Planet Earth seemed to get smaller in 2012: a global village of athletes in East London enthralled the world during the Olympics in the summer; science continued to familiarise itself with both the sub-atomic world (the discovery of the Higgs boson) and outer space (observation of star formation in deep space); the domino effect of global economic crises tumbled onwards and military conflict and natural disaster made their presence felt at home as well as abroad.
Thanks to the growing power of social media, we’re all telling our stories to an immediate global audience.
Getting heard above the crowd when it comes to making, breaking or commenting on the news, however, is a bigger challenge than ever, but it’s one that Sussex academics took on this year. They stepped forward as commentators on the big stories, reacting to breaking news with informed opinion in articles, interviews, blog postings and Twitter.
Here, in the Press office review of Sussex In The News for 2012, we highlight how our academics contributed to the year’s fast-moving and ever-changing news agenda.
As the economy continued to dominate the headlines, Professor Mariana Mazzucato ( SPRU) fast became one of the commentators of choice, giving her views on the British Government’s approach to national debt and how to stimulate economic growth in the UK and in Europe. Professor Mazzucato appeared on BBC’s Newsnight, Radio 4’s Todayand The World Tonight programmes, Bloomberg TV news, Sky News and in print for, among others, The New Statesman and The Guardian.
Other colleagues in SPRU were busy too. Professor Jim Watson, who heads the Sussex Energy Group, was able to offer an authoritative view on wind farms, carbon capture and storage, gas energy policy and “fracking” for, among others, BBC News online, The Guardian , Radio 4’s Today and Material World programmes, The Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times.
Food policy researcher Professor Erik Millstone (SPRU) accused Health Minister Andrew Lansley of “abandoning attempts to improve public health” in his approach to food policy, in the Food Manufacturer and a month later was discussing food safety in the UK and EU for BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme.
SPRU faculty weren’t alone in speaking out. Education is always a big talking point. James Williams (Education) tackled any number of media hot potatoes, supplying opinion on: creationism; academy schools; vocational courses; A-level results; holidays during term-time; the impact of discovery on science teaching (BBC radio, various); bullying, in The Guardian; aliens in outer space and distinguishing science from fairies at the bottom of the garden, in the TES.
Sussex academics were also on hand to give perspective to some of the biggest breaking news stories of the year. Professor Craig Barker (Law) gave his opinion on the legal and diplomatic implications of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange seeking asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy. Professor Barker’s advice, as reported by Reuters, The Huffington Post and others, was that the British government should sit it out. Three months on, and Mr Assange is still in the embassy. Professor Barker was also called on to explain for BBC radio listeners why the UK couldn’t, under the European Convention on Human Rights, deport radical cleric Abu Qatada to Jordan.
In November, USA President Barack Obama won a second term in office. Professor Clive Webb (American Studies) served as commentator on events for numerous BBC radio stations, examining how issues such as abortion, religion, Superstorm Sandy and the economy influenced the American electorate. He also provided an overview for the radio station Voice of Russia.
Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing was called on regularly to comment on Higher Education, a subject rarely out of the headlines in 2012 – the era of £9k fees. Professor Farthing offered perspectives on the negative impact of fees on prospective students for The Independent; cuts to postgraduate course funding in Education Guardian, The Huffington Post and for the BBC; on research integrity for the THE and complacency over the same, again in a major opinion piece for the THE; on funding cuts to student places for Channel 4 News; The Mail on Sunday ; Education Guardian and The Daily Telegraph ; in the Telegraph again, urging caution over creation of new universities; and on the life-changing experience of working as an intern in India, for Education Times in India.
Petrol shortages, a shipping disaster and the Olympics offered diverse opportunity for Dr John Drury (Psychology) to comment on how crowds behave. Dr Drury explained to local BBC radio listeners and to The Daily Telegraph how the wrong messages can trigger panic buying; described how transport chiefs could learn from crowd behaviour for the Olympics, in The Guardian; anticipated crowd behavior during the London Olympics in a large article for The Times’ science magazine, Eureka; and was interviewed on how people behave in evacaution emergencies, in relation to January’s Costa Concordia cruise liner disaster, for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Sussex academics continue to contribute to commentary on the various political upheavals around the world, especially those relating to the so-called Arab Spring. Dr Kamran Matin (International Relations) was an expert panelist in a discussion on the nature of elections in Iran for BBC Persian TV and featured in a discussion on the same channel on the causes of conflicts portrayed as a clash of civilisations. Dr Ramy Aly (Anthropology) was a guest on the BBC’s Newsnight programme, discussing the ongoing post-revolution crises in Egypt and Libya. Closer to home, a documentary about the Greek crisis by Dr Dimitris Dalakoglou (International Relations) was referenced in The Guardian.
