Category Archives: The Bloggy Blog

The Natural World in Haiku form

Traditionally in the world of journalism, August is regarded as lacking any news of note, and is, in the UK at any rate, dubbed the “Silly Season”.  In homage to that view-point, and instead of doing one of of my usual blog posts, I searched for all the haikus I have tweeted over the last three years and present them here for light relief.

 

Thirsty snails

Short of water, snails

Circle and swirl on the rocks,

Waiting for a storm.

All the stones of any consequence were encrusted with snails.  Then the rain came and they were gone.

Italy 25 July 2014

 

Evening lift-off

Italian evening;

Bats swoop as stag beetles lift

Into lurching flight

Note the hole in the left elytrum, the resident kitten at our Italian holiday villa really enjoyed herslf snatching the poor lumbering beasties (in this case a Rhinoceros beetle) out of the air ☹

Italy 27 July 2014

 

Breakfast?

Italian morning;

Lizards scurry on the stairs

as cicadas sing

Admittedly not on the stairs, but close enough 😊

28 July 2014

 

Seasons

 

Spring has sprung

 White, pink fluttering,

the gentle breeze scattering;

cherry blossom falls

Outside my office – 24 May 2016

 

Summer?

Blue sky, sun shining

Ducklings following mother

Winged aphids – summer?

4 May 2016

 

Summer?

Dull, damp, cold drizzle.

Clouds glowering down on me.

Flaming June my foot 😦

29 June 2017

 

St Martin

September sunshine;

Eating lunch sitting outside.

What could be better?

10 September 2014

 

On the way

 September morning,

Sunlit, moist mist-laden trees;

Autumn is coming

8 September 2014

Autumn

Crickle, crackle; leaves,

underneath my slipping feet.

Autumn is with us.

20 October 2015

 

I used to camp here as a lad!

Sodden tent, wet feet.

Rolling hills and drystone walls.

English Lake District

8 October 2014

 

Damp

How I hate mizzle;

as wet as real rain, but no

comforting refrain

26 November 2015

 

Satisfaction

Shuffling through brown leaves

On a sunny autumn day;

So satisfying.

2 November 2016

 

Wet Pavements in Lille

Desert boots are great

except when soles are holey.

Then rain means wet feet

10 December 2014

 

Transience

Icing sugar snow,

Gently being washed away;

Grey drizzle falling

29 January 2015

Miscellanea

 

Job downside

Academics hate

marking student assignments

on a sunny day

7 December 2016

 

Sunday lunch

 Butterflied mint lamb

roast potatoes and carrots;

apple and pear tart.

11 December 2016

 

Dedicated to @IMcMillan who spends a lot of time at stations

Cardboard coffee cups

tentatively raised to lips;

Morning commuters

7 July 2016

 

Definition

Searching for the why

and how things are like they are;

Entomology

20 December 2015

 

Blood Moon

Lustrous, silver orb

Bloody, awe-inspiring moon

Night-time amazement

28 September 2015

 

Evening entertainment

Bats, swiftly looping

Snatching insects from the sky

Feeding on the wing

26 July 2017

 

Regular readers, rest assured, normal service will be returned in the next post 🙂

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Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Just to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy and productive New Year.  I am especially grateful to all of you who took the time to comment on my posts and/or press the like button.  Many thanks to those who shared my posts; your thoughtfulness is much appreciated.  I hope that you will continue to support my blog and follow me on Twitter in 2017.

merry-christmas-from-entoprof

 

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Entomologists – hirsutely stereotyped?

There is a general perception that entomologists* are bearded, eccentric elderly men, with deplorable dress sense, something I must confess I probably do little to dispel.

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Beard and entomologically-themed clothing – living the stereotype 🙂

Whilst it is certainly true that many Victorian entomologists fitted this description, it was and is not, a universal requisite for entomologists, although the images below may suggest otherwise.

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Two views of the same beard

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Two famous (and bearded coleopterists) Charles Darwin and David Sharp – two great examples of an elderly entomological beard.

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Alfred Russel Wallace – often overlooked so have not paired him with Darwin 🙂

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Two examples of the weird (to me at any rate) under the chin beard.

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Elegant (?) entomologists; note not all are bearded 🙂  From the Aurelian’s Fireside Companion

 

To return to the proposition that male entomologists are facially hirsute, we need to answer the question, were, and are male entomologists different from the general population?  Up until the 1850s beards were fairly uncommon and usually associated with radical political views (Oldstone-Moore, 2005).  Entomologists were no exception, those from the 18th and early 19th centuries, being in the main, clean-shaven, well-dressed gentlemen, or so their portraitists would have us believe.

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Entomologists also remained relatively clean-shaven up to the 185os, as these pictures of two entomologists who became famously bearded in later life show.

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Charles Darwin, fairly clean-shaven, but sporting fashionable side boards, 1854, pre-Crimean War, and a youthful, clean-shaven Alfred Russel Wallace.

