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- 02/11/14--03:50: _Global soil carbon:...
- 02/11/14--04:29: _Race against time t...
- 02/11/14--08:17: _Building For The Fu...
- 02/11/14--08:28: _Patients with mouth...
- 02/12/14--02:12: _North Cambridge Aca...
- 02/12/14--03:08: _New US Gates Cambri...
- 02/12/14--03:57: _Filling me softly
- 02/12/14--10:05: _Out of Asia: ancien...
- 02/13/14--01:04: _Bringing the gold s...
- 02/13/14--03:22: _Skeletons in the cu...
- 02/13/14--09:01: _Rewriting the text ...
- 02/14/14--01:00: _Migrant children: t...
- 02/14/14--03:02: _Boris bikes boost L...
- 02/14/14--04:30: _‘Intelligent Trust’...
- 02/15/14--00:00: _Research in Japan s...
- 02/17/14--12:03: _Biomarker for depre...
- 02/18/14--00:00: _The researcher retu...
- 02/18/14--01:27: _Stress hormones in ...
- 02/18/14--01:35: _Quantum researchers...
- 02/19/14--02:00: _Let’s talk about Is...
- 02/12/14--02:12: North Cambridge Academy hosts education and careers exploration days
- 02/12/14--03:08: New US Gates Cambridge Scholars announced
- 02/12/14--03:57: Filling me softly
- 02/13/14--03:22: Skeletons in the cupboard of medical science
- 02/14/14--01:00: Migrant children: the litmus test of our education system
- 02/14/14--03:02: Boris bikes boost Londoners' health
- 02/17/14--12:03: Biomarker for depression could improve diagnosis and treatment
- 02/18/14--01:35: Quantum researchers close in on dream vacancy
- 02/19/14--02:00: Let’s talk about Islam and women’s rights
The study, published recently in Carbon Management, collates published estimates of how much carbon is stored globally within soil. The findings draw attention to the extent to which changing the way land is used contributes to rising atmospheric CO2.
Accurate knowledge about the quantity of carbon stored in soils is important because the greenhouse gas CO2 is often emitted when land use is changed, either through human activities such as agriculture or natural forces such as flooding. Carbon emissions resulting from changes in land use and land cover are the second largest source of human-caused carbon emissions to the atmosphere after emissions from fossil fuel combustion.
To date, however, most policies aimed at reducing CO2 emissions have focused on carbon stored in plants, despite the fact that more carbon is stored in soils than in plants. The majority of carbon stored in the soil is the result of millennia of decomposition of organic matter. Estimates of global organic soil carbon stocks are uncertain, and carbon emissions from land use and land cover change remain the least understood component of the global carbon cycle.
Following an extensive examination of the literature on soil carbon published over the last 60 years, a group of researchers from Sussex, Cambridge and Italy have collated estimates of global soil organic carbon stocks. The study’s leader, Dr Jörn Scharlemann, previously at the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, described his team’s findings as a call to arms: “It’s really surprising – although the first soil carbon map we found dates back to the 1950s, we probably still know more about the moon than about soil carbon.”
Maps of global carbon distribution show that most soil organic carbon is stored at northern latitudes, with a significant quantity locked up in permafrost regions. As co-author Dr Ed Tanner, of the Department of Plant Sciences, explained, “Broadly speaking, in cool, temperate parts of the world, more carbon is stored in soil than in plants, and in tropical, warm areas, more carbon is stored in plants than in the soil. If we’re interested in conserving carbon, which we ought to be, we ought to conserve soils in temperate regions, and plants in tropical regions”.
The accuracy of distributional data for global soil organic carbon stocks is not consistent across the globe, however. While some regions, including China and Europe, have been mapped at a high resolution, the majority of the data comes from coarse resolution soil maps dating back to the 1970s. Furthermore, existing maps usually only provide data on carbon stocks to a depth of 1 m. In parts of the world, however, organic soils can be up to 11 m deep, with the result that these soils contain more organic carbon than is indicated on the distribution maps.
“Climate change models are currently using soil carbon estimates that vary by an order of magnitude. We’re creating scenarios of climate change, and basing decisions on these scenarios, even though the input data are actually really uncertain,” said Dr Scharlemann.
The work by Dr Scharlemann and his co-authors was funded by a grant from the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, which was used to hold a workshop on soil carbon that brought together researchers, policy makers and conservation practitioners. One of the key issues arising from the workshop, which this paper highlights, is that decisions on soil carbon management require an improved understanding of the global variation in carbon stocks, as well as their importance relative to carbon stored in vegetation.
The researchers call for existing estimates of global organic carbon stocks to be improved through the collection of more data on soil profiles, sampling soil carbon to greater depths, and the use of standardised sampling and modelling techniques. In recent years, new techniques, such as remote sensing, have become available, which could be used to estimate the amount of organic matter in soils.
Policies designed to reduce emissions of carbon have not fully considered the effects of land use and land cover change on soil organic carbon stocks and their emissions, despite significant losses of soil carbon. In some cases, for example, up to 50% of soil organic carbon is lost when native vegetation is converted to cropland.
The researchers urge policy and decision makers to recognise the importance of soil organic carbon in the global carbon cycle and in climate change mitigation. “Policy makers need to take soil carbon into account, but to do this they need better information on the total amount of carbon stored in soils and where it’s distributed,” said Dr Scharlemann.
Loss of soil organic carbon can be slowed, halted, and even reversed through various techniques, including reduced tillage of the soil, the addition of manure and the practice of agroforestry. Dr Tanner explained: “It’s not easy to manage soil carbon – you can’t just put it back. Trying to keep the soil carbon we have already is important, as its loss is not easily remedied”.
Scharlemann, Jörn P.W., Tanner, Edmund V.J., Hiederer, Roland & Kapos, Valerie (2014) Global soil carbon: understanding and managing the largest terrestrial carbon pool. Carbon Management, 5(1), 81-91.
The first comprehensive overview of the world’s largest terrestrial pool of carbon highlights the importance of soil carbon conservation in mitigating global climate change.
The Polar Museum needs to raise £275,000 in less than a month to avoid the prospect of the 113 photographic negatives being sold off at auction. The negatives represent an extraordinary visual record of Scott’s last expedition, but are in danger of being sold abroad.
The negatives have been recently rediscovered, having been thought lost. This is the only chance a museum in the United Kingdom has of acquiring this extraordinary visual record of Scott’s last, heroic expedition. The Museum has no budget for acquisitions and is entirely reliant on public support.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who is spearheading the Cambridge fundraising campaign, said: “Scott’s negatives are of outstanding importance to the United Kingdom’s heritage and the opportunity to keep the collection intact - and in this country - cannot be lost.
“This is the only chance a museum in the United Kingdom will have to purchase the actual negatives taken by Scott on his final expedition. We must raise the funds by March 2 so that they can take their rightful place in Cambridge alongside the camera on which they were taken as well as the remaining Scott and Herbert Ponting prints - all of which speak so powerfully to us of the courage and sacrifice of those on the British Antarctic Expedition.”
The negatives are a record of Scott’s earliest attempts - under the guidance of expedition photographer Herbert Ponting - through to his unparalleled images of his team on the Southern Journey. The force, control and beauty of his portraits and landscapes number them among some of the finest early images of the Antarctic.
Julian Dowdeswell, Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute, said: “Beyond the quality of the images, the negatives offer something unprecedented. Scott’s death and their subsequent loss of the negatives, have meant that his photographic experiments and errors have been preserved along with his successes. They give us a record of a talented student of photography moving from apprenticeship to mastery. The best of the negatives are serious artistic achievements in their own right; the collection as a whole is a remarkable record of artistic development, quite apart from being of value to the national heritage.”
The Polar Museum is already home to the remaining prints of Scott's photographs, Herbert Ponting’s glass plate negatives and Ponting’s presentation album from the same expedition. Added to that are the prints and albums of all the other expedition members equipped with a camera. Together, they form the most comprehensive photographic record of the expedition held anywhere in the world.
Heather Lane, Keeper of Collections, said: “Although the Institute holds prints of a number of these photographs, acquiring the negatives is akin to holding the manuscript of, say, Apsley Cherry Garrard’s account of the expedition, compared with the published work, The Worst Journey in the World. They take us right back to the point of origin, a fact made all the more exciting given that the Institute also holds the camera on which they were taken. Furthermore, nine images from this set of negatives have hitherto been unknown and will be of major value for research.
“This is the only opportunity that the Scott Polar Research Institute may ever have to acquire this material, which is of extraordinary significance to the UK’s polar heritage. The negatives would complete the Museum’s visual record of Scott’s last expedition and will be of incomparable value for research.”
Anyone able to make a donation can do so here: http://bit.ly/1nWQz0k
An urgent appeal to save 113 photographic negatives taken by Captain Scott has been launched today (February 11) by the University of Cambridge’s Polar Museum.
The three-acre site, purchased as part of the College’s long term investment strategy, will be redeveloped to provide a mix of residential and commercial development.
As part of the development, Homerton will also pay for the road layout to be changed to provide a designated turn for cyclists turning right from Hills Road onto Purbeck Road.
Income from the scheme will be used to enhance the number of bursaries and scholarships on offer to students.
Keith Waters, Estates Manager for Homerton said: “This announcement marks the start of our next 20 year development plan which will centre on academic needs.
“We are delighted to receive the go-ahead and are looking forward, not only to increasing our provision of housing for Fellows, but also having the opportunity to make visual improvements to what historically has been a neglected area.
“The existing site is rail passengers’ first view of Cambridge when they travel from London by train and we believe that our plans for high quality, well-designed buildings will enhance the public perception of our City.
“Throughout the process, we have been very pleased to have had the support of our neighbours and tenants with whom we have been in regular dialogue as plans have progressed.”
