Snowbound academics are better academics

Like most people in Ireland, I am working at home today. We got quite a dump of snow in the last two days, and there is no question of going anywhere until the roads clear. Worse, our college closed quite abruptly and I was caught on the hop – there are a lot of things (flash drives, books and papers) sitting smugly in my office that I need for my usual research.


The college on Monday evening

That said, I must admit I’m finding it all quite refreshing. For the first time in years, I have time to read interesting things in my daily email; all those postings from academic listings that I never seem to get time to read normally. I’m enjoying it so much, I wonder how much stuff I miss the rest of the time.


The view from my window as I write this

This morning, I thoroughly enjoyed a paper by Nicholas Campion on the representation of astronomy and cosmology in the works of William Shakespeare. I’ve often wondered about this as Shakespeare lived long enough to know of Galileo’s ground-breaking astronomical observations. However, anyone expecting coded references to new ideas about the universe in Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays will be disappointed; apparently he mainly sticks to classical ideas, with a few vague references to the changing order.

I’m also reading about early attempts to measure the parallax of light from a comet, especially by the great Danish astronomer Tycho de Brahe. This paper comes courtesy of the History of Astronomy Discussion Group listings, a really useful resource for anyone interested in the history of astronomy.

While I’m reading all this, I’m also trying to keep abreast of a thoroughly modern debate taking place worldwide, concerning the veracity of an exciting new result in cosmology on the formation of the first stars. It seems a group studying the cosmic microwave background think they have found evidence of a signal representing the absorption of radiation from the first stars. This is exciting enough if correct, but the dramatic part is that the signal is much larger than expected, and one explanation is that this effect may be due to the presence of Dark Matter.

If true, the result would be a major step in our understanding of the formation of stars,  plus a major step in the demonstration of the existence of Dark Matter. However, it’s early days – there are many possible sources of a spurious signal and signals that are larger than expected have a poor history in modern physics! There is a nice article on this in The Guardian, and you can see some of the debate on Peter Coles’s blog In the Dark.  Right or wrong, it’s a good example of how scientific discovery works – if the team can show they have taken all possible spurious results into account, and if other groups find the same result, skepticism will soon be converted into excited acceptance.

All in all, a great day so far. My only concern is that this is the way academia should be – with our day-to-day commitments in teaching and research, it’s easy to forget there is a larger academic world out there.


Of course, the best part is the walk into the village when it finally stops chucking down. can’t believe my local pub is open!


Dunmore East in the snow today



Filed under History and philosophy of science, Teaching, Third level

9 responses to “Snowbound academics are better academics

  1. “This morning, I had a great read of a paper by Nicholas Campion on the representation of astronomy and cosmology in the works of William Shakespeare.”

    There is an essay by Isaac Asimov where he notes that some Shakespeare character referred to (IIRC) Caesar as being “constant as the northern star”. Since there was no northern start in Roman times, Asimov used this as evidence against the idea that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays.

  2. pat2727

    Perfect activity for a snow storm. Unless your into snowmen.

  3. Hi Pat, a few people have emailed me to say they can’t post comments on this page. Any tips? Are you logged into Wordperss, is that it?

  4. pat2727

    Yes, I am. Odd thing is I have had trouble posting on other sites. Even when I’ve posted on them before without problems. Some weirdness on WordPress!

  5. Bloody students! Distracting us from the interesting work.

  6. Brian Gilligan

    Very well spoken Cormac

  7. Brian: ’twas more the narrowness of my own research program I was getting at…

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