After the 1850s, beards and bushy side boards began to be seen as a sign of masculinity (Oldstone-Moore, 2005).  This was further reinforced as a result of the conditions during the Crimean War where due to the freezing conditions and lack of shaving soap, beards became commonplace among the soldiers.  Beards were then seen as a sign of the hero, hence the adoption by many civilian males of the time (Oldstone-Moore, 2005).  This sporting of facial hair was not just confined to entomologists, as the pictures of my great-great-grandfather and his cousin show.

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Two Victorian civil engineers – my great-great grandfather John Wignall Leather and his cousin, John Towlerton Leather.

Entomologists were however, still very much bearded at the end of the century.

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A group of entomologists from the north-west of England in the 1890s.  Some impressive beards and moustaches; from the Aurelian’s Fireside Companion

So during the latter half of the 19th century, it would seem that male entomologists were no different from any other male of the time.

The full beard, except for those associated with the Royal Navy, started to disappear soon after the beginning of the 20th Century; the Boer Wars and the First World War hastening its departure.  Moustaches were still common however, and many entomologists remained resolutely bearded until the 1920s, although perhaps not as luxuriantly so as some of their 19th century predecessors.

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A group of entomologists from 1920 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percy_Ireland_Lathy#/media/File:BulletinHillMuseum1923.jpg

It is surprisingly difficult to find group photographs of entomologists on the internet, so I have been unable to do a robust analysis of the proportions of bearded entomologists through the ages.  Two of the most influential entomologists of the first half of the last century were however, most definitely clean-shaven.

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Sir Vincent Wigglesworth (1899-1994) and A D Imms (1880-1949), the authors of my generation’s two entomological ‘bibles’.  Definitely clean shaven.

The 1960s and 1970s were renowned for the hairiness of males in general (at least those in the West) and this especially spread into the world of students, many of whom were entomologists.  My memories of those times of attending meetings of the Royal Entomological Society and the British Ecological Society are of a dominance of beards among the male delegates and not just those in their twenties, but then memory is a funny thing.  I was, for example, lucky enough to attend the Third European Congress of Entomology held in Amsterdam in 1986.  My memory is of many bearded entomologists, but looking at the photograph of the delegates only 30% of the male delegates are bearded.

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The third European Congress of Entomology, Amsterdam 1986 – I am there, suitably bearded 🙂  The eagle-eyed among you may be able to spot a young John (now Sir John) Lawton, also bearded.

More shocking is the fact that the photograph shows that less than 20% of the delegates were female.  Times have changed since then, and as the two recent photos below show, we now have more female entomologists and fewer beards, the former a very positive trend, that I heartily endorse, the latter, something I am less happy about 🙂

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IOBC Meeting 2015 https://www.iobc-wprs.org/images/20151004_event_wg_field_vegetables_Hamburg_group_photo.jpg

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Entomological Society of America 2016

Generally speaking, it seems that beards are in decline and female entomologists are on the rise, something that I have, in my position as the Verrall Supper Secretary of the oldest extant entomological society in the world been at pains to encourage.

As to the matter of entomological eccentricity, that is another thing entirely.  As far as most non-entomologists are concerned anyone who loves insects and their allies is somewhat eccentric, and if that is indeed the case then I am happy to be considered eccentric.

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Me, happy with my head in a net

Eccentricity is not just confined to those of us in our dotage.

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A modern day eccentric?  Josh Jenkins-Shaw ex-MSc Entomology Harper Adams University, now pursuing a PhD at the Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen resolving the biogeography of Lord Howe Island using beetle phylogenetics, mostly the rove beetle subtribe Amblyopinina.

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A selection of entomologist from our Department at Harper Adams University – not all bearded but we are all wearing antennae!

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Perhaps Santa Claus is an entomologist!

Merry Christmas to all my readers 🙂

 

References

Oldstone-Moore, C. (2005) The beard movement in Victorian Britain.  Victorian Studies, 48, 7-34.

Salmon, M.J. & Edwards, P.J. (2005) The Aurelian’s Fireside Companion.  Paphia Publishing Ltd. Lymington UK.

 

*That is of course if they know the meaning of the word.  I am constantly being surprised by the number of people who ask what an entomologist is and as for the ways in which entomology is spelt by the media, words fail me 🙂

 

 

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How to ruin the planet in three easy steps

In the space of a week I came across three items that made me despair even more than I normally do for the healthy future of our planet.  Coincidentally I was reading Neal Stephenson’s novel Seveneves, which is also about the environmental destruction of the Earth as we know it, albeit by an external disaster and not by our own efforts.  In his novel, the World’s leaders come together to save some of humanity and the planet’s genetic resources, and not destroy it as we seem hellbent on doing.