Professor Geoff Ward, Principal of Homerton said: “We believe that approval of our planning permission will deliver benefits all round.
"Not only will it provide long-term income for the College which can be re-distributed in terms of bursaries and scholarships, but it also addresses the need for accommodation for our Fellows, freeing up much-needed housing in the City for families.
"The development phase over the next two years will also bring good employment opportunities in the area”.
It is anticipated that work on the demolition of existing buildings will commence shortly, with plans for the development to be completed by Summer 2016.
Homerton College has received permission for a £60 million development adjacent to its site on Hills Road.
Lack of awareness of the symptoms of mouth and oesophageal cancer means people take much longer to talk to their GPs about these, compared with other, cancers.
New research from Cambridge, Durham and Bangor found that people with mouth cancer wait for around a month after first spotting symptoms before visiting their GP, and those with oesophageal cancer around three weeks.
Patients with bladder and kidney cancer, however, wait only two or three days before reporting their symptoms to a doctor.
Published in the International Journal of Cancer, the study drew on data from the National Audit of Cancer Diagnosis in Primary Care and included GP consultations with more than 10,000 patients with 18 different cancer types.
Mouth and oesophageal cancer are relatively common, but both have a relatively poor outlook for survival.
“Previous research shows that two of the key symptoms for these cancers – difficulty swallowing and ulcers that don’t heal – are the least well-known by the public for their links with cancer,” explained the University of Cambridge’s Dr Georgios Lyratzopoulos, one of the authors of the study.
Their results suggest more needs to be done to raise awareness of these symptoms. According to Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis: “It’s good to see patients with kidney and bladder cancers going to their doctors so quickly, perhaps because their symptoms are more noticeable. But we must do more to encourage people with other less well recognised symptoms to see their GPs as soon as possible.
“Some symptoms are more obvious than others so the important thing is to get to know your own body and what’s normal for you. When cancer is diagnosed earlier, treatment is usually more effective and the chances of beating the disease are higher.”
The NHS ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaigns do not currently include symptoms of mouth cancer.
New research shows that lack of awareness of the symptoms of mouth and oesophageal cancer means people wait much longer before visiting their GPs than people with symptoms of other cancers.
Each day includes workshops on apprenticeships, FE courses, financial support for students, an introduction to university, and the chance to meet student ambassadors from both universities and ask them questions.
The aim of the day is to help young people find out more about the opportunities available to them in their home city, so that they can make well-informed choices about their post-16 options.
Matt Diston, HE Partnerships Co-ordinator for the University of Cambridge, said “Working together on this event has given us a chance to show young people in Cambridge the great range of fantastic opportunities they have on their doorstep. I’m hoping to bust a few myths about higher education, and set a few minds at rest about tuition fees and the fear of debt.”
Erica Palmer, Schools' Liaison Co-ordinator at Cambridge Regional College, said: "We are delighted to be part of these innovative careers and education workshops which will show young people the very wide range of options open to them, whether it is becoming an apprentice, learning practical skills in college or going on to university. Together we are working to raise the aspirations of all pupils."
Rachael Cole, Outreach & Recruitment Officer for Anglia Ruskin University, said "It's really important that Anglia Ruskin University works closely with its local schools.
"North Cambridge Academy is a new relationship for us which we are very much looking forward to moving forward.
"Over two days North Cambridge Academy have very kindly allowed myself and 3 of my Student Ambassadors access to the entire year 10 and 11 group. In their session with me and my ambassadors, the students will have covered student life and planning their future. We are hoping that with some help from the school the students will be able to revisit their planning in Year 11 future work and see if their plans have remained the same. Working with year 10s is crucial, we are very happy to be a part of this crucial time in their lives."
Martin Campbell, Principal of North Cambridge Academy, said: “We at NCA are working hard to raise the prospects and aspirations of all young people and this well organised and interactive event helps to pupils to explore and aspire.
“For me this is about opening minds and giving pupils at NCA the chance to speak with undergraduates and explore routes post 16 from three local providers. We hope pupils will leave thinking about their futures and dreaming about what can be.”
The University of Cambridge, Anglia Ruskin University and Cambridge Regional College have joined forces to deliver two days of careers and education workshops to Year 10 and Year 11 pupils at North Cambridge Academy.
The 40 Scholars represent 35 institutions, five of which have never had a Gates Cambridge Scholar before.
The five new institutions are the University of Puget Sound in Washington, the University of Wyoming, California State University in Fresno, Carleton University in Ontario, Canada and the Medical College of Georgia.
Professor Barry Everitt, Provost of the Gates Cambridge Trust, said: "We are delighted to announce our new US Scholars. They are an outstanding group of individuals from a very diverse range of backgrounds who are both intellectually exceptional and show a dedication to improving the lives of others. We look to them as future leaders who will change the world for the better.”
Twenty-two of the institutions where the new Scholars have studied previously are private, with 13 being public. Six are Ivy League colleges. The Scholars come from 21 US states.
The gender ratio continues to be in favour of women with 23 of the 40 being women. This is broadly consistent with the last three years of the total intake which have seen women make up the majority of Scholars.
While 18 of the 35 colleges and universities are in the Times Higher Education’s top 100 world university rankings, 11 do not even rank in the top 400, highlighting the broad range of institutions and the high level of access for outstanding candidates from any college or university.
The postgraduate scholarship programme was established through a US$210 million donation to the University of Cambridge from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2001, which remains the largest single donation to a UK university.
Competition for places is fierce and the programme is unique in its emphasis on social leadership as well as outstanding academic ability.
The successful 40 candidates, 28 of whom will study for one-year master's degree courses and 12 of whom will pursue PhD degrees, were whittled down from an initial field of 800 applicants.
The 89 shortlisted candidates were interviewed by US and Cambridge academics at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s offices in Seattle on 31 Jan and 1 Feb 2014.
The US Scholars will join 55 Scholars from other parts of the world, who will be announced later this year.
At any one time the Gates Cambridge Trust aims to support 225 Scholars at the University of Cambridge.
For this reason its Trustees have increased the total number of Scholarships from 90 to 95 for 2014 entry with the hope that this will be sustainable in the longer term, given the mix of one-year and PhD courses being undertaken.
To view a full list of the Scholars click here.
Forty of the most academically brilliant and socially committed young people in the USA will take up a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge this autumn as the programme continues to expand to a diverse range of institutions across North America.
This is the first time that stiffness of implant materials has been shown to be involved in foreign body reactions. The findings – published in the journal Biomaterials– could lead to major improvements in surgical implants and the quality of life of patients whose lives depend on them.
Foreign bodies often trigger a process that begins with inflammation and ends with the foreign body being encapsulated with scar tissue. When this happens after an accident or injury, the process is usually vital to healing, but when the same occurs around, for example, electrodes implanted in the brain to alleviate tremor in Parkinson’s disease, it may be problematic.
Despite decades of research, the process remains poorly understood as neither the materials from which these implants are made, nor their electrical properties, can explain what triggers inflammation.
Instead of looking for classical biological causes, a group of Cambridge physicists, engineers, chemists, clinical scientists and biologists decided to take a different tack and examine the impact of an implant’s stiffness on the inflammatory process.
According to Dr Kristian Franze, one of the authors of the study: “Electrodes that are implanted in the brain, for example, should be chemically inert, and these foreign body reactions occur whether or not these electrodes are switched on, so it’s not the electrical signalling.
“We thought that an obvious difference between electrodes and brain tissue is stiffness. Brain tissue is as soft as cream cheese, it is one of the softest tissues in the body, and electrodes are orders of magnitude stiffer.”
To test their hypothesis that mechanical signals trigger inflammation, the team cultured brain cells on two different substrates. The substrates were chemically identical but one was as soft as brain tissue and the other two orders of magnitude stiffer, akin to the stiffness of muscle tissue.
When they examined the cells, they found major differences in their shape. “The cells grown on the stiffer substrate were very flat, whereas those grown on the soft substrate looked much more like cells you find in the brain,” he explained.
To confirm the findings they did genetic and other tests, which revealed that many of the inflammatory genes and proteins known to be involved in foreign body reactions had been upregulated on stiff surfaces.
The team then implanted a tiny foreign body into rats’ brains. The implant was made of a single material but one side was as soft as brain tissue and the other as stiff as muscle. They found much greater foreign body reaction around the stiff part of the implant.
“This strongly indicates that stiffness of a material may trigger foreign body reactions. It does not mean there aren’t other triggers, but stiffness definitely contributes and this is something new that hasn’t been known before,” he said.
The findings could have major implications for the design of implants used in the brain and other parts of the body.
“While it may eventually be possible to make implants out of new, much softer materials, our results suggest that in the short term, simply coating existing implants with materials that match the stiffness of the tissue they are being implanted into will help reduce foreign body reactions,” said Dr Franze.
Surgical implants are widely used in modern medicine but their effectiveness is often compromised by how our bodies react to them. Now, scientists at the University of Cambridge have discovered that implant stiffness is a major cause of this so-called foreign body reaction.
The young boy’s genetic blueprint reveals that the Americas’ first human inhabitants came from Asia, not Europe, laying to rest a long-standing mystery.
Conducted by a consortium of scientists led by the University of Copenhagen and including Drs Andrea Manica, Anders Eriksson and Vera Warmuth at the University of Cambridge, the study is published in Nature.
The child belonged to the Clovis people. They produced beautiful, distinctive stone and bone tools, and are named after the New Mexico town of Clovis where caches of the tools were first found in the 1920s and 30s.
The Clovis culture moved south through the Americas, but where it came from, how it spread and whether modern Native Americans are descendants of the Clovis people has puzzled scientists.
Until now, two conflicting theories existed. One suggests that humans arrived in North America from Siberian parts of Asia through a corridor between the melting ice sheets, and that these people are the ancestors of modern Native Americans.
