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It’s 10 years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers (15 Sept 2008) and the ensuing financial crisis still haunts us today. But how many lessons have been learned? Here, Professor Emma Borg makes the case for a social licence for banks that could make for a more financially stable future for everyone.

The Lehman Brothers collapse triggered a financial crash in 2008

George Santayana said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and, with the 10-year anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse upon us, now is the time to reflect on the global financial crash and ask just how likely those events are to repeat themselves.

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Millions of Zimbabweans watched their new president Emmerson Mnangagwa deliver his inauguration speech on Sunday 26 August, and outline the plans for his ‘Second Republic’. Dr Heike Schmidt, Associate Professor of Modern African History, was watching closely to identify some of the problems with his proposals, and ponder just what hope there is for a truly democratic Zimbabwe under his rule.

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa

As expected, the inauguration of Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa was regulated by protocol.

Much attention was given, as always, to the military. Yet the pageantry and the speeches were an intriguing performance of power that sets the president and the party that has ruled the country since its independence in 1980, ZANU-PF, on a path that promises both continuity and change that will affect every Zimbabwean. Read the rest of this entry »

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This summer’s heatwave has us all wondering how to stay cool, but animals are facing the same issues as humans with fewer means of coping. Professor Tom Oliver is Professor of Applied Ecology at the University of Reading UK, and his research focuses on understanding the causes of changes to biodiversity to support environmental decision-making. Here he looks at the potentially worrying impact the drought conditions could have on wildlife in the UK.

Marbled white butterfly with butterfly recorder in background. Long-term monitoring schemes give us invaluable information on how species have responded to past drought events.

With widespread reports of intense heatwaves and drought across the Northern hemisphere this summer, combined with our own personal observations of how everything is starting to look very parched, it is natural to wonder how drought is affecting our wildlife.

When the temperature heats up, we humans can take measures to reduce our exposure, such as heading down the shops to buy a fan, or even installing air conditioning. Yet, our wildlife has much less opportunity for such ‘learned’ adaptation to climate change.

That said, there are innate behaviours that can help wildlife to cope; for example many insects regulate their body temperatures by moving to cooler, moister habitats (e.g deep woodland or shady streams and ponds) when things get too hot. The food sources of these insects are also more likely to persist in such areas. So the existence of such ‘refuge’ habitats can be crucial in allowing species to persist under intense heat and drought events.

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A Fight for Sight campaign is to launch this weekend, to raise awareness of eye health and the need for vital eye research. Former House of Commons Speaker the Rt Hon Baroness Boothroyd will kick off the campaign with an interview on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday (5 August). Sight loss affects more than two million people in the UK, a figure that is set to double by 2050. Despite this, eye disease is a desperately under-funded area of research in the UK. Professor Anna Horwood, in the Department of Psychology and Clinical Language Studies, explains how Reading research aims to tackle these issues.

Sight loss is an under-funded area of health research

Research into sight loss is a neglected area of research funding, but imagine what it is like to lose your sight? What would you be able to do? Read? Drive? Watch TV?

We are all familiar with research into diseases like cancer and dementia, but funding for sight loss is a fraction of that set aside for those conditions. With an ageing population, more and more people are having their lives affected by not being able to see. What might be an active old age can be devastated by not being able to do things most people take for granted.

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Excitement is building ahead of the new football season, and, as ever, the wait for the real action to start is being filled with excited debate about how teams will do and what scores the opening weekend will produce. To fill the void, football economists Dr James Reade and Carl Singleton at the University of Reading have developed a computer model that is able to predict results and even scores of games before they happen. Here’s how it works.

Forecasting is a mug’s game, everyone knows this. Nonetheless, we like doing it, especially when it comes to football. How will Reading do this weekend? This season?

Can you beat the computer at predicting football scores?

Given the sheer volume of information football generates in a timely fashion, it is readily collected and analysed. Statistical models are created and used to understand more about the game (e.g. when is a short corner better than a ball whipped in under the keeper’s nose?). Such models can also be used to forecast individual match results, scorelines, and even the final league table come next May.

We have created a model which estimates how many goals each team scores in a given match as a function of their own historical attacking and defending abilities, the historical abilities of their opponents, recent form, home advantage, the disruption of international breaks and European matches, and whether the match takes place on a weekend in August or a midweek evening in November.

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The University of Reading weather records, captured at the Atmospheric Observatory, are updated daily and are publicly available online. Temperatures and rain records go back to 1908, while the sunshine records start in 1956. Dr Rob Thompson in the Department of Meteorology has crunched the numbers to give his perspective on the current heatwave.