Item 1

Browsing in a local supermarket I came across what was to me, a new phenomenon, so-called Smartwater!

planet-1

This is an example of how the fetish/obsession for bottled water has gone way over the top

Step 1 – find a natural spring
Step 2 – extract the water
Step 3 – distil the water to remove the natural ‘impurities’ (sodium, calcium carbonates etc. which are electrolytes) by steam distillation (requires energy, probably from non-renewable sources)
Step 4 – put back the minerals (electrolytes) that were removed by the distillation process
Step 5 – bottle in plastic (not glass) bottles
Step 6 – sell at inflated prices to mugs

What is wrong with tap water folks? 😦  If as some feel, that the tap water has a strong taste of chlorine, leave it overnight before using it.

Item 2

The belief by some commentators and members of the UK  electorate, that the European Union has environmental policies designed to thwart  business rather than protecting the environment.

planet-2

 

Item 3

The long-running debate about where to site another runway in the UK to expand runway capacity by 2030.  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/09/heathrow-airport-expansion-plan-may-be-put-to-free-cabinet-vote

planet-3

Not a beautiful morning, rather a sign writ large upon the sky, of how much environmental harm we are doing to the planet.

Rather than expanding runways and airports to encourage growth in air-traffic and the use of fossil fuels, we should be thinking of ways to cut it and reduce our carbon footprint.  Cat Stevens was thinking about this very issue in 1971 in his fantastic song “Where do the Children Play?”

Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass.
For your lorry loads pumping petrol gas.
And you make them long, and you make them tough.
But they just go on and on, and it seems that you can’t get off.

Oh, I know we’ve come a long way,
We’re changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?”

 

On the plus side some nations seem to be taking a more responsible approach to the exploitation of finite resources.  I am happy to say France, the location of our future retirement home, is leading the way in reducing the use of plastics.  They are also way ahead of us in encouraging the use of solar energy by homeowners.

planet-4

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/france-becomes-the-first-country-to-ban-plastic-plates-and-cutlery-a7316816.html

It was also cheering to see that others share my views about the evils of air travel, as shown by the following two letters from the Guardian newspaper.  Perhaps all is not lost.

planet-5

planet-6

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/12/the-world-needs-leaders-who-refuse-to-fly-not-another-airport-runway-for-the-uk

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Is it because I is a social insect? Horrific cinematic misrepresentation of insects

It is night, we are outside a typical mid-western suburban house; lights shine through the drawn drapes as the camera pans across the lawn and miraculously slides through the window glass into the living room.  There are four people, a middle-aged man, slightly greying, watching the TV, his wife, a blond attractive woman in her late thirties, is holding a glossy magazine, glancing from it to the glowing TV set and back again.  Two children, a teen-age girl with braces,  blond hair tied back in a pony-tail, her thumbs busy on the touch screen of an expensive looking cell ‘phone, sits opposite her brother  oblivious to the world around him, head phones clamped to his ears, hands moving almost too fast to see as he destroys the enemy forces ranged against him.  The camera changes angle and moves closer to the ceiling; we hear a faint scritching, scratching sound, and as we zoom in to the dangling light fitting we see a chitin clad leg push through the gap between the flex and the fitting, followed by another leg. Next two ferociously barbed mandibles attached to an alien-looking head with dead black eyes and twitching antennae appear and the rest of the body pushes through the gap, to stand quivering on six long legs.  It peers cautiously around, turns as if beckoning and is joined by first one, then two, then a whole swarm of identical creatures.  They spread out across the ceiling and gather in four swollen, evilly pulsating mounds, one above each unsuspecting human.  Then, in response to an invisible signal, they drop silently from the ceiling.  We hear frenzied screaming and the sound of tearing flesh as the giant mandibles of the evil mutant ants get to work.  The screaming stops and the camera zooms in to reveal four perfectly stripped skeletons, only identifiable by the phone and braces, the magazine, the skull wearing the headphones and the TV remote clutched in a bony hand.  Arghh, Hollywood strikes again!

Equally possibly we could have seen a blond toddler clutching a toy spade prodding a mound of soil in his garden, followed by a swarm of ants rushing up the handle of the spade, which engulfs him so quickly that he doesn’t even have time to scream.  Then the more and more anxious calls from his Mum and the screams that follow as she finds his skeleton in the garden clutching his little spade.  Sometimes these scenes of soon to be disrupted idyllic family life are preceded by a scene in a jungle/municipal dump/deserted field/derelict building somewhere as the evil/careless scientist/factory owner/farmer drops/dumps illegal chemical/genetic mutation/radiation source next to an ant/wasp/bee nest.

Insect horror films have been around for almost as long as the medium in which they appear [for a much more scholarly dissertation of the phenomenon I recommend Leskovsky (2006)], but it was in the 1950s that the cinema going audience became subjected to a plethora of movies* featuring scantily clad screaming females and evil arthropods swarming across their cinema screens.  Although the phenomenon of death by bug took off in the 1950s, films glorying in the ‘evilness ‘of the arthropod world can easily be found in every decade since.