A second theory – known as the Solutrean – suggests people first travelled to the Americas from Europe via Greenland across the frozen ocean.
According to Dr Manica: “When we look at arrow and spear heads from the parts of Asia where we think Native Americans originated, we find no such technology, nothing that looked anything like a Clovis arrow head.
“On the other hand if we go all the way to Spain and France, we can find some arrow heads that resemble, to a certain extent, what we find in the Clovis culture.”
Solving the mystery depended on finding a well-preserved Clovis skeleton, from which researchers could extract DNA.
They located a skeleton that had been discovered, together with Clovis tools, in 1968 on a Montana farm. It is the only known Clovis burial site, and carbon-14 dating shows the bones are around 12,600 years old, close to the end of the Clovis culture.
“After obtaining permission from the current Native American tribes who live in the area, we were able to take the bones to the lab and extract the DNA. The bones turned out to be so well preserved that we were able to reconstruct the entire genome of that individual,” said Dr Manica.
The child’s DNA revealed that the Clovis people came from Siberia, laying to rest the Solutrean theory.
“When we looked at this genome, it was definitely Asian; there was no sign of any European DNA, so it seems very clear that the people who made those Clovis artefacts were part of the Asian wave that came into the Americas about 15,000 years ago when the ice sheets started melting. Some stopped in North America, and invented the Clovis technology, and others continued all the way down to South America,” he said.
“As well as having a very clear Asian origin, it’s also very closely related to modern Native Americans. So the Clovis mystery is solved: we now know that Clovis were Asians and part of the group of people who colonised the Americas.”
Although the burial site is on private land owned by the Anzick family, the researchers worked closely with nine Native American groups with reservations in the surrounding area. A Crow tribe representative, together with the Anzick family, is working on an intertribal reburial of the bone fragments.
To see more about the research, view our film here
The genome of a child who died some 12,600 years ago in Montana – the oldest known human remains from North America – has been sequenced for the first time.
Reproducibility is held as the gold standard for scientific research. The legitimacy of any published work depends on the question: can we replicate the analysis and come to the same results?
However, scientific practice is far from this ideal. A recent study of reproducibility in political science found that only 18 of 120 journals have a replication policy which requires the authors to upload their datasets so that others can check the results. In economics, an analysis of nearly 500 webpages of scholars showed that the vast majority does not give access to their data and software code on their site.
The reasons for this lack of reproducibility are simple. For researchers, being transparent means investing time into keeping detailed logs of data collection, variable coding, and all models used for the analysis. But can academics realistically make time for this? Due to heavy teaching commitments and the pressure to produce and publish new work there is little incentive to spend more time on recording research steps, keeping a detailed filing system and making data accessible. Therefore, authors of published work often do not even remember themselves how they got their results.
As a consequence, much of the knowledge we trust today remains unchecked.
One of the largest scandals reported on last year demonstrated the impact of a lack of transparency. In the economic paper “Growth in a Time of Debt” by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, faulty results (due to a spreadsheet error in the data) led to the belief that high levels of government debt are bad for economic growth. The paper was heavily relied on by politicians to introduce austerity measures. It took three years for the errors to be uncovered by another study, conducted by a graduate student, because the data were not available.
This example shows that reproducibility is not only a challenge for the academic world, but has a direct impact on society.
The blog Retraction Watch now nearly daily uncovers misconduct, errors and fraud in academic journals in all disciplines, while the mass media have started reporting about irreproducibility in scientific research.
The debate has prompted new initiatives. A group of psychologists launched a project at the Center for Open Science in the US to make studies radically more transparent. A similar initiative, the “Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology”, is now replicating the top 50 most impactful cancer biology studies published between 2010-2012. The American Political Science Association has revised their guidelines for ethical political science research and recommends all journals to require more transparency from their authors.
However, a real change towards more transparency in research must start much earlier – at the student level.
This is the main goal of the Cambridge Replication Workshop at the Social Sciences Research Methods Centre. In eight weeks, students learn about reproducibility standards and then re-analyse a published paper in their field.
The first part of the course introduces students to reproducibility challenges. They discuss what reproducibility means and learn about current cases of failed research transparency and consequences for the scientific community. They then discuss how to make their own doctoral work reproducible. For example, they learn which software is best for reproducible research, and how to set up a clear structure of files and folders that contain logs for analysis and data transformations so that they can always track back how they made their research decisions years later. Students also discuss why it is in their own interest to publish their materials in a data repository like the University of Cambridge’s repository DSpace @ Cambridge.
In the practical part of the course, students then pick a recently published article in their field and try to replicate the results. Replication involves downloading the original paper, finding the data and possibly software code, corresponding with the author, and finally publishing their replication study in the workshop’s data archive to make it available to the wider community.
This is when it hurts.
By trying to replicate existing work, students learn first-hand what irreproducibility really means. Students were confronted with the following challenges: (1) data were nowhere to find, (2) the author did not respond to queries for data, (3) the authors did not remember where they stored their files, (4) methods were not clearly described, (5) it was not clear how raw data were transformed, and (6) statistical models remained opaque.
This irreproducibility across all fields led to extreme frustration among students – and it demonstrated consequences of lack of transparency. Even the experienced Teaching Assistants were surprised at the challenges students had to face.
This is not to say that the Replication Workshop is an exercise in frustration.
In student feedback, many reported that they learned much more about statistical methods than in any standard statistics course. They also got experience in how authors make decisions about the analysis that never make it into the polished versions of published work. In feedback, one student wrote that the course “taught me so much about how to publish legitimate and correct research. I cannot wait to apply my knowledge from this course to other projects."
One student will present his results at the International Studies Association Annual Convention this year, while others plan to embed their experience as a pilot study in their PhD. Several students are hoping to publish their replication study as the first article in their academic career.
With the Replication Workshop, Cambridge is one of the first universities to combine practical replication with learning about reproducibility standards for graduate students. Only when more universities nurture a reproducibility and replication culture in their teaching, can we ensure that the gold standard of reliable, credible and valid results is upheld.
Nicole Janz teaches research methods at the Social Sciences Research Methods Centre. She writes about reproducibility and data sharing on her academic blog Political Science Replication and comments on twitter (@polscireplicate).
Quality standards in the sciences have recently been heavily criticised in the academic community and the mass media. Scandals involving fraud, errors or misconduct have stirred a debate on reproducibility that calls for fundamental changes in the way research is done. As a new teaching course at Cambridge shows, the best way to bring about change is to start in the classroom, explains course instructor Nicole Janz.
Nicole Janz developed the Replication Workshop in 2012/13 as a new way to teach statistics and reproducibility at the same time. The course is open to graduate students, and it is funded by the Social Sciences Research Methods Centre. All class materials (syllabus, handouts, assignments, students’ final assignments) are freely available here: Dataverse.
Three centuries ago, young men from the British upper classes were sent on the Grand Tour to complete their education and prepare for their futures as cultured members of polite society. Often in the company of tutors, they followed a route that typically took them on a journey across Europe, from Paris to the Mediterranean, where they mingled with other privileged elites, visited sites of cultural and historical importance, and explored natural wonders.
"The Europe of the 18th century– the so-called Age of Enlightenment – is in many ways a watershed in cultural and social history,” said Margaret Carlyle, a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science. “It marks the beginning of modernity in terms of global travel and knowledge exchange, as well as the development of the medical sciences as we know them. The Grand Tour undertaken by privileged young men was part of that bigger desire for novel experiences and broadened perspectives.”
On 17 February, Carlyle will give a talk titled ‘Skeletons in the cabinet and the Grand Tour of anatomy’ that will open a window into her research into Enlightenment anatomy. In particular, she will discuss how an upturn in tourism, fuelled by the acquisition of curious specimens (such as skeletons) contributed to anatomy’s growing authority. She will look at the anatomy cabinet as a public-private space where medical learning was created and deployed, and also discuss the tension between curiosity and voyeurism as the limits of what was acceptable (or not) were increasingly pushed in the interests of knowledge.
In museums and galleries throughout the capitals of Europe, young men who embarked on the Grand Tour gazed at artistic representations of the human body in paintings, waxworks, and sculptures. Popular were the ‘Skeletons of Malefactors’ on display at the University of Leiden. Wax figures known as Venuses, found in Felice Fontana’s Florentine workshop, are mentioned in many letters and journals recounting travellers’ formative experiences. Grand tourists may well have also visited brothels where, well away from the confines of home, they would have gained (or expanded on) their early sexual experiences.
Research suggests that many young travellers also went to see smaller and less celebrated museums that displayed representations of human anatomy in the shape of skeletons (obtained by rendering down corpses), pickled body parts, and wax models of the body created to show with detailed accuracy the internal organs.
“My research explores the material side of human anatomy and the variety of spaces where new techniques and forms were developed. The ways in which self-proclaimed experts were beginning to develop ingenious ideas for teaching and experimentation are an important part of this story,” said Carlyle. "They can be described as tinkerers or technicians who toiled away in workshops, but they also undertook forms of public outreach that contributed to their growing social authority."
Particularly intriguing is the story of one Mademoiselle Biheron, a middle class Parisian who became famous for her anatomical wax models. Born in 1719, Biheron was a self-trained anatomist and entrepreneur whose museum, or ‘cabinet of curiosities’, in her house near the Sorbonne was an established, if slightly off-beat, stopping point for visitors to the capital. In a craft dominated by men, Mlle Biheron was highly unusual in being a woman.
“At this time, Florence was the centre for wax model making, and Florentine productions were highly sought-after by European aristocrats and royalty. We also know that a couple – the Morandi-Manzolinis – who were making waxworks in Bologna generated a steady flow of tourists. But it’s believed that Mlle Biheron is the only woman in Europe to establish herself independently as a modeller of wax anatomies. This makes her as striking as Mme Tussaud, who became famous in London for her wax models of royalty and celebrities,” said Carlyle.
