with William Hill for £10 that a man would land on the moon before 1971. He won £1200."

He added: "Like Sir Issac Newton, his interests in psychical research were to apply scientific methodology to understand the unknown, rather than dismiss it without any knowledge. He was a member and past president of the Society for Psychical Research and founding president of The Scottish Society for Psychical Research. He was regularly asked by the media to comment on psychical phenomenon and was often referred to as the 'Glasgow ghostbuster'.

"Of all his achievements and awards, he still introduced himself simply as 'a teacher' and thought education was the key to a just and equal world. Born into a Clydebank room and kitchen, he epitomised all that a 'free' public education can do.

"He will be greatly missed by his friends, colleagues and family but his work and writing is still with us. His two grandchildren David and Fraser already are interested in being astronomers and writing novels. He has inspired many, influenced multitudes but was my dad and I loved him."

"An Interview with Professor Archie Roy"


Michael E. Tymn

Academy for Spiritual and Consciousness Studies

Whenever psychical researchers discuss the best evidence on record for the survival of consciousness after physical death, the so-called “cross-correspondences” are often listed as number one. However, the researchers always point out that the cross-correspondences are so complex that they are beyond the comprehension of anyone who is not a classical scholar and not prepared to spend years in studying the messages. “Whatever else they are, they are eminently communications from a man of letters, to be interpreted by scholars, and they are full of obscure classical allusions,” wrote Sir Oliver Lodge, the distinguished British physicist and psychical researcher.

 Dr. Archie E. Roy, professor emeritus of astronomy and honorary research fellow in the University of Glasgow, has studied the cross-correspondences and written about the key cases in a book, The Eager Dead, recently released by Book Guild Publishing of England. While the cross-correspondences are the core of the book, it is also a story of love and intrigue during the Edwardian age. Chief among the characters still in this realm of existence at the time are Arthur James Balfour, prime-minister of England from 1902-06, Lord Gerald William Balfour, his brother, Winifred Coombe-Tennant, an affluent English woman (British delegate to the League of Nations) who used the pseudonym “Mrs. Willett” so that no one would know that she was a medium, and Henry Coombe-Tennant, her son, who was completely unaware for most of his life of his mother’s mediumship or his own involvement in many of the cross-correspondences.

After receiving his B.Sc. from Glasgow University in 1950, Roy earned his Ph.D. in 1954. He then spent four years as a science master in Shawlands Academy before returning to G.U. as a lecturer in the Department of Astronomy. “It was a few years later when I received my ‘call up,’” Roy recalls his introduction to psychical research. “I lost my way in the old university library and found shelves of books on spiritualism and psychical research. My first ignorant reaction was ‘What is this rubbish doing in a university library?’ But curiosity made me open some of the books. I was surprised to recognize some of the authors of this ‘rubbish,’ such as Sir Oliver Lodge, Professor William James, Professor Sir William Crookes, and so on. My balloon of ignorance was punctured by the needle of my scientific curiosity and I found myself called up to a new career."

Ever since then, Roy has pursued a scientific career in both astronomy and psychical research. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Astronomical Society, the British Interplanetary Society, the Society for Psychical Research (of which he is a past-president) and Scottish Society for Psychical Research (of which he was the founder). He is also a member of the International Astronomical Union, which honored him for his work in astronomy by naming an asteroid after him.

I interviewed Professor Roy several months ago for the June issue of “The Searchlight,” a quarterly publication of the Academy of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies. Here is that interview.

Professor Roy, your nearly 600-page book, was clearly a monumental project. What prompted you to undertake such a book?

