Skip to main content

You Can't Polish a Nerd - Festival of the Spoken Nerd ****

The Festival of the Spoken Nerd have become the definitive example of the best in performance science and maths (yes, it's really a thing). If you haven't come across them, they're mathematician Matt Parker, physicist Helen Arney (who mostly provides the musical side of the evening) and experimenter Steve Mould who does the dangerous experiments we'd all love to do, but probably shouldn't.

I've attended FotSN's shows and a live event is, frankly, the best way to see them. Just like a standup comedian, this standup science does work best when you're surrounded by an audience - and there's usually some entertaining audience participation. However, if you don't manage to make one of their shows, this is still a good way to get a highly entertaining dose of nerdity.

When Mould tells us he has been experimenting with his microwave at home, you just know that something interesting and quite possibly dangerous is going to happen - and it does. We begin with a microwave in a video, but it moves on to live action on the stage. Arney's songs are entertaining as usual, whether her own quirky numbers or Tom Lehrer's element song. And Parker proves himself as usual to be the best of the three as a straight comedian, and though his mathematical explorations are, as always entertaining, he excels himself visually by exploring spherical geometry (and some aspects of Escher's work) using a camera that can see the whole view around it at once (he tells us off for calling it a 360 degree camera).

And, of course, there's more. Whether its Mould querying a dodgy statistic in a children's book and demonstrating gravitational waves with a rubber sheet or Parker having a good spot of tessellation and using a huge circle of pies to estimate the value of pi and leading onto some of the bizarre places that pi appears.

If, for example, you enjoy watching Dave Gorman's Modern Life is Goodish, you'll love an evening with the nerds. This is funny, nerdtastic, and genuinely entertaining.

Best bought from the FOTSN website - you could even get it on a floppy disk (come on, Nerds, that's not a floppy disk, it's a diskette), but they're sold out.
Review by Brian Clegg


Popular posts from this blog

Superior - Angela Saini *****

It was always going to be difficult to follow Angela Saini's hugely popular Inferior, but with Superior she has pulled it off, not just in the content but by upping the quality of the writing to a whole new level. Where Inferior looked at the misuse of science in supporting sexism (and the existence of sexism in science), Superior examines the way that racism has been given a totally unfounded pseudo-scientific basis in the past - and how, remarkably, despite absolute evidence to the contrary, this still turns up today.

At the heart of the book is the scientific fact that 'race' simply does not exist biologically - it is nothing more than an outdated social label. As Saini points out, there are far larger genetic variations within a so-called race than there are between individuals supposedly of different races. She shows how, pre-genetics, racial prejudice was given a pseudo-scientific veneer by dreaming up fictitious physical differences over and above the tiny distinct…

Where are the chemistry popular science books?

by Brian Clegg
There has never been more emphasis on the importance of public engagement. We need both to encourage a deeper interest in science and to counter anti-scientific views that seem to go hand-in-hand with some types of politics. Getting the public interested in science both helps recruit new scientists of the future and spreads an understanding of why an area of scientific research deserves funding. Yet it is possible that chemistry lags behind the other sciences in outreach. As a science writer, and editor of this website, I believe that chemistry is under-represented in popular science. I'd like to establish if this is the case, if so why it is happening - and what can be done to change things. 

An easy straw poll is provided by the topic tags on the site. At the time of writing, there are 22 books under 'chemistry' as opposed to 97 maths, 126 biology and 182 physics. The distribution is inevitably influenced by editorial bias - but as the editor, I can confirm …

The Art of Statistics - David Spiegelhalter *****

Statistics have a huge impact on us - we are bombarded with them in the news, they are essential to medical trials, fundamental science, some court cases and far more. Yet statistics is also a subject than many struggle to deal with (especially when the coupled subject of probability rears its head). Most of us just aren't equipped to understand what we're being told, or to question it when the statistics are dodgy. What David Spiegelhalter does here is provide a very thorough introductory grounding in statistics without making use of mathematical formulae*. And it's remarkable.

What will probably surprise some who have some training in statistics, particularly if (like mine) it's on the old side, is that probability doesn't come into the book until page 205. Spiegelhalter argues that as probability is the hardest aspect for us to get an intuitive feel for, this makes a lot of sense - and I think he's right. That doesn't mean that he doesn't cover all …