The Press office receives requests daily from journalists looking for help with stories – ranging from the topical to the more unusual. Here’s a sample of the kind of requests that our academics were able to help with.Dr Claire Langhamer (History) talked about the social rules of drinking in the 20th Century, and why Babycham appealed to women, for a BBC 4 television social history series and helped Masterchef presenter Gregg Wallace investigate his past in a rather poignant episode of Who Do You Think You Are? for BBC 1 television. Professor Andrew Liddle (Physics and Astronomy) helped celebrate the 20th anniversary of the development of microwave radiation technology with a slide show and commentary about the early universe for BBC News online, while colleague Dr Simon Peeters did the same, again for BBC News online, to mark the 100th anniversary of the discovery of cosmic rays. Dr Karin Alton talked to the Daily Mirror about how the wet summer had made life hard for honey bees and fruit growers while fellow Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI) member Mihail Garbuzov shared top planting tips for a pollinator-friendly garden in The Daily Telegraph. His work on flowering plants, alongside LASI head Professor Francis Ratnieks featured in a photo feature on BBC Nature online.
Dr Geoffrey Mead (Global Studies) talked to local radio about, among other subjects, whether the Battle of Hastings actually took place at Battle. Professor Daniel Osorio (Life Sciences) commented on the shining qualities of pigeon feathers for an article about a “glow-in-the-dark” mole, for Discovery News; and Emeritus Professor John Haigh (Mathematics), author of Probability: A Very Short Introduction served as resident maths expert on the BBC’s consumer campaign television show, Watchdog.
All in the mind
As technology to look at and study the brain becomes ever more sophisticated, so too has our interest in trying to understand what really goes on in our heads. Fortunately, with one of the University’s key research themes being Mind and Brain, we had plenty of events, new studies and publications to offer the media.
In June a major conference hosted by the University’s Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science opened with an ‘Expo’, which allowed people a practical opportunity to explore some of the known – and unknown – mysteries of the cerebral cortex. Its co-director Professor Anil Seth (Informatics) described to BBC Radio Sussex the breadth of study in this field.
Also from the Sackler Centre, Dr Daniel Bor’s aptly titled latest book, The Ravenous Brain, addressed issues such as why humans like doing crosswords and Sudoku and came up with an explanation so inspiring it was reviewed as Times Higher Education’s ‘book of the week’ and one of the books of the year for the Wall Street Journal – reviewer Sam Kean says: “Mr Bor takes on the oldest, thorniest question in neuroscience—what is consciousness?—and delivers a masterly overview of everything scientists think they think right now.”Professor Jamie Ward’s (Psychology) study showing that powerful people are less empathetic was covered by BBC Online, and his work with Dr Henning Holle (now at Hull) looking into why seeing someone scratch provokes neurotic types to also scratch was covered in in The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraphand referenced on BBC Radio 2.
The links between sensation and perception was also explored by Keri McKrickerd (Psychology), who found that subtle manipulations of texture and creamy flavour can increase the expectation that a fruit yoghurt drink will be filling and suppress hunger regardless of actual calorific content. The study made headlines in several publications, including Wholefoods Magazine. Meanwhile, in a BBC World Service programme The Why Factor on colour perception, Dr Anna Franklin (Psychology) talked about her study on how babies struggle to identify shades of blue.
It’s not just human brains that have come under investigation at Sussex. Psychologists Dr Karen McComb and Dr Leanne Proops ’ research into how horses recognise their owners was picked up the by the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, and Dr Thomas Nowotny’s (Informatics) work on creating a computer model of a honey bee brain was covered by a wide range of national and international media, from The Engineer to NBC.
The biggest concern for most of us, however, is how to prevent or slow the brain’s deterioration. While we’re still a long way off solving this particular problem, Professor Jennifer Rusted’s (Psychology) research, picked up by The Independent, offered some small comfort. She found greater brain activation in young people with the Alzheimer’s gene, with notably enhanced ability in attention tasks. It seems there could be some truth in the saying: “The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”
The life artistic
Festival fever gripped Sussex early on in 2012 with the launch by the University and publishers Myriad of First Fictions in January – a weekend of talks and discussions featuring best-selling authors, literary critics, publishers and academics including English Professors Nicholas Royle and Peter Boxall and Dr Keston Sutherland (English). Among those helping to celebrate first works was the novelist Ian Rankin, who premiered his own unpublished work. Coverage of the successful launch followed in The Argus, The Guardian and on BBC Radio 4’s flagship culture show Front Row.