32           The 32-day period with no rain recorded at the University of Reading weather station this summer was the fifth longest on our record. This run, between 18 June and 19 July inclusive, ended when 0.5mm of rain fell on Friday 20 July. The outright Reading record for days with no rain observed is 37 days, which has occurred twice, in summer 1976 and summer into autumn 1959.

6.5          The tiny amount of rain that fell last week is nowhere near enough to help our gardens and the wider countryside, though. So what if we allow a little rain in a day and keep counting? The last recorded rain before Friday was on 17 June, when just 0.2mm fell, while 0.3mm fell the day before that. There was also 0.3mm on 9 June, 1mm on 7 June and 4.6mm on 3 June. This gives a June total of 6.5mm, making it the driest month since April 2011, and the driest June since 1962.

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The Environment Agency is consulting on a new flood alleviation scheme for Reading, to be sited on the banks of the River Thames in Caversham, and they’re inviting local residents to look at the proposals online and give feedback. Reading environmental scientist and Caversham resident Dr Liz Stephens gives her thoughts on the scheme.

Credit: The County Borough of Reading, via Bob Jones

There are plenty of photographs of the 1947 flood in Reading, including this one taken from a plane. Credit: The County Borough of Reading, via Bob Jones

Caversham may have been fortunate to miss out on the worst of the flooding along the Thames in recent memory, but the scale of the flooding experienced in 1947 shows that many people in lower Caversham may unknowingly live in areas at high risk of flooding.

The extraordinary level of the 1947 flood is marked on a pole by Reading Bridge/Whittington’s Tea Barge, which is visible from the Thames Path. It wasn’t a one-off either, as photographs in Reading Museum point to significant flooding in 1894.

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The NHS turns 70 this year, giving us the chance to appreciate the fact it is there to turn to whenever we get ill. But what did people do before the NHS and the luxury of modern medicine? University of Reading historian Dr Hannah Newton reveals her findings from studying diaries and letters written by Early Modern families who faced serious diseases armed with little more than their faith.

Cancer survival has doubled over the last 40 years, and death rates from stroke have halved since 1990. These positive trends are reflected in the upsurge of survivor stories in social media, where individuals broadcast their experiences of illness and recovery, and describe how the close shave with death has changed their outlook on life. ‘I don’t let little things get on top of me as much anymore’, reflects Keith Hubbard, a musician from Merseyside, 14 years after treatment for prostate cancer.

Misery to Mirth, by Dr Hannah Newton, was published in June 2018

We might assume that this is a recent phenomenon. In more distant times, when epidemics were rife and medicines ineffective, it would seem likely that death was the only possible disease outcome. However, a foray into the diaries and letters of seventeenth-century patients and their families reveals a happier history. My new book, Misery to Mirth, shows that getting better was a widely reported occurrence at this time, and one which gave rise to emotionally-charged outpourings comparable to those produced today.

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Records have been tumbling this year at the University of Reading’s weather station. Just days after the coldest March day since records began, a new record hottest recorded temperature was set for an April day. With the sun beating down on the UK over the Early May Bank Holiday weekend, the question was whether it could break yet more records. Stephen Burt from the Department of Meteorology explains.

Bank holiday weather is normally a cause for national despair, but not this last weekend I’m sure you’ll agree.

Monday was the warmest Early May Bank Holiday on record – and also the sunniest

Monday’s maximum of 27.6 °C (from the automatic weather station) made hotter than any previous Early May Bank Holiday day since the national holiday was introduced in 1978 – the previous highest temperature for the bank holiday weekend being 25.9 °C, set on the Saturday, 6 May, in 1990. It was also the warmest day in the month of May since 2005.

Additionally, unbroken sunshine on all three days this year – Saturday 14.2 hours, Sunday and Monday 14.1 each (total 42.4 hours) – recorded by the electronic sunshine sensor, made this by far our sunniest early Early May Bank Holiday ever.

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By Adam Koszary, Museums and Special Collections Services

The tweet sent from The MERL account that went viral

look at this absolute unit.

Our tweet from the Museum of Rural English Life account was a simple enough command. It accompanied a black and white photo of an Exmoor Horn aged ram found in the archives of the museum, located on the University of Reading’s London Road campus.

But this tweet had a satisfying pay-off. One day on, our Twitter followers had increased by more than 50% – 16,000 and counting – and the tweet itself had surpassed 68,000 likes and 20,000 retweets.

This is not normal for The MERL twitter account, in case you haven’t guessed.

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