Is it beacuse 1

 

Just some examples of how insects have been depicted by Hollywood since the 1950s

Is it beacuse 2

Spiders also get as much, if not more, bad press as insects

There have been many theories put forward as to why deadly giant bugs should have captured the minds of the movie makers and their audiences, ranging from the fear engendered by the Cold War and the image of the swarming communist hordes, the fears of radiation-induced mutations**  (Biskind, 1983),  the well-meaning scientist whose experiments go wrong (Sontag, 1965), UFO sightings and bizarrely, to worries about crops being eaten by pests and the growing awareness of the dangers of over-use of pesticides (Tsutsui, 2007).

This fear of agricultural pests running amok resulted in an insect species not often featured in Big Bug Movies, the locust.  In the Beginning of the End, (1951),

Is it beacuse 3

Rampaging locusts and Peter Graves

an agricultural scientist, played by Peter Graves (more famous to my generation as the star of Mission Impossible), who, in trying to feed the world, uses radiation induced mutation to successfully grow gigantic vegetables. Unfortunately, the vegetables are then eaten by locusts (the swarming phase of short-horned grasshoppers), which, contaminated by their unnatural food source, also grow to a gigantic size (a theme addressed much earlier by H.G. Wells in his novel The Food of the Gods). The giant locusts then attack the nearby city of Chicago, apparently, or so the poster for the film implies, focusing their attention on scantily clad women.  According to Wikipedia, the film is generally recognized for its “atrocious” special effects and considered to be one of the most poorly written and acted science fiction motion pictures of the 1950s.  Mission Impossible indeed!

Another possibility to explain the attraction of insects for the makers of horror films is the ability that insects have to reproduce rapidly and quickly achieve huge populations.  Leaving aside horror films, this characteristic causes concern to humans anyway.  Couple this with the often perceived super-mind of social insects and their demarcation into different castes and it is easy to understand why the concept of swarm intelligence and hive minds has captured the imaginations of film makers and horror and science-fiction writers.   A quick Google search for headlines about swarming bees and ants is enough to show the fear that the non-entomological public seem to have for these natural, and essentially harmless, phenomena e.g this story from last month about a grandmother being chased by bees, or this scare story from last year about flying ants. The use of negative imagery associated with social insects has not just been the prerogative of film-makers.   When Billy Graham opened the 1952 US Senate with a prayer he warned against the ‘barbarians beating at our gates from without and the moral termites from within” and Sir Winston Churchill also referred to the hive mind of the communist threat (Biskind,1983).

Whilst on the subject of horrific misrepresentations I can’t let the opportunity pass to mention two of what I consider to be the most unbelievable entomologists ever portrayed in film.  Michael Caine in The Swarm (1978) and Julian Sands*** in Arachnophobia (1990).  Neither of them does our profession any favours.

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Michael Caine attempting to mimic a serious entomologist

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Julian Sands as the stereotypical ‘mad’ obsessed entomologist

In marked contrast to the horror films aimed at adults, when it comes to the younger end of the market, insects are much more friendly and non-threatening,

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even crickets masquerading as grasshoppers, or vice versa  :-).

Insects for kids, even from more than a century ago, were portrayed as cute, lovable and anatomically and biologically incorrect and this has continued to the present day.

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The unbelievably cute and anatomically incorrect

On the other hand, I guess that as long as they make children less afraid of insects then I can’t really complain.  I have, however, no evidence, that children who enjoyed Antz and the Bee Movie, have grown up into adults less likely to run screaming when confronted at close quarters with bees and ants 🙂

Do let me know if you have evidence to the contrary.

 

References

Biskind, P. (1983) Seeing is Believing.  Henry Holt & Company, New York.

Leskovsky, R.J. (2006)  Size matters – Big bugs on the big screen. Pp 319-341 [In] Insect Poetics (ed. E.C. Brown), University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Sontag, S. (1965) The imagination of disaster [In] Against Interpretation and Other Essays, Penguin Modern Classics (2009).

Tsutsui, W.M. (2007) Looking straight at Them! Understanding the big bug movies of the 195os.  Environmental History, 12, 237-253.

 

Post script

 

Is it beacuse 8

 

This may have been the first film to feature insects; not a horror film per se, but the fly was apparently fixed very securely (and ultimately fatally) to the match head, so it was a pretty horrific experience for the poor fly.

 

*I of course, was brought up calling these films but I know that the majority of my audience, even those from the UK, use the word movie 🙂

** I particularity like the title of his hypothetical example of the genre, The Attack of the Giant Aphids 🙂

***Totally irrelevant, but I used to go drinking with his big brother Nick in my student days 🙂

 

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Creating space

Don’t worry,this is not an article about home improvement 🙂 I am one of those people, probably like many of you, that needs the right ambiance to be able to sit at my computer and produce deathless prose. Despite owning a laptop I am not able to write anywhere and any-when, the creative juices only seem to flow when I am surrounded by a suitable amount of office clutter.

Desk

So when at work but travelling, and even if equipped with my lap top, I find myself unable to write on the train or ferry, be it papers, books or blog posts. Although I can read papers or theses, or mark essays, I am unable to write the reviews or comments; I apparently need to be sat at an ‘office’ table/desk, with plenty of paperwork to hand.

