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About a Blog

Posted 29 August 2014 by Tom Webb

In his early collection of miscellaneous writing Paperweight, Stephen Fry includes a column from The Listener called Absolutely Nothing At All, about… writing a column. He prefaces it in the book with the excuse, “Journalist friends tell me that columnists are allowed to write one column of this nature once in their lives.” On the assumption that bloggers get the same allowance, here we go… * I’ve had this post largely worked out in my head for several weeks. It’s... Read more

On British Values and British Nature

Posted 26 June 2014 by Tom Webb

‘Pride’ has always struck me a peculiar and entirely inappropriate way to express your feelings about your homeland. After all, the accident of having been born somewhere is hardly something over which you had either any choice or any control. But for all that, I’m certainly happy enough to call Britain ‘home’; and despite having had the good fortune to visit some wonderful parts of the world, and to work with people from many different countries, I have never seriously... Read more

What students want – or what students need?

Posted 13 June 2014 by Tom Webb

You can tell from the contrasting expressions on the faces of academics around the department that it’s exam marking deadline time. The harassed anxiety of those with piles of scripts still on their desks is balanced by the smug relief of we happy few who are done and dusted. For me, then, it’s a time to reflect on my teaching, which has led me to an interesting conclusion. Let me backtrack a little. I’ve been lecturing on our level three course,... Read more

Mixed messages on Marine Protected Areas

Posted 5 March 2014 by Tom Webb

I can’t remember the details of the first scientific conference I ever went to - not even its name - but I know it was on marine conservation, in Cardiff, and that a couple of us undergrads had made the trek from Norwich with little idea what to expect. The keynote speaker was Bill Ballantine, some of whose work on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in New Zealand I’d read as research for an essay. I remember no details of his... Read more

Reading, writing, and aestheticism

Posted 30 January 2014 by Tom Webb

Last week my daughter turned one, and - as well as celebrating all the fun of her first year - I found myself reflecting on the growing list of ‘things I used to do’, in those dimly remembered days before the arrival of Webbs 2.0 and 2.1. There are the obvious activities - eating (and drinking) out, sport, long walks and lie ins. There are things that have come alarmingly close to making the list. ‘Doing my job properly’ springs... Read more

Life with Attenborough

Posted 20 December 2013 by Tom Webb

Christmas day 1981. A six-year-old boy sits on his bed in the Horton General Hospital, Banbury. He feels poorly, no worse, but for now nobody knows quite what’s wrong with him. His parents hide their worry so well that he is only now, a parent himself, starting to appreciate it. But on Christmas day it’s all smiles, with mum, dad and big brother all crowded into the small room. His brother’s main present was a portable radio, and the two... Read more

New conservation, old conservation

Posted 6 December 2013 by Tom Webb

In 1999, at the inaugural Student Conference on Conservation Science in Cambridge, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. I’d just given my first conference talk - something to do with extinction risk and phylogeny in birds - and it seemed to have gone OK. I was meeting lots of interesting people, sharing the cosy impression that our research was on track to make some real difference to conservation efforts. Then Stuart Pimm stood up to give the plenary. He... Read more

An Appreciation of John Steele

Posted 6 November 2013 by Tom Webb

When I received the sad news, yesterday, that John Steele had died of the cancer that had afflicted him this last year, my instinct was to share the passing of a scientific hero as widely as possible. I duly tweeted, but given the general lack of response I wondered if perhaps his legacy is not as widely appreciated as I believe it should be. Hence this personal appreciation. I never met John, although I had been corresponding with him over... Read more

Natural history and desk-based ecology

Posted 11 September 2013 by Tom Webb

The recent Intecol meeting in London, celebrating the British Ecological Society’s centenary, was perhaps the most Twitter-active (Twinteractive?) conference I’ve been to, with Twitter-only questions at plenaries and plenty of discussion across multiple parallel sessions. One such discussion I dipped into (#ecologyNH) concerned the extent to which a 21st Century ecologist needs to know natural history, a question I’ve been pondering for a while, and one which surfaced again only yesterday in an exchange triggered by Matt Hill (@InsectEcology) and... Read more

Measuring the intangible: lessons for science from the DRS?

Posted 21 August 2013 by Tom Webb

The final Ashes test of this summer has just started, a welcome distraction, no doubt, for some of those academics holed up preparing REF submissions (see Athene Donald’s recent post to get a feel for how time consuming this is, and the comments under it for a very thoughtful discussion of the issues I’m covering here). It also provides the perfect excuse for me to release another convoluted analogy, this time regarding the approaches taken in test match cricket and... Read more