I well remember the first visit Monty Keen and I made to Honiton to meet Lady Alison Kremer, granddaughter of Gerald, 2nd Earl of Balfour. She had been left the large archive of documents collected by her mother Jean, Countess of Balfour, who had added to them from 1930 onwards, when the Sidgwick Group appointed her their official archivist of anything related to the Cross-Correspondences (C-C). Very little of this archive had ever been published and I could see why. After a preliminary study of the archive I knew I had to accept Lady Kremer’s invitation to prepare it for publication. I also knew it would be a long and formidable task assessing the material, ordering it in importance, balancing it and bringing into a more readable form the scores of letters, memoranda, hundreds of automatic writings, considered and confidential opinions of Gerald, his sister Mrs. Sidgwick, Sir Oliver Lodge, Mr. Piddington and others, the part played by Arthur Balfour, Prime Minister in the first decade of the 20th century. And from behind the curtain of death, so to speak, came compelling evidence in the archive that the group of seven, Myers, Gurney, Sidgwick, William Balfour, Edith Lyttelton, Annie Marshall and Mary Catherine Lyttelton, still existed, still had an astounding agenda to be pursued, the Story and the Plan.

The majority of psychical researchers have long considered the C-C to be a major – possibly the major – survival-related material in existence. But to tackle it required certain qualities. My colleague Monty once likened a serious attempt to research the C-C, in mountaineering terms, to be akin to an assault on the north face of the Eiger. My own feelings were that I required time, patience and optimism. Optimism, well, I was beginning the task in 1998, when I was 74 years of age. And I learned patience in my teens when I spent three years in a TB sanatorium.

In fact it took almost ten years, studying the material, doing additional research to check data, writing successive drafts and persuading numerous colleagues to read and criticise them, revising and cutting down the length, finding a publisher and collaborating with Book Guild over many months in producing the book – they did a marvelous job.

The most difficult part of this long slog was to cut out innumerable parts of the material concerning fascinating events in the Victorian era and the 20th century, little-known items of real interest regarding real people. But that is always the way in authorship and I am deeply grateful to all who helped me.

If you could go back in time and meet one of the people involved with the cross-correspondences, who would it be?

Inevitably I choose Frederic Myers as the one. Ever since I obtained many years ago a copy of the two-volume edition of his book Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, I have placed him as the greatest, most talented pioneer of psychical research. His brilliant insight into the nature of human personality lifts him to the same elevated rung of the ladder of human genius as Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, Clerk Maxwell, Einstein and those others whose contributions to humanity have been gloriously illuminating beacons amid the darkness of unreason, prejudice, violence, cruelty and downright evil acts of our species. What can I say about Myers that hasn’t already been said by those who knew him, admired him unreservedly and acknowledged his fabulous contribution to our subject? Luminaries such as Charles Richet, William James, Theodor Flournoy, Oliver Lodge, William Barrett and many others then and since have testified to Myers’ many-faceted stature. He was not valued by those who knew him solely because of his contributions to it but also because of his loveable and endearing personality. I have said elsewhere that if William Wordsworth demonstrated that he was the psychical researcher of poets, Frederic Myers was the poet of psychical research.

I will content myself with just one quotation. Charles Richet said: ‘If Myers was not a mystic, he had all the faith of a mystic and the ardour of an apostle, in conjunction with the sagacity and precision of a savant.’ And yet just a few years ago, a young parapsychologist at the International Conference of the Society for Psychical Research could begin his presentation by referring to him vaguely as ‘Some guy called Myers.’ The audience’s frisson of surprise was akin to that we would expect at a modern physics conference if a young speaker had used the phrase ‘Some guy called Einstein’.
To me Myers is one I would dearly love to meet, not because I could teach him anything but simply because I would enjoy the company and friendship of a superb, enormously-talented and loveable man, one of the three major founding fathers of psychical research, Sidgwick, Gurney and ‘some guy called Myers’.
If the cross-correspondences are actual communication from the spirit world, do you think Frederic Myers and the other spirit messengers realized they would be so difficult to understand? Couldn’t they have come up with something less complicated and still made their point?

Essentially, the C-C originated in a deceptively-simple idea. Someone who has died transmits to a number of mediums or automatists scattered round the world snippets of a theme dreamed up by him. The snippets received by any one automatist do not make any sense whatever to him or her. Only by bringing all the snippets together does the theme become clear. Moreover, that theme is characteristic of the intelligence and learning and personality of the sender who even, when he finds the group of investigators having serious difficulties in interpreting the collected snippets, speaks through the scripts directly to them, chiding and teasing them in the manner of a kindly teacher with an obtuse class. He then gives hints to them to aid them in their interpretation of the scripts.