Little is known about Biheron’s background, or how she acquired her fascination for anatomy or skills as a maker of wax works. But archives show that her display of anatomical models (shown both in her home and taken out to exhibit at learned academies) attracted significant numbers of people motivated by a desire to know more about the inner workings of the human body. Her audience included surgeons, academicians, scientists (then known as natural philosophers), artists and members of the public.
Biheron most likely obtained corpses from hospitals and graveyards, which she stored in glassed-in cabinets in her back garden. Dissections enabled her to observe and examine the parts of the body and with this knowledge she created extremely realistic models of the human body. Anatomists affiliated to the Jardin du Roi (King’s Garden) rendered down corpses on the premises by boiling them up in large vats to extract the bones which were then bleached in the sun and re-assembled as skeletons.
The vile stench of putrifaction that accompanied such processes (formaldehyde was not developed until the 19th century) was recorded with revulsion by visitors to another anatomist, Joseph-Guichard Duverney. This was at a time when Parisians would have been familiar with the noxious smells of sewage and tanning that are unfamiliar in modern cities.
“Mlle Biheron’s craftsmanship in making anatomically accurate and life-size models of, for example, a pregnant female was described as an astonishing representation. Each model would have taken months if not years to complete. They were fashioned to have cut-aways to reveal specific systems like the digestive tract and parts that you could lift out to handle,” said Carlyle.
“There’s little evidence suggesting that Mlle Biheron faced prejudice on the grounds that she was female. Indeed, it seems that she was held in high regard by contemporaries precisely because she defied expectations of the fair sex. In the early 1770s, she travelled to London where she exhibited what was described as her 'arsenal of wares' to an undoubtedly curious public, in a room close to her lodgings in the Strand. She was also invited to take her exhibits to the Hermitage to show to Catherine the Great but ill health prevented her from making this journey.”
Correspondence reveals that the French writer and philosopher Denis Diderot sent his daughter Marie-Angélique, in advance of her marriage, to see Mlle Biheron in order that she could gain a clearer idea of the male and female anatomies. “In an era when sex education as we know it was rarely discussed, Diderot was highly enlightened in his attitudes. It remains unclear if other young people were also sent to Mlle Biheron for the same purpose, but we do know that her collection included a wax penis and models showing a foetus developing in the womb,” said Carlyle.
Biheron wasn’t alone in offering a novel experience to Parisians and visitors to the capital. Behind the scenes at a natural history museum owned by the wealthy Montpellier aristocrat, Joseph Bonnier de la Mosson, was a back corridor containing adult and foetal skeletons and other daring specimens of human anatomy. Unlike his multi-faceted collection of botanicals, minerals, shells, and animals – which were exhibited to all – De la Mosson hid his collection of human anatomy behind the scenes and carefully controlled access to it.
Carlyle said: “This uneasy separation of the public and private demonstrates how the skeleton had become a powerful symbol of the new frontier of anatomy and, indeed, changing attitudes to the human body. The skeleton was mysterious, arousing, and morally compromising, but it was also becoming a domesticated object open to scrutiny and study by tourists and anatomists alike. By the end of the 18th century, the skeleton had made its way into the cabinet of scientific knowledge, and it was there to stay.”
Margaret Carlyle will talk about ‘Skeletons in the cabinet and the Grand Tour of anatomy’ on Monday, 17 February 2014, 1pm-2.15pm, Seminar Room 1, Department of History and Philosophy of Science. All welcome.
Inset images: (top and bottom) Frontispiece and Figure VII of François Tortebat’s 'Abrégé d’anatomie' (1760), Bibliothèque médicale, Poitiers, http://www.bm-poitiers.fr; (middle) Oil painting of dissected women by French anatomist Jacques-Fabien Gautier d'Agoty, Wellcome Collection, http://wellcomeimages.org.
In a talk on 17 February, Margaret Carlyle, a researcher in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, will explore the fascinating (often gruesome) development in 18th-century Paris of anatomical models and introduce her audience to a remarkable woman who made her name in a field dominated by men.
Their results – which will lead to the rewriting of biology text books worldwide – are published in the journal Cell.
Embryo development in mammals occurs in two phases. During the first phase, pre-implantation, the embryo is a small, free-floating ball of cells called a blastocyst. In the second, post-implantation, phase the blastocyst embeds itself in the mother’s uterus.
While blastocysts can be grown and studied outside the body, the same has not been true from implantation. And because embryos are so closely connected to their mothers, implantation has also been difficult to study in the womb.
According to study author Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz of the University of Cambridge: “We know a lot about pre-implantation, but what happens after implantation – and particularly the moment of implantation – is an enigma.”
Scientists are interested in studying implantation because the embryo undergoes huge changes in such a short space of time.
“During these two days, it goes from a relatively simple ball to a much larger, more complex cup-like structure, but exactly how that happens was a mystery – a black box of development. That is why we needed to develop a method that would allow us to culture and study embryos during implantation,” she explained.
Working with mouse cells, Professor Zernicka-Goetz and her colleague Dr Ivan Bedzhov succeeded in creating the right conditions outside the womb to study the implantation process.
To be able to support development, they created a system comprising a gel and medium that, as well as having the right chemical and biological properties, was of similar elasticity to uterine tissue. Crucially, this gel was transparent to optical light, allowing then to film the embryo during implantation.
This new method revealed that on its way from ball to cup, the blastocyst becomes a ‘rosette’ of wedge-shaped cells, a structure never before seen by scientists.
“It’s a beautiful structure. This rosette is what a mouse looks like on the 4th day of its life, and most likely what we look like on the 7th day of ours, and it’s fascinating how beautiful we are then, and how these small cells organise so perfectly to allow us to develop.”
As well as answering a fundamental question in developmental biology, the new method will allow scientists to study embryo growth and development at implantation for the first time, which could help improve the success of IVF, and extend our knowledge of stem cells, which could advance their use in regenerative medicine.
The findings also mean developmental biology text books will need rewriting. “The text books make an educated guess of what happened during this part of development, but we now know that what I learned and what I teach my students about this was totally wrong,” said Professor Zernicka-Goetz.
We know much about how embryos develop, but one key stage – implantation – has remained a mystery. Now, scientists from Cambridge have discovered a way to study and film this ‘black box’ of development.
The dominance of English as a global language can mask the fact that many different languages are spoken in homes across the UK. The million-plus children attending British schools who have English as an additional language (EAL children) face particular challenges – as do the teachers supporting them to integrate into the school environment and reach their educational potential.
Much of the existing research into the performance of EAL pupils has focused on the acquisition of a good level of English language. But this is only one indicator – though certainly a vital one – of their engagement and educational performance. The ways in which EAL pupils are able to access and respond to key subject areas right across the curriculum, and to feel included in school life, are also significant factors in their development.
Now, a pioneering study, instigated and funded by the Bell Foundation, is taking a look at the relationships between linguistic development, academic performance and social integration of EAL children, across the curriculum and beyond the classroom.
Led by Professor Madeleine Arnot from the University’s Faculty of Education and Dr Claudia Schneider from Anglia Ruskin University, the Bell Foundation Research Partnership includes Michael Evans, Yongcan Liu and Oakleigh Welply from the Faculty and Deb Davies-Tutt from Anglia Ruskin, bringing together expertise in second language education with sociological theories of migration. Both Arnot and Schneider have extensive experience of researching the issues that affect those children seen as outsiders and the schools they are placed in, and are experts in immigration theory, asylum policy and migration.
It’s a timely project – in the UK, the number of EAL children almost doubled between 1997 and 2010 from 505,200 to 905,620, including Eastern European migrants and refugees. “Migrant children represent the litmus test of the values underlying an educational system within a democracy,” Arnot said. “Their presence in a school highlights the degree to which compassion, caring and justice shape our education system.”
Drawing its information from real-life school environments in the East of England, the study explores the contribution that schools make in addressing the linguistic and non-linguistic needs of EAL pupils, and uncovers the links between language development, achievement and social integration at classroom level.
The researchers carried out group and individual interviews with some 40 young people, their parents and teachers as well as EAL coordinators, experts and local authority advisors. This first part of the study, which has just been completed, exposes the problems of knowing ‘what works’ for such children, how to communicate with non-English-speaking parents, how new arrivals should be assessed and supported, and whether speaking their own language in school helps or hinders.
Recent research by Dr Welply on the experience of immigrant children in France and England found that immigrant children in both countries experience school as monocultural and monolingual spaces, in which they can feel excluded but for different reasons. French primary school pupils felt excluded by the schools’ approach to linguistic or cultural differences; one pupil commented that she was not allowed to speak Arabic or practise her religion… “apparently it can attract problems,” she said. In England, it was peer-group relations that created such exclusion, despite the school’s support for linguistic diversity.
Lack of ‘belonging’ was pinpointed as a significant issue for educating refugee children in previous work by Arnot, which culminated in the publication, with co-authors Halleli Pinson and Mano Candappa, of Education, Asylum and the ‘Non-Citizen’ Child. The book highlights the experiences of refugee children and their teachers in a context that all too often demonises strangers. As one Afghani pupil said: “Some English people, they just don’t like us. If you argue with them they just tell you ‘go back to your country, why are you in England?’”
The second part of the Bell Foundation Research Partnership study has just begun. Directed jointly by Evans and Schneider, it will focus on a longitudinal tracking of linguistic and academic skills and the progress of a sample of recently arrived pupils, looking at how achievement in these areas correlates with social integration.