As I write this, I am on holiday in our future retirement house in Vinca in the Languedoc-Roussillon, France.  At the moment, our French house is somewhat devoid of furniture, although the previous owner left behind several rooms full of clutter, including unopened DVDs of Jean Paul II and an armoire full of French versions of Agatha Christie, Ian Rankin et alia.

Armoire

As you can see, my office to be is nowhere near to being a suitable working environment yet,

future office

although as I have mentioned earlier, the view is fantastic.

View

My current working space is in what we are jokingly calling the “Versailles Salon”

Workspace Vinca

and means that I am working standing up, great for emails and checking Twitter, but not ideal for someone with a bad knee and somewhat footsore from all the walking we have done on holiday so far 🙂

Although I am on holiday I feel a certain amount of self-inflicted pressure (guilt) about my blog schedule, a new post about every twelve days and so I stupidly promised myself that I would stick to this schedule despite being away from my desk. I even half-prepared a post on insects in horror films, hoping that I would be able to polish it off in between beers, walks in the hills, glasses of wine and dips in the swimming pool. As you may have guessed this did not work, hence the post that you are reading now. Big Bugs in Horror Movies will have to wait a few more weeks for its release 🙂

The sun is shining and the pool is a shimmering blue, and although we are temporarily cut off from the rest of France by a rather large scrub fire, I feel somewhat more relaxed having at least written something, albeit rather lacking in entomological content.

Fires near Vinca

I am on holiday after all 🙂

 

A bientot a

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Is there a dress code for scientists?

Dresscode 1

A couple of weeks ago, Mathew Partridge*, who writes at Errant Science posted a blog about what to wear at an academic conference.

Dresscode 2I tweeted the link to his post, adding that I was one of the scruffy (comfortable) ones. This generated a few comments, the more thoughtful of which suggested that what to wear at a conference might be affected by more than comfort and one of my female Tweeps made a very good point about not adopting a too simplistic viewpoint to the matter.

Dresscode 3

 

It was not necessarily all down to feeling comfortable, different rules may apply to different people. Amy Parachnowitsch over at Small Pond Science, has also written about this apparent dichotomy between male and female scientists’ approach to conference wear.

As I sat down to write this I logged on to Twitter to find the conversation shown above and came face to face with this photograph from the then curator of BioTweeps, zoologist, Dan Sankey who tweets as @inspiredanimals, which reinforces the stereotypic male academic ‘scruff factor’.

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Dan Sankey from Swansea University**, Biotweeps Curator July 11th – July 15th 2017

Part of my teaching involves a lecture to the MSc students about how to give a good talk, be it a job interview, a conference or as part of an outreach programme. As well as the usual tips about content and delivery, I also cover dress and ask “Is there a dress code?” The answer to which of course, is “yes and no, it depends”.   So what do I mean by this?  The secret to giving a good talk, leaving aside having good content and being well prepared, which gives you the confidence to stand in front of an audience, is to feel comfortable in yourself.  I am firmly convinced that unless you feel comfortable, your talk will not be as good as it could be.  There are two aspects to feeling comfortable, one is knowing your stuff and feeling that you can handle any questions that might be put to you.  The other is feeling that you are relaxed (as much as you can be when standing in front of an audience) and comfortable in yourself.  I firmly believe that as people, we should be accepting and not judge people by appearances, but rather on who they are inside.  Yes, I know this is difficult, because as humans, we all have some prejudices***, no matter how hard we try to overcome them.  As scientists, we should be even less swayed by appearances as we are trained to look at data impartially.

I mentioned in my original Tweet about the Errant Science post, that I was a comfortable scruff. I have always been somewhat cavalier about my dress and general appearance, even as a school

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Dressing not to impress, age 2, 8 and 18

I may have been lucky that I was a product of the 1960s and ‘70s when conformity was not the ‘in-thing’. I had long-hair until I was in my mid-thirties, despite working for the less than progressive Forestry Commission for ten years. I never found that my judgement as to the identity of a pest

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The long-haired undergraduate morphed into an equally long-haired research scientist

problem or ability to lead a research project was questioned by the foresters in the field or the Forestry Commission higher-ups, although my refusal to wear a tie or have my hair cut may have had something to do with not being put in charge of the entomology section on the retirement of my immediate boss 🙂

When I was being interviewed for academic jobs, I was faced with a bit of a dilemma. I was not just out of a post-doc or graduate school. I was an established scientist and was being interviewed by panels including people I knew quite well, who had seen me at conferences and knew how I dressed in a professional setting, in my case, jeans, shirt-sleeves and desert boots.  So, if I turned up for an interview in a suit (I don’t own one) and tie, they would know that I was pretending to be something I certainly wasn’t.  On the other hand, if I turned up in blue jeans and shirt-sleeves, they might assume that I wasn’t taking it seriously.  I thus compromised but salved my conscience at the same time; I wore black jeans, a new pair of desert boots and a crew-neck sweater, that way the panel could assume I was wearing a tie and if they didn’t look too closely, that I was wearing proper trousers and not jeans.