The difficulties really begin to mount when we realise that the group of seven on the other side of death had a decidedly complicated agenda. They continued to ‘dictate’ scripts for over thirty years. They, especially Myers, cleverly used levels of classical allusions and literary references that to very few modern people make any sense at all, so philistine have our educational standards become. Add to that the fact that there are many thousands of pages that anyone nowadays would have to study and so would require a very long time to do so. But the idea is a brilliant one and one might well ask if there is anything better in the history of psychical research. That to me is a very important question. Almost all of the psychical researchers of the past right up to the present, who have died, have included scientists of many kinds, many of them top rank. If they have survived the death of the body, why have they not used their expertise to give us a far more dependable post-mortem communication method? As far as I know, they haven’t. Therefore to me, Myers’ method is still the best.

As I recall from reading one of the books on the Scole experiments, you were involved. Would you mind relating a little of what you observed?

I played a very small part in the Scole experiment. The principal researchers were Professor Arthur Ellison, Professor David Fontana and Montague Keen. I was taken to the Scole site on one occasion, not because of a lack of interest on my part but purely because of distance. Nevertheless every time I met Monty he kept me informed about events at the circle. On the evening I was present I sat where I could satisfactorily see and hear what was happening. The conversation between the experimenters and the mediums’ controls was fascinating. The proceedings became even more interesting to me when the ‘control’ known as the scientist spoke to me, welcoming me and saying that he had carried out some of the pioneering work of calculating periodic orbits of planets and satellites. He discussed with me some of the technicalities and difficulties he had experienced and referred to the fact that in his day there were no computers such as I could now use. Afterwards I realised that there were only about a score of people in the UK who would have been able to have a conversation with me at that level of expertise on that subject. And as far as I know, the mediums had not been given my identity and profession. I also realised that the scientist bore quite a resemblance to George Darwin, related to Charles Darwin, who had indeed carried out such pioneering calculations on periodic orbits. But again, as seems to happen to many circles that terminate unexpectedly, the Scole circle did likewise on the grounds that it had to cease because its operation was interfering with the ability of time-travelers to pass from one galaxy to another! As we say laconically in Glasgow when our boggle-factor is surpassed: ‘Aye, that’ll be right.’

What other cases have you found especially interesting and evidential?

Apart from the crucially important cases in my book The Archives of the Mind, none of which I personally investigated, over 30 years of my own investigations have provided me with a wide variety of ostensibly paranormal cases. Usually studied with a colleague, they often originated as cries for help from people convinced that they or their homes were haunted. Some cases were found to be non-paranormal, for instance as imaginative misinterpretations of unusual noises – the peremptory knocking of a water-hammer, or sadly, mental trouble. But some did involve paranormal phenomena. Some were poltergeist cases, others were apparitional and some were mixed. In some we found evidence of intrusion from the other side of death, of ‘unfinished business’, of maliciousness, of a wish to dominate. In some we could identify the problem and even take measures to solve it, operating not so much as psychical researchers but more akin to psychical plumbers! Hopefully we learned from every case but our prime concern in each was to help the unhappy family who called us in.

Does any one case stand out in your recollection?

One case stands out in my mind. In 1972 I became involved in the Maxwell Park case with my colleague, the Rev. Max Magee, chaplain to the students of Strathclyde University. It was a powerful poltergeist case which had lasted half a year before I was called in. The family members were terrified by the physical manifestations that tormented them. When they fled to a relative’s house, the phenomena did likewise and even continued there, after the family in despair returned to their own house, as though in some way the relative’s family had been infected. In time some fifty people were witnesses, including cynical journalists, town councilors, doctors, policemen and others, turned from original scepticism to utter conviction that they had witnessed the paranormal. A police officer told me, ‘You know, I had to take some of my men off that case. They were turning in reports like ‘The bed was proceeding in a northerly direction.’