The densely populated East of England has a high proportion of migrant workers from the European Union and neighbouring countries. Many play a vital role in sectors such as healthcare, hospitality and agriculture. Figures for 2013 from the Department for Education show that in Cambridgeshire schools some 10% of primary pupils were EAL pupils, with a lower proportion (7.6%) of secondary pupils falling into this category. Within the East of England region as a whole, these figures were higher (12% and 8.9% respectively), reflecting the concentration of EAL pupils at schools in and around Peterborough.
“Children of these incomers enter local schools with the desire to fit in and make the most of their educational opportunities,” explained Evans. “Schools, however, often have little information about the education these new pupils have received in their home countries and the children themselves often choose not to disclose information about their previous schooling.” Whether and how this kind of information should be gathered – and whether and how it might be shared between staff within a school – is just one example of the aspects of schools’ management of EAL pupils that the current research is addressing.
To flourish, EAL students need to feel welcome and secure; an outwardly confident pupil may in reality be easily discouraged by differences in teaching methods. EAL pupils may come to the maths curriculum, for example, having learnt a particular method of calculating percentages and, on entering a different school, are confronted with an unfamiliar way of working. Many schools report that diversity in pupils significantly enriches the school environment: children of migrant families tend to be highly motivated to learn and make huge efforts to join in. Although these schools emphasise that they need additional resources to fulfil their roles in providing access to the curriculum for children whose first language is not English, their experiences of migrant children contradict the stereotyping by a sector of the media that portrays migrants as a drain on resources.
Research shows that schools can play a vital role in uniting communities and fostering understanding between different groups. “If migrant children have access to a good education in this country, even if their stay here is temporary, they will carry the experience with them wherever they live in the future,” added Arnot. “That can only be a good thing for all of us.”
Education, Asylum and the ‘Non-Citizen’ Child: The Politics of Comparison and Belonging is published by Palgrave Macmillan (2010).
Professor Madeleine Arnot and Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe are Co-Convenors of a new Cambridge Migration Research Network.
We live in a multilingual society. More than a million children attending British schools speak more than 360 languages between them in addition to English. An exploratory study is looking at the needs of these children and their schools within and beyond the classroom.
Published in the BMJ, the large-scale modelling study found the scheme increased physical activity in London and that its health benefits outweighed potential negative impacts from injury and exposure to air pollution.
The researchers from Cambridge, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and UCL used data from every journey made on a Boris bike for the 12 months between April 2011 and March 2012.
They combined this with information from surveys of cycle hire users and data on travel, physical activity, road traffic collisions and air pollution in central London.
The results showed that men and the relatively few older cyclists (45 and older) who use the scheme achieve the most pronounced benefits, while women and younger riders do not benefit as much.
“When the cycle hire scheme was introduced, there were widespread concerns that increasing the number of inexperienced cyclists in central London would lead to higher injury rates,” says senior author Dr Anna Goodman of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
“Our findings are reassuring, as we found no evidence of this. On the contrary, our findings suggest that the scheme has benefited the health of Londoners and that cycle hire users are certainly not at higher risk than other cyclists.”
The study compared the effects of the cycle hire scheme against the likely mode of transport (tube, bus, walking, etc) if the cycle hire scheme did not exist. They looked at two scenarios for injury rates - from reported accidents and injuries among cycle hire users, as well as background rates of injuries and deaths among all cyclists in central London.
The benefits of the cycle hire scheme substantially outweighed the harms when weighed against observed injury rates for hired bikes.
When injury rates for all cycling in central London were used as a comparison, the benefits were smaller and disappeared entirely for women. This is due to higher death rates among female cyclists following collisions with HGVs in London), and a trend towards lower injury rates on cycle hire bikes than for cyclists in general in the area covered by the scheme.
The study points out that reducing risks faced by cyclists, and encouraging older people to make more use of Boris bikes, would boost health benefits even further.
According to lead author Dr James Woodcock of the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR): “If cycling in central London was as safe as in cities in the Netherlands, the health benefits from initiatives like the cycle hire scheme would be far more substantial.
“The Netherlands manages to achieve high levels of cycling with low risks, not by focusing on helmets and hi-vis, but by providing high quality infrastructure that physically protects cyclists from busy, fast moving traffic.”
Launched in 2010, the London cycle hire scheme now has 10,000 bikes and 723 stations across the capital. Although there are similar cycle sharing schemes in more than 600 cities in 49 countries, there is limited evidence so far on the health impact of these schemes.
Physical inactivity has been linked previously with a wide range of health problems including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia, depression and many forms of cancer. Research suggests that most people in London would benefit from increasing their activity levels and cycling offers a good opportunity to integrate this activity into everyday life.
Affectionately known as ‘Boris bikes’, the capital’s cycle hire scheme has had a positive overall impact on Londoners' health, says a new study.
In December 2011, when economic turmoil was sweeping through Europe, the Woolf Institute and the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome organised a meeting between the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, and Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.
Following the Papal Audience, Lord Sacks delivered a lecture and stated that, “when Europe recovers its soul, it will recover its wealth-creating energies. But first it must remember: humanity was not created to serve markets. Markets were created to serve humankind.” He identified the breakdown of trust as a cause of the economic crisis and pointed out that that the key words in the financial markets are spiritual: “credit” (from “credo”) and “confidence” (from “confidere”).
In the months that followed the papal audience, Woolf Institute staff, led by Drs Shana Cohen and Ed Kessler, began to prepare a European-wide research project to address public and academic concerns related to trustworthiness; in particular, the aim was to explore the practical importance of trust and its placement within social relations, especially across ethno-religious differences. The title ‘Intelligent Trust’ was adopted from a concept put forward by philosopher Baroness Onora O’Neill and her argument that “trustworthiness rather than trust should be our first concern.”
The economic crisis in Europe since 2007 has provoked substantial discussion within the public sphere regarding the decline of trust in the State and major private institutions like banks. Institutions are now charged with ‘restoring confidence’. For instance, banks should refrain from aggressive sales tactics to push high-risk products, which prioritise self-interest over the benefit of consumers. The implication here is that, to become trustworthy again, commercial institutions should prioritise the interests of those who rely upon them over (or even to the exclusion of) profits.
In contrast to public concern for the institutional practice of trustworthiness, academic research and philosophical debate have focused on more abstract, or non-contextual, questions of how individuals place trust (or mistrust) within interpersonal relations. Here, the individual trusting decides whether the trustee (i.e. the person trusted) will perform to expectations in the particular area in question (financial transaction, taking care of the children, and so on). The individual placing trust takes a risk and elects to become vulnerable to the trustee’s consequent actions.
In the project, we asked if and how community and faith-based initiatives in London, Paris, Berlin and Rome integrate trust and trustworthiness in their activities to improve their practical effectiveness. Across the four cities, the project compared the role of trustworthiness and trust among three different types of initiatives aimed at increasing local social and economic resources, individual aspirations and personal growth: interreligious understanding, social action and business associations. The research identified and investigated the significance of qualities associated with trustworthiness – for instance, reliability and honesty – demonstrating trustworthiness, and placing trust to the functioning, sustainability and impact of each type of initiative.
Our project addressed a gap in ethnographic research on the practical role of trust and trustworthiness at a critical moment for understanding how individuals of different ethno-religious backgrounds in Europe learn to trust each other and how community-building initiatives in deprived areas enhance individual growth.
In Europe, the far right is becoming stronger politically and anti-immigrant rhetoric is becoming more pervasive. Marginalisation of religious practice in public space, particularly regarding Islam, has also become more prominent across the region. At the same time, public sector cuts and increasing deprivation and unemployment in Europe have resulted in clergy and lay leaders becoming more prominent advocates for vulnerable populations, and community and faith-based social action has become vital in addressing basic human and social needs – demonstrated by the dramatic expansion of church-run food banks in the UK, for example.
Our preliminary research suggests that community-level responses to austerity are making trust and trustworthiness an integral part of their operations and aims, emphasising honesty, reliability and competence. In providing this kind of data on the practice and practical importance of trust at a local level, the project should prove valuable to community leaders and policy makers seeking to improve the effectiveness of local cooperation not only in the areas included in the study but also beyond.
In emphasising the relation between character development and the integration of trust and trustworthiness into organisational practises, the research may also demonstrate that changes to practises in other sectors, like banking, may have profound implications for the development of individual qualities like honesty and reliability.
Our hope as well is that the research project will shed light both on how relations between different ethno-religious groups are evolving in communities under economic pressure and the practical importance of trustworthiness and trust within community responses to these pressures. By integrating analysis of attitudes and behaviour between individuals of different faiths (and none) with community-based work in an era of austerity, the project may indicate ways to advance simultaneously interfaith relations and individual opportunities and welfare at a local level. In addition, by including theology in the multidisciplinary project, the Intelligent Trust research project will contribute to efforts to regain momentum towards a genuine interfaith conversation.
Drs Shana Cohen and Ed Kessler are at the Woolf Institute (www.woolf.cam.ac.uk/), which is dedicated to the study of relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Shana Cohen and Ed Kessler discuss how individuals of different ethno-religious backgrounds in Europe can learn to trust each other, and how community-building initiatives in deprived areas can enhance the resilience of society.
In 1995 members of a religious cult called Aum Shinirikyo carried out a Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway that killed two station staff and injured several hundred people. One of those questioned by the police as a member of the cult was Dr Hayashi Ikuo. During interviews, Ikuo made a voluntary decision to confess his involvement in the attack. He was later sentenced to indefinite imprisonment.
In an autobiography written in prison, Ikuo described his feelings about his interrogation by police before standing trial: “At that time, I felt reassured by the fact that I had someone who would understand my true intentions without prejudice. I thought I could trust Mr I and Mr F [police interrogators]. I made up my mind to tell them everything I knew.”
Prize-winning research undertaken in Japan by Dr Taeko Wachi, while a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, suggests that a ‘relationship-based’ interviewing style in which interrogators listen closely and attempt to form good relationships with suspects is more likely to elicit true confessions than other styles.