On becoming a university academic and having kids in school, I did get my hair cut, although my dress style remained stubbornly, desert boots, shirt sleeves, jeans and corduroy jacket. I must confess that in my first term of teaching, I did wear chinos, but soon reverted to jeans as I just did not feel comfortable.

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The New academic, short-lived chinos and shortish hair.

But I digress, back to being comfortable and giving a talk. I tell my students that the dress code is up to them. How comfortable do they feel? If they feel that the expectation of the audience or interview panel is that they should be dressed more formally than their every-day dress, then they, as the interviewee, will feel more comfortable and more confident if they make some compromise in that direction. As a prospective employer or supervisor, it doesn’t make a difference either way as I hope that I always judge by qualifications and ability and not by appearance. As a presenter at a conference or as advisor on a government committee, I always assume that I have been asked along for my expertise and not for my fashion sense so even for my inaugural lecture I adopted my usual relaxed style.

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My inaugural lecture – sans tie

I freely admit that I am somewhat privileged, I am white, male, older than a lot of people and a senior academic, I am at that place in my career, where I can, if I wanted to, pretty much ignore convention, but there are certain situations where that would make me and my audience feel uncomfortable or discombobulated. There are thus occasions when I do wear a tie, some are one-offs, such as my eldest daughter’s wedding (she hired a suit for me and her brothers) and when we launched the Centre for Integrated Pest Management at the European Parliament in Brussels.

Dresscode 9

Suited and booted for my daughter’s wedding and wearing a tie in Brussels

Although I firmly believe that I do not judge conference presenters and attendees by their appearance, there are obviously people out there who do and apparently, as shown above and below, female scientists**** feel that they are judged in this way.

Dresscode 10

As someone who is happily married to a lady who eschews make-up and revels in her natural highlights (she is going grey) I am perfectly at ease with the concept of dressing to please yourself and not the audience. On the other hand I do not think that a presenter who dresses more formally for their talk, than when listening to others talk, should be looked down upon or indeed judged in any way.  If that makes them feel more comfortable, then that is their choice.  And if you are unsure about what your prospective employer or audience expect, being smart rather than scruffy is to err on the safe side.  I would like to think that male ecologists and entomologists have similar views to me, but perhaps we should be asking ourselves, why it is that female scientists in particular, feel that they are being judged by how they look and if it is caused by male bias and/or female peer pressure.   I suspect that it is a bit of both, but welcome all comments.

 

Post script

I have to confess that there are annual occasions when I also wear a tie. I always wear a tie and shiny black trousers and shiny shoes for the annual graduation ceremony. The tie helps the medieval dress stay in place and it is not my day, it is the student’s and their family’s day and they expect something a bit special, so feeling uncomfortable for a few hours is a small price to pay. The other

Dresscode 11

Very formal dress and ‘smart casual’ for the Verrall Supper. The drink helps.

annual outing of the tie is the Verrall Supper of which I have written on more than one occasion.  For many years I boycotted this event as the invitation specified lounge suit, something I refused to own let alone wear.  I finally accepted the invitation but did not wear a suit, although I did compromise and wore shiny shoes and proper trousers and the obligatory tie.  Now that I am the Verrall Supper organiser, the dress code is smart casual, whatever that means, and I turn a blind eye to those younger than myself who turn up in jeans J

 

*you can also find him on Twitter @MCeeP

**for those of you not familiar with the Swansea University campus, it is almost on the beach.

***in my case, I find tattoos and other examples of self-mutilation, e.g. body piercings (including ear rings), cosmetic surgery, high heels, and even hair dying, very hard to understand, but I hope I do not let it interfere with my judgement of the quality or worth of the work of that person as a scientist or a human being.

****and possibly those from other disciplines too, but I have no evidence, anecdotal or otherwise.

 

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Roundabouts – so much more than traffic-calming devices

Roundabout1

I have often been asked why I work on roundabouts, or urban green spaces, if you want to sound more scientific and ecological. Roundabouts to me are not just traffic-calming devices.

Roundabout2

They are a teaching tool,

 

 

Roundabout3

a research programme

 

Roundabout4

and a source of amusement and wonder.

 

Roundabout5

They are islands of calm among a sea of traffic, a haven for wildlife amidst a tarmac and concrete jungle.

Hook of Holland

or just plain fun!

So, next time you are waiting to enter a roundabout, don’t just think of it as an impediment (or aid) to your journey, but as a haven of wild-life, an urban nature reserve

Roundabout6

or even as a work of art, especially if you are in France 🙂

 

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Planned and accidental landings – Search terms that found my site

Unbelievably yet another year has gone by which means that I have managed to complete three years of blogging at Don’t Forget the Roundabouts writing articles at about ten-day intervals. This post will be my 105th since I started blogging on January 1st 2013.  I have written over 15 000 words about aphids and another 31 000 words on other entomologically related subjects ; so at least one book if I can get around to linking the various posts into a coherent form 🙂  My views on the usefulness of blogging at a personal level and in terms of science communication remain as positive as ever and I fully intend to continue blogging for the foreseeable future.  At this time last year last year I summarised my facts and figures in terms of views and international reach.  This year I have decided to ‘borrow’ an idea from three of the blogs I follow, Scientist Sees Squirrel, Small Pond Science and The Lab and Field and speculate about some of the search terms that direct people to my site.