Special Collections and the Mass Observation Archive continued to attract the media’s treasure hunters throughout the year. To mark the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’ birth, Special Collections Manager Fiona Courage (Library) shared Dickens first editions in the care of the University with television viewers of BBC South East.
Fiona was called on again by the BBC to describe to listeners across the regions the role to be played by Mass Observation in the celebration of 90 years of BBC radio. All listeners were encouraged to record a message for the future on 14 November, which will be stored in the MO Archive.
Mass Observation celebrated its 75th year in 2012 – a birthday noted by both The Sun, in which Fiona Courage appealed for more contributors, and The Guardian. Dr Claire Langhamer (History) was one of the contributors to a series of items about the MO Archive that featured on BBC Radio 4’s Todayprogramme in April. She was followed by Dr Lucy Robinson (History), who talked about Mass Observation reactions to the wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981.
The writer David Kynaston revealed his fascination for MO’s hidden treasures in an article about VE Day recollections for The Daily Telegraph.
The Queen’s diamond jubilee stirred renewed interest in the role of the monarchy in Britain, and once again the MO Archive provided a fascinating snapshot of past opinion, as described in The Economist.
Keeping on the Royal theme, a fascinating exhibition of Royal prayer books and artifacts at Lambeth Palace, curated by Professor Brian Cummings (now at York), and viewed by the Prince of Wales and the Archbishop of Canterbury, was described as a “remarkable collection” by Maev Kennedy in The Guardian.
Literary history made news again when Professor Andrew Hadfield (English) won plaudits from the Times Higher magazine’s reviewer for his book, Edmund Spenser: A Life, on the Elizabethan poet. Professor Hadfield went on to champion the playwright Ben Jonson over Shakespeare in an article for The Daily Telegraph.
Contemporary writing with a Sussex twist was much in the news, particularly when Booker Prize winner and Sussex alumnus Ian McEwan revealed at a Sussex award ceremony that 500 copies of his novel Sweet Tooth had had to be pulped. He’d discovered that one of his characters – a professor of English at Sussex – shared the same name as the real thing, Professor Tom Healy. The character’s name was changed to Haley, and the story featured in, among many other titles, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and the Daily Mail.
Sussex also featured in the latest volume of memoirs from Lord (Asa) Briggs, founding father and former Vice-Chancellor of Sussex, which was favourably reviewed by The Guardian.
Sussex Vice-Chancellors were gathered together in the name of art in a group portraitby the current VC’s brother, the artist Stephen Farthing, as part of the University’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Now housed in the Library, the portrait was featured in ‘Campus round-up’ in the Times Higher magazine.
Sussex was well represented in the theatre this year with plays that wowed the critics and the audiences. Constellations, by Nick Payne, was partly inspired by conversations with astrophysicists Dr Kathy Romer and Professor Andrew Liddle, who went to see the play and meet the cast in the West End transfer after a critically-acclaimed debut at the Royal Court theatre. One of the characters is a female astronomer at the University of Sussex, a fact noted by reviewer Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph , who gave the show five stars.
And Sussex alumna April De Angelis had a hit on her hands too, with the West End-produced Jumpy. “Comedy is what I can do. It’s who I am”, she told The Sunday Times.
Art and politics came together in the Brighton Photo Biennial, curated this year by University of Sussex art historian Dr Ben Burbridge, who wrote about the artistic capital to be made through squatting in the wake of its criminalisation, in an article for The Guardian.
Farewells to . . .
Tributes were paid by the media to some of the University’s notable members of staff and alumni who sadly died this year.
Keith Campbell, who studied for a PhD at Sussex, played a major role in the science that created Dolly the Sheep – a legacy that earned him obituaries in several newspapers including The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph.
The Argus remembered another venerable scientist, Dr Sandy Grassie, who helped to establish science at the University in the early 1960s before becoming Head of Science at Roedean School.
Tributes from around the world, and locally, have been paid to the memory of composer and one-time professor of music at Sussex, Jonathan Harvey, who died in December after a short illness. The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph , The Independent , The Argus and BBC Sussex all recognised his eminence in the field of avant-garde musical composition.
Revered for his more classical and traditional approach was former University of Sussex organist Dr John Birch, who was latterly director of music at Chichester Cathedral. The Guardian’s obituary mentions his “pioneering work” that led to his skills being passed on to generations of cathedral and church musicians all over the world.