Dr Wachi’s research comprised three studies of attitudes to, and experiences of, police interviewing in Japan. The first study explored information on interrogation techniques gathered from almost 280 police officers. The analysis of questionnaires led to the identification of four interview styles: evidence-focused, confrontational, undifferentiated and relationship-focused.
The second study was a ‘crime experiment’ in which more than 230 members of the public took part. It was designed to reveal which of the interviewing techniques identified in the first study were most likely to elicit true confessions and prevent false confessions. Overall, 74 out of 114 ‘guilty’ participants confessed to their notional ‘crime’ but none of the ‘innocent’ participants made false confessions. Relationship-focused interviewing was most likely to elicit a confession.
The third study examined questionnaires from more than 290 offenders in 36 prisons. All of them had been convicted of serious crimes including murder, rape and kidnapping. This third study – which was administered by means of a questionnaire – was the first of its kind in Japan and thus broke new ground in terms of identifying which interviewing styles led offenders to confess.
Again, relationship-focused interviewing was particularly effective in eliciting confessions from suspects who had not decided, before interrogation, whether or not to confess their crimes or had decided to deny the allegations against them.
The research suggested that the relationship-based interviewing style has a positive effect on both police officers’ and suspects’ feelings after interrogation. Those offenders who confessed to crimes during a relationship-based interview did so as the result of internal pressures, such as “I confessed because I felt guilty about the crime”, rather than external pressures, such as “I confessed because of police pressure during the interview”.
In view of the lack of in-depth research into investigative interviewing techniques in Japan, Dr Wachi’s work makes a significant contribution to understanding the wide number of factors that affect this complex process. It should be noted, however, that most participants in the study were male.
As Dr Wachi points out, there are significant differences, as well as similarities, between the structure of criminal processes in Japan and those in Western Europe and the USA. In Japan the law allows for suspects to be held for 23 days before initiating prosecution: this maximum detention period contrasts with 24 hours (generally) in the UK, 48 hours in Hong Kong and just four hours in Australia.
It has thus been argued that interrogations play a much more important role in Japanese criminal investigations than in other countries. In recent years, several high-profile false confessions have drawn attention to the possible impact of interviewing techniques on suspects’ feelings and decisions about confessions and denials. Training of police officers in interviewing is being stepped up.
Interestingly, the Japanese public (in addition to crime victims and their families) exhibits a strong desire for offenders to talk about their criminal motives and explain their criminal acts. Interrogation meets this public interest by helping offenders to give accounts of their cases in detail.
Last month it was announced that Dr Wachi had won first place in the 2013 American Psychology-Law Society Dissertation Awards. As part of her prize she is invited to attend, and present a poster at, the AP-LS Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana in March, 2014. The AP-LS committee reviewers described her dissertation as “highly original… because of the breadth of interrogation factors it addresses”.
An impressive aspect of the research was Dr Wachi’s design and implementation of a crime experiment which was tested on a range of people recruited from the general public, widely varying in age and from a diversity of backgrounds. In contrast, previous crime experiments have used university students who tend to be from a narrow age range and educational level.
At Cambridge, Dr Wachi’s research was supervised by Professor Michael Lamb of the Department of Psychology. He said: “I was delighted to hear that Taeko had won this award. Her persuasive study was comprehensive and very significant, especially because we are increasingly aware of the risks that false confessions may lead to the conviction and incarceration of innocent people. Taeko’s findings add to the growing body of evidence that more humane rather than coercive interviewing practices are likely to elicit confessions from guilty individuals, a pattern evident in Western countries, too.”
Dr Wachi has been working for the National Research Institute of Police Science (attached to the National Police Agency, Japan) since 2005. She was able to study for a PhD at Cambridge thanks to a scholarship from the Japanese Government Long-Term Overseas Fellowship Program.
Her background gave her the advantage of an in-depth understanding of, and close working relationship with, the National Police Agency, Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office and Ministry of Justice, which enabled her to conduct the studies of police officers and prisoners.
Dr Wachi is currently conducting research into interrogations of those with learning disabilities as well as on public opinions about interviewing techniques. She intends to continue her research into criminal investigation on behalf of the National Police Agency by providing scientific findings about interrogations of various types of suspects.
For more information about this story contact Alexandra Buxton, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge, firstname.lastname@example.org, 01223 761673
Award-winning research into police interviewing techniques in Japan reveals that a ‘relationship-based’ style may be particularly effective in eliciting true confessions. The research included the first ever study of Japanese offenders’ views about police interrogation.
The study, published inProceedings of the National Academies of Science, identified the first biomarker for major, or clinical, depression. This ‘biological signpost’ could mean boys at greatest risk of depression are treated earlier.
Clinical depression affects one in six people at some point in their lives. Until now, however, doctors have lacked a biomarker for clinical depression, partly because its causes and symptoms are so varied.
According to Professor Ian Goodyer of the University’s Department of Psychiatry who led the study: “Through our research, we now have a very real way of identifying those teenage boys most likely to develop clinical depression. This will help us strategically target preventions and interventions at these individuals and hopefully help reduce their risk of serious episodes of depression and their consequences in adult life.”
The researchers collected spit samples from hundreds of teenagers and measured levels of cortisol in the saliva, as well as self-reported information on symptoms of depression. This they used to divide the teenagers into one of four groups depending on their cortisol levels and symptoms of depression.
After following the group for 12 to 36 months, they were then able to work out which group was most likely to develop clinical depression and other psychiatric disorders.
They found boys with high levels of cortisol and depressive symptoms were 14 times more likely to develop clinical depression than those with neither. In girls, however, this difference was less marked. Girls with high cortisol and depressive symptoms were four times more likely to develop clinical depression than those with neither, suggesting gender differences in how depression develops.
The researchers hope that having an easily measurable biomarker – in this case, raised cortisol plus depressive symptoms – will allow primary care services to identify boys at high risk and consider new public mental health strategies for this part of the population.
“This new biomarker suggests that we may be able to offer a more personalised approach to tackling boys at risk for depression,” said co-author Dr Matthew Owens.
“This could be a much needed way of reducing the number of people suffering from depression, and in particular stemming a risk at a time when there has been an increasing rate of suicide amongst teenage boys and young men.”
Teenage boys with symptoms of depression and raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol are up to 14 times more likely to develop major depression than those without these traits, Cambridge researchers have found.
On a steamy day in late January Dr Sarah Nouwen tapped gently on the door of a government minister in central Kampala, capital of Uganda, and walked unannounced into his office. The minister looked up from his papers and smiled. “Ah Sarah,” he said. “You’ve come back.”
Nouwen had first sat in the same office in 2008 when she was researching a book that looks at the relationship between domestic and international criminal processes in Uganda and Sudan. After only three brief encounters over six years, she was astonished that the minister both recognised her and remembered why she had come to interview him. “He continued: ‘Sarah, you're the one working on the International Criminal Court’. And as I handed him a copy of my book I felt a hugely satisfactory sense of completing a circle. It was to become a familiar feeling in the following ten days,” she says.
When Nouwen embarked on the research that led to the publication of Complementarity in the Line of Fire (Cambridge University Press, 2013) she was nervously aware that she was undertaking a formidable – and often frustratingly difficult – task that in order to succeed would rely on the goodwill and trust of hundreds of people, varying from government ministers to displaced persons, from military intelligence officers to human rights activists. Her sense of trepidation was well-founded: she covered more than 100,000 miles to reach the many people she needed to talk to.
With the subtitle The Catalysing Effect of the International Criminal Court in Uganda and Sudan, the book is aimed at everyone with an interest in international criminal justice – and will, hopes Nouwen, provide a line-of-fire perspective to what has remained a predominantly theoretical discourse, based on great expectations, but backed up by little empirical evidence.
“In order to assess whether the International Criminal Court had indeed had this great impact on domestic justice systems that many scholars had expected, I needed to interview a wide range of people and ask them about the drivers of change. Given the sensitivity of the International Criminal Court in some situations, I could not mention the subject matter of my research at all. It was like researching football, without ever mentioning the word football,” she says.
Nouwen’s research depended on the generosity of more than 500 individuals in giving her their time, insights and experiences. However, from the outset she was concerned about a very apparent gap in reciprocity. She told herself that once the book was published she would personally deliver copies to as many as possible of the people who had helped her as a way of showing her appreciation and sharing her findings.
“The post-conflict environment of Uganda has proved to be a magnet for researchers from the West. Against a backdrop of the rapacity of colonialism, there is an understandable feeling that some of these visitors are exploiting information – the last possession of some interviewees. Researchers arrive, they carry out their research, and then they disappear. Although a copy of the book will do little to improve the lives of those in difficult circumstances, it is the least that I could and should give back,” she says.
In January, Nouwen flew to Uganda where the Refugee Law Project had set up a series of book launches in the capital as well as in Gulu and Kitgum in northern Uganda, for a long time the epicentre of the conflict involving the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan government that is subject to the International Criminal Court’s investigations. She took with her 100 copies of her book to place in the hands of the people who had contributed their experiences and insights to the detailed picture it paints of the role of the ICC in Uganda.
“All the people whom I had interviewed, media, NGOs, community leaders and interested members of the public were invited to the launches – and at each one I gave a brief presentation of the findings most relevant to Uganda. It was a very rewarding experience. Firstly, it was great fun to see people again with whom I had such intense dialogues over the years. Secondly, it gave me an opportunity to account for my choices in research methods and analysis of the material people had provided me with. And finally, possibly most importantly, the debates at the launches spurred new insights, new questions and new initiatives, for many of those present. Hopefully, in this way, the book will have its own ‘catalysing effect’.”
