Dr Mai Sato has just published a report examining Zimbabwean citizens’ attitudes towards the death penalty in their country which concludes that public opinion needn’t pose a barrier to its abolition. She explains more in this new post for The Conversation.

At the end of 2017, the world watched with keen interest as President Robert Mugabe was deposed after 37 years of ruinous rule, and replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa, who promised “a new democracy”.

The change of power is also significant for those interested in Zimbabwe’s death penalty policy. Mugabe, around the time of his departure from office, had plans to resume executions. Advertisements were placed to recruit a hangman – a position that had been vacant since 2005. Mnangagwa, on the other hand, has been vocal in his opposition to the death penalty. Significantly, he himself had faced the prospect of being hanged under the government of Ian Smith, against which he fought during the liberation war.

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The vast numbers and diversity of living things that populate our planet are in catastrophic decline – referred to by many scientists as Earth’s sixth mass extinction. But as Matthew Greenwell and Tom Oliver explain, it’s not only declining biodiversity we need to worry about but also genetic diversity within species.

A dark green fritillary butterfly

Biodiversity loss (the decline of both the number of individuals and species from our landscapes) is happening at an alarming rate and it’s happening now.

This is a view expressed by countless environmentalists, green campaigners and scientists at ever increasing volumes. At a glance though it is hard to see what all the fuss is about. England still appears to be a green and pleasant land, with vast areas still covered in fields.

But therein lies the fundamental problem. Our current views and understanding of what the countryside should be are a far cry from what they once were and what our wildlife requires to survive into the future.

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It’s Dementia Action Week. Reading researchers are tackling the problem of dementia on all fronts, from investigating its causes to how we can improve care and quality of life for those it affects. Today we speak to Professor Arlene Astell, who uses sound and video to trigger long-term memories in people with dementia and get them talking again.

“People with dementia often withdraw from social interactions, lose confidence and feel embarrassed about their condition – their world shrinks. We want to find ways to stimulate their mind and memories and improve their quality of life,” explains Arlene Astell, who is Professor of Neurocognitive Disorders in Reading’s School of Psychology and Language Sciences.

“One of the questions we’re asking in our research is ‘What makes life more enjoyable for people with dementia – what are the activities and pastimes they can do that give them the same pleasure and satisfaction that they had before?’”

Arlene and colleagues are doing this through the use of technology. Working with the BBC to use their sound and TV archive they have developed touch-screen software, called the Computer Interactive Reminiscence and Conversation Aid (CIRCA). The software uses audio and video clips of evocative sounds, music and images from the past – such the whine of an electric milk float, a picture of a 1950s street scene or a recording of Winston Churchill speaking on the radio.

 

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Many laws across the world that make homosexuality a crime were imposed during rule by the British Empire. Joseph O’Mahoney attempts to unpick why these stigmatising laws persist in a new post for The Conversation co-authored by Enze Han.

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In a new post for The Conversation, John Preston looks at how the work of 20th century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was shaped by his love for a young mathematician, who died in an air crash a century ago.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (Wikimedia commons

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The language the oil industry uses to talk about climate change has altered over time as it attempts to distance itself from culpability, says linguistics specialist Dr Sylvia Jaworska in a new post for The Conversation.

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Academics have a duty to speak to the media, especially in tragic and complex cases, argues Tom Sheldon, Senior Press Manager at the Science Media Centre.

“How many more Charlies and Alfies must be paraded in front of us before we realise that keeping quiet only makes things worse?”

In July 2017 the story of Charlie Gard, a baby with incurable mitochondrial disease, played out across the media. By April 2018 we all knew the name Alfie Evans, another little boy with another untreatable condition. In both cases the medical teams and the courts agreed nothing could be done.  Both children have since died. There’s nothing enjoyable or satisfying about these stories. They are profoundly sad.

Nine months after Charlie Gard, and the rest of us watched as Alfie’s Army demonstrated outside Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and his parents were locked in bitter dispute with the medical team. For a second time, a battle over the life of a child none of us knew had become major news, and the need for expert voices to be heard in the media and by the public was as strong as ever. Yet with a few notable exceptions, the rest of the medical profession once again failed to show up, allowing misinformation around Alfie Evans to take hold. Nine months after Charlie Gard, and we have dismally failed to learn any lessons.

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Last month the moment I’d been putting off finally arrived and it was time to write. How is it that the blank page upon which something influenced by time spent in Beckett’s archive is to be written, seems even more horrifyingly blank than usual? Read the rest of this entry »

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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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