So first the bare facts, I reached 150 countries (145 last year) and received 29 385   views

Countries 2015

Top nine countries for views during 2015

(24 616 last year) and as yet the figures seem to suggest that I will continue to gain more views during 2016, but it is only a simple regression and a pessimist might see a plateau appearing 🙂

Blog stats

My top post, as last year, was Not All Aphids are Vegans closely followed by  A Winter’s Tale – Aphid Overwintering both with over a thousand views.  So how do people find me, which search terms do they use?  As you might expect the most frequently used search terms are those that ask do aphids bite people (humans)? In fact most of the search terms that plonk people down on my blog are aphid related.  Jiminy Cricket also turns up a lot; this is because of one of my very early posts in which I pointed out that Jiminy Cricket should really be Gregory Grasshopper.  On the other hand, some people do actually search for me and my site specifically.  There are, however, some weird and wonderful search terms that send people my way, a few of which are worth commenting on.

 

Do police dogs follow the scent of fear?  An easy one to start with, this directed the searcher to my post on aphid alarm pheromone, which will of course, not have answered her/his question.

Police dog cartoon

 

These two are obviously linked to the name of my blog.

Who are the roundabouts in Pinocchio? I didn’t know that roundabouts featured in Pinocchio but Jiminy Cricket certainly does 🙂  On reflection this may have been a misspelling of roustabouts, in reference to the two villains who kidnapped Pinocchio.

Why were roundabouts so big back in the day?  An intriguing question to which I have no answer.

 

This one takes the prize for the most specific set of terms entered.

What is the name of the male group of entomologists that is the oldest group in the world and has recently invited Dr Helen Roy to become a member? – the answer is of course The Entomological Club.

 

I was extremely flattered that Google directed this inquirer to my blog  🙂

Where is the latest global discourse in entomology?

 

Obviously all my trips to Paris and France have upped my international profile,

article sur aphis nerii et ses parasitoides

 

but these are pretty obscure to say the least!

her wellies got sloppy pictures, but probably (s)he meant soppy? so here you are

soppy wellies

it’s raining get coat and umbrella study module to get a first in exam results

what is a milligram?  I have no idea how that ended up on my site and as for this one?

joni printed 50 pages, then he took a pair of scissors and carefully cut 300 tag and signed all of them

 

And finally a couple of X-rated ones:

 why girls bum sap changes having sex? I’m guessing that (s)he meant shape –  being directed to an article about aphids ingesting phloem sap must have been a bit deflating!

video sex girls avenae  this one must have really been disappointed but if (s)he comes this way again (s)he might like to watch this video produced by the Silwood Revue which is well worth a view https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sBzNsaSzdM

 

I could go on, but enough is enough, and the rest are mainly aphid related.

I continue to find blogging immensely satisfying but would really like to have more comments and interactions via the blog. Twitter is where most exchanges occur at the moment.  As far as I can make out other bloggers, even those with much larger readerships than me, also say that comments on their blogs have fallen over the last couple of years.  It would be nice if everyone who followed me on Twitter read my blog!  That said I must acknowledge my most frequent commenters and bestowers of likes.  These are Emily Scott http://adventuresinbeeland.com/, Jeff Ollerton http://jeffollerton.wordpress.com/, Amelia from A French Garden, Emma Tennant http://missapismellifera.com/, Manu Sanders http://ecologyisnotadirtyword.com/ and Philip Strange https://philipstrange.wordpress.com/.   I am also very grateful to the 175 people (40 more than last year) who subscribe to my blog.

Many thanks to you all for your interest and kind words and A Prosperous and Happy New Year to you all.

 

Post script

As a late Christmas present to you all, my favourite roundabout of the year!

Surgeres

On the edge of Surgeres (Charente Maritime) – not very ecological but certainly literary!

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Post card from Catalunya Nord – Summer Holiday 2015

 

If three years can be construed as a tradition then this is my traditional holiday blog post! This year we spent three weeks in Catalan France, in the Pyrénées-Orientales.  We have usually travelled south by putting our car on the train and having a relaxing and interesting overnight journey letting the train take the strain. Unfortunately there seems to be a conspiracy against motor-railers and yet another of our train options was closed this year.   As I like to bring back a few bottles of wine with me, the hire-car option is not very attractive. We thus had to do the ferry and drive option. We caught the ferry from Portsmouth on a Friday night and arrived early the next morning in Caen.