Lyandro Komakech, Senior Research and Advocacy Officer of the Refugee Law Project, enthusiastically helped Nouwen in returning her book to its Ugandan sources. “From now on, we will tell all researchers that they have to follow this precedent,” he said.
The International Criminal Court (ICC), established in 2002 by means of the Rome Statute, is a permanent international tribunal to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. It is best known to the general public for its prosecution of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta – but its relationship with the domestic criminal systems of its signatories is often overlooked and misunderstood. A defining feature of the ICC is the principle of complementarity: the Court is meant to function as a back-stop court, exercise its jurisdiction only when national courts are not genuinely investigating or prosecuting such crimes.
Scholars and practitioners alike believed that this feature of the ICC would encourage states to conduct more criminal proceedings domestically. It is specifically this great expectation of a catalysing effect of the principle of complementarity that Nouwen set out to test in Uganda (a state party to the Rome Statute) and Sudan (a signatory which later revoked its signature).
Today Nouwen is a lecturer in international law in the Law Faculty at the University of Cambridge but before she embarked upon a PhD she was a consultant for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Her background was in both law and international relations.
“My decision to examine the question of complementarity goes back to a conversation I had in my capacity as diplomat with a Sudanese official in the Ministry of Justice. It was 2005, just after the situation in Darfur had been referred to the ICC, and he asked me to help organising some training in international criminal law and specifically the principle of complementarity,” she remembers. “His questions led directly to my decision to examine for my PhD how the principle of complementarity plays out in practice in two countries where international crimes have been committed.”
The journey that followed was one filled with obstacles, ranging from practical issues such as endless waiting for travel permits, visas and appointments, to existential questions about security, research ethics, privilege and complicity. In a recent article in the Leiden Journal of International Law on the ‘story behind the story’, Nouwen argues that many of these challenges are findings in themselves. She writes: “The challenges in the research provided insights into the role of law in a society, the limitations of vocabularies, the overexposure of international criminal law and inequalities in global knowledge production.”
The resulting book reveals that complementarity has catalysed all kinds of effects in Uganda and Sudan. “Crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction were incorporated into domestic law, even in Sudan, a state not party to the Rome Statute. Domestic courts specialising in international crimes proliferated,” says Nouwen.
“Some less predicted effects emerged too. Adultery – where committed ‘within the framework of a methodical and widespread attack’ – was included in the list of crimes against humanity. Mini-ICCs mimicked the ICC not just in subject-matter jurisdiction but also in terms of budget, discourse and audience. ‘Traditional’ practices were rediscovered, reframed and rebranded. In peace negotiations, rebel movements demanded accountability instead of amnesty. The transitional-justice economy boomed.”
Nouwen reveals that many of these effects have been spurred by a misrepresentation of the meaning of complementarity. “Complementarity has lived a double life. In legal proceedings, it merely is a technical rule determining the admissibility of cases before the ICC. But scholars, activists and even ICC officials have imbued it with meanings far beyond the legal rule. NGOs, for instance, have explained complementarity as requiring all kinds of things that have little to do with complementarity as an admissibility criterion” she says.
“The ICC itself has contributed to norm confusion by using the term in its literal rather than legal meaning, when explaining complementarity as requiring a ‘division of labour’ rule, whereby the international court handles the most serious cases and domestic court only the less serious cases. Whereas such a division-of-labour is common in the relationship between international and domestic courts, it has nothing to do with complementarity, which is a rule of priority in case of competing claims to jurisdiction in the same case.”
Nouwen argues that there is a fundamental paradox at the heart of the Rome Statute: it refers to a state’s duty to exercise criminal jurisdiction over international crimes while at the same time establishing a court on the assumption that states fail to investigate and prosecute. “Complementarity stresses the responsibility of states to investigate and prosecute. However, in its implementation to date the Rome Statute has projected the ICC as an institution to take over from states the responsibility to investigate and prosecute conflict related crimes, thus eroding the pressure on states to fulfil that responsibility.”
Ugandan and British lawyer Barney Afako, who wrote the preface to the book, describes Nouwen’s story as an “intimate and respectful `fly on the wall’ account”. Nouwen realises that this fly-on-the-wall account will not delight everyone: “Some of the people to whom I presented the book, and were so pleased to receive it, may not be so happy once they have read it as it critically discusses the moves of all actors involved, whether the ICC, government officials or NGOs. But then again, that critical perspective is the scholar’s most persuasive business card.”
Complementarity in the Line of Fire by Sarah M H Nouwen is published by Cambridge University Press.
For more information about this story contact Alexandra Buxton, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge email@example.com tel 01223 761673
Inset images: logistics officer Fred Ssekand and Lyandro Komakech, both Refugee Law Project; Sarah Nouwen delivering copies of her book; booklaunch at Refugee Law Project in Gulu with Okello Douglas Peter, district speaker.
As a researcher in Uganda and Sudan, law specialist Dr Sarah Nouwen became increasingly aware of the ‘one-way’ nature of her fieldwork. She vowed that she would return with the book that depended on the generosity of so many people. In January she did just that.
High levels of the stress hormone cortisol may contribute to the risk aversion and ‘irrational pessimism’ found among bankers and fund managers during financial crises, according to a new study.
The study’s authors say that risk takers in the financial world exhibit risk averse behaviour during periods of extreme market volatility – just when a crashing market most needs them to take risks – and that this change in their appetite for risk may be “physiologically-driven”, specifically by the body’s response to cortisol. They suggest that stress could be an “under-appreciated” cause of market instability.
Published today in the journalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study conducted at the Cambridge Judge Business School and the University’s Institute of Metabolic Science is the first to show that personal financial risk preferences fluctuate substantially, and these fluctuations may be linked to hormone response.
The finding could fundamentally alter our understanding of risk as, up until now, almost every model in finance and economics – even those used by banks and central banks – rested on the assumption that traders’ personal risk preferences stay consistent across the market cycle, say the authors.
In a previous study conducted with real traders in the City of London, researchers observed that cortisol levels rose 68% over a two week period when market volatility increased. In the latest study they combined field work with lab work, a rare approach in economics, to test for the effects of this elevated cortisol on financial risk-taking.
The researchers administered hydrocortisone – the pharmaceutical form of cortisol – to 36 volunteers, 20 men and 16 women, aged 20 to 36 years, over an eight day period, raising their cortisol levels 69%: almost exactly the levels seen in the traders.
The volunteers took part in lottery-style financial risk-taking tasks with real monetary pay-offs, designed to measure the preferences for risky gambles and the judgments of probability underlying their risk taking. While initial spikes of cortisol had little effect on behaviour, chronically high and sustained levels, as seen in traders, led to a dramatic drop in participants’ willingness to take risks, with the ‘risk premium’ – the amount of extra risk someone will tolerate for the possibility of higher return – falling by 44%.
“Any trader knows that their body is taken on a rollercoaster ride by the markets. What we haven’t known until this study was that these physiological changes - the sub-clinical levels of stress of which we are only dimly aware - are actually altering our ability to take risk,” said Dr John Coates, co-lead of the study from the Cambridge Judge Business School, and a former Wall Street derivatives trader himself.
“It is frightening to realise that no one in the financial world – not the traders, not the risk managers, not the central bankers – knows that these subterranean shifts in risk appetite are taking place.”
Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands in response to moments of high physical stress, such as ‘fight or flight’. Importantly, cortisol also rises powerfully in situations of uncertainty, such as volatility in the financial markets. Cortisol prepares us for possible action by releasing glucose and free fatty acids into the blood. It also suppresses any bodily functions not needed during a crisis - such as the digestive, reproductive, and immune systems.
However, should this stress become chronic, as it might during a prolonged financial crisis, the elevated cortisol can contribute to impaired learning, heightened anxiety, and eventually depression. The current study has now shown that in addition to these known pathologies, chronic stress can also lead to a substantial decrease in the willingness to take financial risks, say the researchers.
They also suggest that an unsuspected side effect of anti-inflammatory treatments such as prednisone may be financial risk aversion.
The study’s authors also looked for differences between men and women. While other researchers have argued that women are more risk averse than men, the current study found no differences between the sexes under normal circumstances. However, the study did find that, when exposed to chronically-raised levels of cortisol, men placed too much importance on smaller risks, while women did not.
The authors point out that during the Credit Crisis of 2007 to 2009 volatility in US equities spiked from 12% to over 70%. They argue that it is reasonable to assume that such historically high levels of uncertainty would have caused stress hormones to rise far higher and longer than the team had been able to observe in their study.
Chronic stress may therefore have decreased risk taking just when the economy needed it most – when markets were crashing and needed traders and investors to buy distressed assets, they say.
Physiologically-driven shifts in risk preferences may be a source of financial market instability that hasn’t been considered by economists, risk managers and central bankers alike.
Added Coates: “Traders, risk managers, and central banks cannot hope to manage risk if they do not understand that the drivers of risk taking lurk deep in our bodies. Risk managers who fail to understand this will have as little success as fire fighters spraying water at the tips of flames.”
New study’s findings overturn theory of personal risk preference as a ‘stable trait’, and show that real source of instability in risk behaviour “lurks deep in the physiology of traders and investors”.
Scientists have successfully tested a new way of using miniscule fragments of diamond to transmit information, a method which could eventually lead to the development of new computing and sensing technologies.
The research, reported today (Tuesday, 18 February, 2014) in the journal Nature Communications involved exploiting atomic defects which appear in the crystal structure of a diamond, known to physicists as “vacancy centres”.
These are literally vacancies – gaps in the lattice of carbon atoms which make up diamond at its most fundamental level. They usually occur around an impurity, where instead of a carbon atom, some other element has naturally found its way into the structure.