Most of the phenomena included classical poltergeist events such as alarming noises, fires breaking out, floods of water, psychokinetic movements of a wide variety of objects, many seemingly perpetrated by malicious intent. It became clear to Max and I that there were attempts to control the two boys – at times they carried out feats of strength or skills that they could not possibly have acquired normally. We found it necessary over many months to, turn about, stay until late at night to support the family who were losing weight, exhibiting extreme stress bringing them to the edge of complete nervous breakdowns. Finally Max, in his capacity as a minister of religion, aided by myself, persuaded the family one Sunday evening to go to church. While they were there, Max and I went through the house room by room, carrying out a service of ‘cleansing’ in each.

I wish I could say that that was what got rid of the haunting. The poltergeist phenomena did cease, the boys no longer exhibited symptoms of possession and the family’s lives were transformed. But to be accurate, about the same time, the man downstairs, with whom the family had been having a vendetta for years, died. In addition we persuaded the father to send the older boy, who seemed the main focus, up north to stay with his grandparents for some weeks. So we were unable to achieve a complete understanding why the phenomena ceased. But we did learn a lot, perhaps the most important being that if you embark upon such an investigation, you must sign on for the duration, for a family in the middle of the poltergeist hurricane desperately needs support, sympathy and led to understand that these cases have happened innumerable times, but like an illness, will run their course, exhibit their symptoms and some day, hopefully, we will be able to do more than simply offer moral support.

What are your present views on survival?

To me, at the present time, the evidence for the survival of bodily death is of such strength that it is the most parsimonious theory accounting for much more than any other. Even the file theory, which supposes that throughout a person’s life a record of that person’s life from their point of view (POV) is made until their bodily death, is not so convincing. Certainly the file cannot be supposed to be physical, for long after the death of the brain, children recall the details of a previous life, accepting it as a former life they had, since memories of that life are recalled from the POV of the former person. To me the researches of Stevenson and Haraldsson are convincing in this area that survival of death in some way takes place. Possession cases such as those of Lurancy Vennum, Uttara Huddar, Sumitra, Jasbir Lal Jat add strength to that concept. Certain ‘drop in’ cases also strengthen the concept.

Indeed the wide variety of such cases are so evidentially strong that they support a challenge I made in print twelve years ago to any sceptic that if s/he believes no proof of a paranormal event has ever been produced they should submit in detail normal explanations for the long list of cases I gave. The silence from the sceptics has been deafening, a silence that reminds me of Sherlock Holmes chiding of Dr Watson because of his non-appreciation of the significance of the dog that did not bark in the night. Or the trick of young children who, displeased with the real world, close their eyes and believe that by so doing, they have cancelled that displeasing world. Or the late Sam Goldwyn who allegedly shouted, “Don’t confuse me with facts! My mind is made up!"

Are you working on anything now?

My colleague Tricia Robertson and I have almost finished the first draft of a new book, PRESENCES, Facets of Human Personality Before, and After, Death. In a way it is a sequel to my book, The Archives of the Mind and assesses evidence for a large additional variety of paranormal phenomena. I am also working on a true detective story, written almost in a manner of a CSI program. But in this case, CSI stands for Celestial Sphere Investigation into a particular event, the deliberate creation of the stellar constellation figures.

Archie Roy [Wikipedia]

Deceased--Fontella Bass

Fontella Bass
July 3rd, 1940 to December 26th, 2012

Rescue Me

"Fontella Bass obituary"

Soul and gospel singer who had a top 10 hit with Rescue Me


Dave Laing   

December 28yh, 2012

The Guardian

Rescue Me has been described as the best record Aretha Franklin never made. This is a somewhat backhanded compliment to Fontella Bass, whose insistent gospel-tinged vocals graced the 1965 single. As none of her other records emulated Rescue Me's commercial success, Bass, who has died of complications from a heart attack aged 72, was sometimes regarded as a one-hit wonder. However, she embraced a wide range of music during her career, including sacred songs and the politically and artistically radical free jazz of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

She was born in St Louis, Missouri, into a highly musical family. Both her mother, Martha, and her grandmother were professional gospel singers. From an early age, Fontella sang in public and learned piano and organ. She toured with Martha who was a featured soloist with the Clara Ward Singers, one of the most respected groups on the gospel music circuit.