Also praised by The Guardian for her international reach was Eileen Daffern, who headed the University’s Centre for Contemporary European Study, and “steadfastly championed nuclear disarmament, women's rights and the United Nations”.
Research by Sussex academics offered new insights this year into how we live – always of interest to journalists. Dr Richard De Visser (Psychology) captured the headlines in February when he revealed findings that showed that young people drink more alcohol than they think. The story was picked up by The Huffington Post, Herald Scotland , The Daily Star, The Independent , Splash FM and the BBC World Service.
Exposés of political and financial corruption are meat and drink to the media, so no wonder the launch of Dr Dan Hough’s (Politics) new Sussex Centre for the Study of Corruption garnered column inches at home and abroad, particularly in India, where there is keen interest in anti-corruption politics. The story was picked up by The Argus in Brighton, the Hindustan Times in India, as well as The New Statesman, Education Guardian , The Telegraph (India), and the BBC World Service.
The real hardship faced by some of the nation’s children was the subject of a study by Dr Ricardo Sabates (Education), who found that one in four children are growing up in families facing many challenges, including parental depression and hardship. His findings were picked up by The Guardian, various regional newspapers, Splash FM radio and The Daily Star.
Politics and policy account for a large part of media output – and our academics were either making the news in this area or commenting on it. Professor Gordon MacKerron’s (SPRU) Government-commissioned report on nuclear energy policy warned of escalating costs in tackling the challenge of deteriorating facilities. His warning was featured in The Manufacturer, the Environment Times, Fresh Business Thinking and The Engineer .
The rollercoaster ride that is Westminster politics continued to provide plenty of material for our politics academics to comment on. Professor Tim Bale (now at QMUL) was on hand to talk about the exaggerated influence of UKIP (Daily Telegraph), Ed Milliband’s failure to challenge Cameron (Bloomberg), the lack of political role models (BBC Sussex), Osborne’s budget measures (Daily Star, International Business Times ), digital snooping (Gulf Times), deportation rows (Al Arabiya), Tory rebellion (London South East), Boris Johnson (Bloomberg Businessweek), Cabinet revamps (Bloomberg) and the Barclays banking scandal (Bloomberg). Meantime, Dr Stefanie Ortmann (Global Studies) looked to Russia with an analysis of Putin’s re-election for BBC Sussex, while Professor Paul Taggart (Politics) commented for the same station on George Galloway's by-election victory in Bradford and talked about local government referenda and council tax on the BBC’s Sunday Politics Show.
Politicians and bankers might seem like they’re getting away with robbery – but not, it seems, the hapless bank robber. Research by Professor Barry Reilly (Economics), reported in The Economist, The Times of India , The Hindu and The Huffington Post found that bank robbers actually ‘earn’ less than the average honest worker.
And finally . . .
The media is always on the lookout for what they consider to be quirky and original, and academics are often surprised at what tickles the headline writers, but usually take it in good part.
Research by Dr Margaret Couvillon ( LASI) into decoding the unique method of honey bee communication known as the waggle dance earned coverage in American Scientist, but also a mention on the BBC’s satirical news quiz show Have I Got News For You.
Linguist Dr Lynne Murphy (English), whose blog Separated by a Common Language is regularly referenced by journalists, was cited in an Atlantic Wire article devoted to “anglocreep” – the growing use of quaint “britishisms” in speech by Americans. That’s rather nice, isn’t it?
Journalists love robots. Dr Nick Collins’ 'supercollider' computer programme involves computerised talent show judges, thus dispensing with the need for the likes of Simon Cowell, which pleased The Mail on Sunday and the BBC.
Emeritus Professor Owen Holland (Informatics), who developed an anthropomimetic robot that links intelligence with the human physical form, took the press fascination for robots to another level. His prototype Eccerobot, the robot with human-like bones, joints and tendons, continued to get press attention in 2012 from, among others, The Huffington Post and the BBC, who include video footage of Eccerobot in action.
Sussex alumni and comedy duo Heydon Prowse and Jolyon Rubinstein hit the headlines – and landed a big profile in The Guardian – with their satirical “prank” show for the BBC, entitled The Revolution Will Be Televised. Stunts included posing as MPs at Mansion House so that they could offer Chancellor George Osborne a GCSE maths text book to help him balance the budget. Once again, it all comes down to the economy.
It’s Andy Medhurst (Media), though, who has the last laugh here – he explained to The Daily Express why cruelty has always been a lynchpin of British comedy for an article on comedians who challenge taboos, including Sussex alumnus and comedian, Frankie Boyle.