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We were then faced with the long drive to Maureillas-las-Illas, a small town close to the Spanish border. We split the journey in half and spent the night in a very picturesque B&B run by an aged Italian lady in a tiny village in the Charente-Maritime,

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not far from the town of Saint-Genis-de-Saintonge, near Pons, which had rather an unusual roundabout which I immediately added to my collection 😉

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Pons itself was a rather nice little town which just happened to be having a medieval fete when we arrived.

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We eventually arrived at Maureillas-las-Illas and were then faced with a 20 minute drive up a single track mountain road to Las Illas and finally up a dirt track to our holiday villa in Super Las Illas (a seven minute walk from the Spanish border) where we to be based for the next three weeks.

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There was of course a pool, with a lovely view, although given that we were at 900 m, it was not the warmest pool we have ever

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experienced even on a sunny day J

In terms of wildlife, it was not as prolific as some places we have stayed, although the pool collected the usual suicidal millipedes, Hymenoptera, Diptera, Coleoptera and even some grasshoppers and the odd shield bug or two. I also rescued a small lizard which then seemed to become very attached to me, at one stage even taking refuge in my hair.

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There were the usual impossible to photograph humming-bird hawk moths and numerous swallowtails

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which I did manage to snap. I also discovered that one of my favourite entomological shirts was a great hoverfly attractant, although despite the design, did not fool any of the butterflies.

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We were not far from Ceret, which we had visited five years ago and were happy to renew our acquaintance with its narrow streets, Picasso fountain and many cafés.

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We also came across this street celebrating Charles De Gaulle’s exhortation to the French people in 1940, although I was saddened to see that vandals had been at work, albeit appositely.

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We also visited Amelie-les-Bains and Prats de Mollo La Preste, the former apparently famous for urinary tract cures!   In Prats we saw

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multi-storey graves and also a great painting of one of the gates of the old walled town on a house opposite the actual gate

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Unusually we only had one trip to the coast, Port Vendres where we enjoyed a sunny morning and a very long lunch.

 

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On our return to the villa we might have been forgiven for thinking that we had somehow been transported back to an English autumn.

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We also we went to Vernet-les-Bains and surrounding areas, looking at potential places to retire. We knocked quite a few houses off the possible to buy list; it is amazing how different the pictures that estate agents put on their sites are from the real thing.   It was nice to be in Vernet again, although once again Gill found the hilly streets a bit tough going.

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Since our last visit the old communal lavoir has been very nicely restored both externally and internally.

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Vernet also has a nice arboretum scattered through the town and parks, so you often come across signs like this. I was pleased to see that one of my favourite trees (Prunus padus, bird cherry) gets a mention.

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We also visited Elne a very pretty sleepy little town with a small cathedral.  Nearby we found a nice artist’s centre where we had lunch and a local artisanal Catalan beer,

 

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and for the entomologists, some horse-chestnut leaf miner damage

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Gorges de la Fou is well worth a visit and as well as being geologically impressive, is also signed botanically.

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It turned out that the obligatory safety hats were made in the UK.

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We also visited Thuir – mainly famous for Byrrh (but they also prepare and bottle other fortified aromatic wines including Cinzano, Ambassadeur, Vabe and Dubonnet). Unfortunately the tour didn’t have any manufacturing going on but there were free samples at the end, which as a responsible driver was a little frustrating.

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We visited Perpignan a couple of times.   Both times we were blessed with lovely hot sunny weather. Plenty of canal side cafes, the castle of the Kings of Majorca is worth a visit, with great views from the top, although a bit of a climb to get there.

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We also came across these giant flower pots which is certainly an interesting way to grow urban trees.

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Closer to home was the Cork museum in Maureillas-las-Illas .   It is very interesting although quite small, and even if you watch the video and visit the shop, where I bought a cork post card, the visit is easily done within an hour. I really liked the mini-sculptures in cork depicting the making of cork. There were also examples of cork ark and furniture.

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And of course, not forgetting the biggest cork in the world.

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On Day One of our marathon motorway trip on our way back to catch the ferry we stopped at the most fantastic motorway service station (Aire) ever – jazz band, environmental messages, great gift shop, a restaurant, a cafeteria, and a sandwicherie, plus lots of water (it was on the Canal du Midi). Perhaps our motorway service areas could take a lesson from Vinci.

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We broke our return journey in the Charente-Maritime again, this time staying in a glorious B&B in Forges. Nearby was the town of Surgeres which provided me with yet another roundabout for my collection.

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The next morning, as La Rochelle was not far way, we took the opportunity to have coffee there and to do a bit of sight-seeing. A very picturesque place indeed and it would have been nice if we could have stopped longer. It is now on our list of places to come and revisit.

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We left La Rochelle late morning and continued our trip towards Caen, where we arrived in the early evening with plenty of time to do a bit of sight-seeing.  We came across this very shiny statue of Joan of Arc.  We then sat in the sun at the head of the canal and had a very good dinner.

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Then sadly, it was off to the ferry port to wait to be allowed to board as the sun set on our holiday ;-(

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Post script

This year we invested in Télépéage, which allowed us to sail through the toll booths on the motorways instead of queuing and scrabbling for the right money – well worth the investment.

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