As a teenager, Bass felt the pull of the secular sounds of jazz and R&B. After graduating from Soldan high school in St Louis, she took her first professional jobs with the bands of Little Milton and Oliver Sain. Among her colleagues was the trumpeter Lester Bowie, whom Bass married in 1969.

A duet that she recorded with Bobby McClure, Don't Mess Up a Good Thing, led to a solo recording session for Chess Records in Chicago. The final song of the session was Rescue Me. The arrangement was improvised on the spot by the producer Billy Davis and the musicians. The bass guitar player Louis Satterfield came up with the hypnotic figure that opens the track, while Davis created the memorable ending in which each instrumentalist drops out in turn, leaving Bass to complete the song a capella.

Rescue Me rose quickly to No 4 in the American charts. In the UK, an appearance by Bass on Ready Steady Go! helped the record reach No 11 in 1965. Another single, Recovery, also sold well the following year, but only made No 32 in the UK. Bass became embroiled in an argument about money with the record company and unsuccessfully sought to be recognised as the co-writer of Rescue Me. In the early 1990s, she had more luck in challenging the use of the recording without her permission in an American Express commercial.

In 1969, Bowie and what would become known as the Art Ensemble of Chicago decided to move to Paris to seek a European audience. Bass joined them, adding piano and vocals to the group's performance art approach to collective improvisation. She is featured on two albums made by the ensemble in France in 1970.

When they returned to St Louis the following year, Bass made further soul records before devoting herself to raising her four children. She later returned to the stage, playing gospel shows and R&B events. She recorded occasionally with Bowie and in 1980 released an album of religious music, From the Root to the Source, recorded with her mother and her younger brother, the soul and gospel singer David Peaston. Her 1995 album No Ways Tired was nominated for a Grammy.

Bass remained popular in Europe, where she toured occasionally, and she made a memorable appearance at the Womad festival in the UK in 2001. She was also sought out by young producers such as Jason Swinscoe of the electro-jazz group Cinematic Orchestra. When Swinscoe travelled to St Louis in 2007 to record vocals by Bass, he found her in poor health, having suffered a series of strokes.

Bass is survived by her children, Neuka, Ju'Lene, Larry and Bahnamous, and 10 grandchildren. Bowie died in 1999 and Peaston died in 2012.

"Fontella Bass, R&B singer who had hit 'Rescue Me,' dies at 72"

December 28th, 2012

Fontella Bass, 72, a St. Louis-born soul singer who hit the top of the R&B charts with "Rescue Me" in 1965, died Wednesday at a St. Louis hospice of complications from a heart attack suffered three weeks ago, said her daughter, Neuka Mitchell. Bass had also suffered a series of strokes over the last seven years.

Bass was born in 1940 into a family with deep musical roots. Her mother was gospel singer Martha Bass, one of the Clara Ward Singers. Her younger brother, David Peaston, had a string of R&B hits in the 1980s and 1990s. Peaston died in February at age 54.

Bass began performing at a young age, singing in her church's choir at age 6. She was surrounded by music, often traveling on national tours with her mother and her gospel group.

Her interest turned from gospel to R&B when she was a teenager and she began her professional career at the Showboat Club in north St. Louis at age 17. She eventually auditioned for Chess Records and landed a recording contract, first as a duet artist. Her duet with Bobby McClure, "Don't Mess Up a Good Thing," reached No. 5 on the R&B charts and No. 33 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1965.

She co-wrote and later that year recorded "Rescue Me," reaching No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 4 on the Billboard pop singles chart. Bass' powerful voice bore a striking resemblance to that of Aretha Franklin, who is often misidentified as the singer of that chart-topping hit.

Bass had a few other modest hits but by her own accounts developed a reputation as a troublemaker because she demanded more artistic control, and more money for her songs. She haggled over royalty rights to "Rescue Me" for years before reaching a settlement in the late 1980s, Mitchell said. She sued American Express over the use of "Rescue Me" in a commercial, settling for an undisclosed amount in 1993.