For scientists, vacancy centres offer huge promise because they trap electrons which could then be manipulated to transmit information in a radically new way. Eventually, the technique could enable the development of quantum networks and quantum computing; a means of moving data far more efficiently and quickly than computers do today.
Yet the perfect vacancy centre is hard to come by, because it needs to possess a combination of very precise characteristics which are rarely found together. The new study marks a breakthrough because researchers managed to access the state of the electrons around a vacancy centre based on silicon – something which had not been done before – and discovered that it has some of the crucial qualities that they have been looking for.
The work was carried out by a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge, UK, and Saarland University, in Germany.
Dr Mete Atatüre, a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge, who co-led the project with Professor Christoph Becher, said: “This is something that our community has been working on for years, but really we are still just at the beginning. The main advantage of the silicon vacancy centre is that its internal state is transferred to better quality photons, with a cleaner spectrum, when compared with other sources.”
Diamonds are naturally full of impurities, of which hundreds of different types exist. Their appearance within the carbon structure change the diamond’s properties and it is their interaction with light that gives a diamond its colour. “Ironically, what makes diamond precious is the fact that it’s impure,” Atatüre said. “Synthetic diamond, grown in lab conditions so that is completely pure, looks like a piece of glass; there’s nothing attractive about it visually.”
By isolating the impurity in a microscopic fragment of diamond, researchers can hold the electrons trapped in the vacancy in a single place, and then manipulate them.
They are trying to change a property of the electrons known as“spin”, a reference to their momentum, which can either point up or down. The idea behind quantum computing is to control the spin of electrons so that the up and down spins correspond to the 0s and 1s that represent information in binary code. The information is then transmitted with photons, so that it can be registered somewhere else.
Potentially, the technique would enable the development of super-fast computers, and effectively transmitting information from the electrons trapped in the vacancy centre is therefore the holy grail of this type of research.
Doing it successfully, however, depends on the type of vacancy centre being used. First the spin properties must be good enough to make them usable. Then the imprint of that spin, which decays in a matter of microseconds, needs to last long enough for it to be transmitted – a factor known as “coherence”. Finally, the photons – the light particles which actually convey the information – need to be high quality with clean spectral properties.
“What we’re looking for is a vacancy centre that behaves well in terms of its spin, has long coherence, and a photon that is bright enough and on a sufficiently narrow bandwidth to be useful,” Atatüre explained.
Most current research of this type uses nitrogen as the impurity in the diamond. Nitrogen vacancy centres are very abundant, and their spin properties are extremely good. Unfortunately, their optical properties are less spectacular – the broad bandwidth of their optical signature means that the imprint the electron spin leaves on the photon is lost in the vast majority of cases.
In the new study, the two research teams opted to use silicon instead, because it looked to have more promising optical qualities. This was first added to lab-grown diamonds. Next, the team used a combination of magnetic field and polarised light to access the spin of the electrons trapped in the silicon vacancy centre.
As well as being able to observe quantum states within the diamond, they also found that the fluorescence was brighter than many other systems and had a narrower bandwidth. This enabled them to correlate the spin properties of the trapped electron with the properties of the emitted photon. As a result, the Saarland and Cambridge research teams were then able to carry out further research assessing fully the electronic structure of the defect itself (published last month in Physical Review Letters).
Future research will focus on reversing the process, and directing laser light at the diamond itself in an effort to manipulate the spin into arbitrary quantum states, in an effort to maximise the potential of silicon vacancy centres.
Although the driving potential of such work for many researchers remains quantum technologies, the optical qualities of spin-based devices could also be exploited to create microscopically-small nano-scale sensors. These could not only be used to monitor and fix nanoelectronic devices, but also to unlock the secrets of biological cells, including our own.
“If we are less blinkered than just using this research to develop quantum computing, the potential to develop new types of sensors is huge,” Atatüre added. “In biology, we still do not understand the complexity of much of what is happening inside a single cell. This research could enable us eventually to see what goes on inside cells at an atomic level.”
For more information about this story, please contact Tom Kirk, Tel: +44 (0)1223 768377, firstname.lastname@example.org
Defects in microscopic diamonds caused by the presence of silicon could provide researchers with a potent basis for developing new technologies, including nanoscale sensing devices.
Public debate about women and their rights in Islam is often clouded by controversy and over-simplified. From 10 to 13 March, leading academic and media commentator Mona Siddiqui will be at Cambridge University to give a series of public lectures on Islamic thought, and its reflections on women in law, and wider religious questions.
As the Humanitas Visiting Professor of Women’s Rights 2014, Siddiqui will be joined in a final symposium by a distinguished panel of novelists, journalists and academics.
Siddiqui’s lecture on 10 March will address the question, ‘Can You Text A Divorce?’ as a starting point for an exploration of women’s rights in Islamic law and society. On 11 March, she will examine the significance of the fact that Mary is mentioned with greater frequency in the Qu’ran than in the New Testament, and ask whether, in light of this inter-faith commonality, Mary has a role to play in Muslim-Christian relations.
On 12 March, Siddiqui will address the diverse ways that women are represented in Islamic thought and literature, and ask whether the reality of women’s lives lies somewhere between the feminine and the feminist. All three lectures start at 5pm in the Mill Lane Lecture theatre. They are free and open to all, with no booking required.
In a concluding symposium on 13 March, Siddiqui will be joined by: Haifa Zangana, Kurdish-Iraqi novelist and former prisoner of Saddam Hussein’s regime; Elif Shafak, best-selling Turkish author, columnist, speaker and academic; Razia Iqbal, BBC arts correspondent; and Cambridge academic Professor Ash Amin. This event too is open to the public and free of charge although, unlike the lectures, it requires advance registration at www.crassh.cam.ac.uk.
The first Muslim holder of the Professorship of Islamic and Interreligious Studies at the University of Edinburgh, Siddiqui has long combined academic life with her role as a media commentator. Talking to Kirsty Young on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2012, she said: “I’ve never shied away from talking about issues I’ve thought were important, even if they were controversial.”
She went on to explain that, as an academic benefiting from the intellectual freedom of working at a university, she felt it was her duty to share her scholarly insights with the public. For Siddiqi, being a good citizen involves a sense of belonging where “one should feel the desire to contribute to society with words and actions”.
Siddiqui’s remarkable intellectual independence stems from her childhood which was, in some ways, removed from both the community from whence her parents came and that which they entered when left Pakistan to settle in the UK. She was only five when they left Karachi. After a year in Cambridge, the family moved to Huddersfield where her father worked as a psychiatrist. It was a household full of books where the discussion of ideas was encouraged.
A love of languages, which was shared by her father, led Siddiqui to take a first degree in Arabic and French. She went on study for a PhD in Classical Islamic Law and, while her primary interest remains Islamic jurisprudence and ethics, she also became deeply interested in Christian-Islamic relations.
Siddiqui is first and foremost a scholar and inspiring teacher. However, she has also boldly stepped into the public arena where she has found a niche as a calm and reasoned voice. She feels that many of the debates about religion, in general, and Islam, in particular, are too superficial. Focus on the veil as the most visible symbol of a kind of religiosity has eclipsed discussions about more important ethical and legal matters. In her radio broadcasts she is keen to address a wide range of issues and argues that too many of our debates are polarised by simplistic divisions between religion and secularism.
She is also outspoken against what she has described as the worst excesses of religious teaching which “hovers like a spectre over society in many Islamic countries” where dissenting voices are silenced and human rights – including those of women – are quashed. Last month, Siddiqui devoted her slot on the BBC’s Thought for the Day to drawing public attention to a bill in Afghanistan which, if passed, could make it harder to prosecute men who have abused female members of their families.
She said: “Scriptural verses which talk of mercy and love between husband and wife are easily eclipsed by those which speak of authority and force. Some Muslim philosophers argued that you could never have true justice in this world however much you struggled for it. But it seems to me that it is precisely the struggle for justice, whether it’s between men and women or state and society which brings out the best in us as human beings. Silence here is not an option.”
Siddiqui’s talks in Cambridge will draw on the scholarship that informs her published work. Her most recent book – Christians, Muslims, and Jesus (Yale University Press, 2013) – has received international acclaim both for its scholarship and its creation of a frame work for positive dialogue between the two faith communities which, despite their doctrines, have much in common. Her current research examines the legal and theological debates around hospitality in Islam. A book charting her personal theological journey, Between Faith and Freedom, will be published in 2014.
Writing in the Guardian in 2010, she wrote: “As a Muslim who has lived most of her life in the west, I have learnt that faith speaks to faith in a process of learning and accepting, of questioning and appreciating, of self-doubt and humility. Most importantly, it has been to understand that talking about a common humanity demands much generosity in the face of practical difference. Engaging in dialogue is an extension of ihsan for me, "To act knowing that even if you cannot see him (God), he can see you."
Siddiqui is lecturing at Cambridge University as the Humanitas Visiting Professor in Women’s Rights for 2014. This is a position hosted by CRASSH (Centre for the Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities) in line with its remit to bring scholars and practitioners together from across disciplinary and institutional boundaries, to shed new light on the major questions of the day.
Humanitas is a series of Visiting Professorships at Oxford and Cambridge intended to bring leading practitioners and scholars to both universities to address major themes in the arts, social sciences and humanities. Created by Lord Weidenfeld, the programme is managed and funded by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue with the support of a series of generous benefactors, and managed in Cambridge by CRASSH. The Humanitas Visiting Professorship in Women’s Rights 2014 has been made possible by the generous support of Mrs Carol Saper.
For more information about this story contact Alexandra Buxton, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge, email@example.com 01223 761673
Inset image: photo by Senna Ahmad
Professor Mona Siddiqui will be in Cambridge from 10 to 13 March to give a series of public talks that go to the heart of the debate that surrounds Islam and rights for women. At a concluding symposium she will be joined by a panel of distinguished speakers.