"Rescue Me" has been covered by many top artists, including Linda Ronstadt, Cher, Melissa Manchester and Pat Benatar. Franklin eventually sang a form of it too — as "Deliver Me" in a Pizza Hut TV ad in 1991.

Bass lived briefly in Europe before returning to St. Louis in the early 1970s, where she and husband Lester Bowie raised their family. She recorded occasionally, including a 1995 gospel album, "No Ways Tired," that earned a Grammy nomination.

"Fontella Bass, 72, Singer of ‘Rescue Me,’ Is Dead"


Ben Sisario

December 27th, 2012

The New York Times

Fontella Bass, the singer whose 1965 hit “Rescue Me” was an indelible example of the decade’s finest pop-soul, died on Wednesday in St. Louis. She was 72.

The cause was complications of a recent heart attack, her daughter Neuka Mitchell said.

Ms. Bass was born in St. Louis on July 3, 1940, and learned gospel at the side of her mother, Martha Bass, a member of one of the era’s major traditional gospel groups, the Ward Singers. From a young age she served as her mother’s pianist, but eventually, as an adolescent, got the itch to sing secular music. By the early 1960s she was playing with Little Milton, a blues guitarist and singer with links to the Chess label in Chicago.

After some early recordings with Little Milton’s Bobbin label in St. Louis, she joined Chess and released her first records on its Checker subsidiary in early 1965. The first two, “Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing” and “You’ll Miss Me (When I’m Gone),” duets with Bobby McClure, had modest success on the rhythm-and-blues charts. But her career was made by “Rescue Me,” released later that year.

Driven by a bubbly bass line, it featured Ms. Bass’s high-spirited voice in wholesomely amorous lyrics like “Come on and take my hand/Come on, baby, and be my man,” as well as some call-and-response moans that Ms. Bass later said resulted from a studio accident.

“When we were recording that, I forgot some of the words,” she told The New York Times in 1989. “Back then, you didn’t stop while the tape was running, and I remembered from the church what to do if you forget the words. I sang, ‘Ummm, ummm, ummm,’ and it worked out just fine.”

A major crossover hit, the song reached No. 4 on Billboard’s pop chart and has remained a staple on oldies radio, movie soundtracks and television commercials; Aretha Franklin sang a version of it for a Pizza Hut ad in the early ’90s (as “Deliver Me”).

Ms. Bass recorded several follow-up singles for Checker, but all fell short of the popularity of “Rescue Me,” and she then veered toward the avant-garde jazz of her husband, Lester Bowie , the trumpeter of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. She went with the group to Paris at the turn of the 1970s and recorded with it there, but soon returned to the United States.

A 1972 solo album, “Free,” was another commercial disappointment, and Ms. Bass turned to raising her four children with Mr. Bowie. Besides Ms. Mitchell, they include another daughter, Ju’Lene Coney, and two sons, Larry Stevenson and Bahnamous Bowie. They all survive her, along with 10 grandchildren.

Although her pop career had largely wound down, she continued to sing occasionally on Mr. Bowie’s records and to perform gospel with her mother and her half-brother, David Peaston. Her marriage to Mr. Bowie ended in divorce, and he died in 1999. Mr. Peaston died in February.

Ms. Bass had long maintained that she helped write “Rescue Me” and was deprived of proper credit and songwriting royalties. By 1990, she said, she was living in near-poverty when her career turned around after she heard “Rescue Me” used in an American Express commercial, and she began to press for remuneration for her work. She sued American Express in 1993, and she said she received a significant settlement.

In 1995 she released “No Ways Tired,” which was nominated for a Grammy for best traditional soul gospel album. Her subsequent releases included “Travellin’ ” in 2001 and “All That You Give,” a collaboration with the British electronic group the Cinematic Orchestra, in 2002.

She rescued herself, she said, when she began to stand up for her rights as an artist.

“It was as if the Lord had stepped right into my world,” she told Newsweek in 1995. “I looked around and got back my royalties. I started to go to church every Sunday. And that’s what saved me.”

Fontella Bass [Wikipedia]

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