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Posts By / Rachel Bowen

Present-day Lebanese descend from Biblical Canaanites, genetic study suggests

The Sidon excavation site. (A) Map shows the location of Lebanon with present-day political borders in the Near East. (B) A magnification showing the Levant region and the location of the city of Sidon. (C) Photo shows the Sidon excavation site, which included the burials of individuals studied here.

In the most recent whole-genome study of ancient remains from the Near East, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute scientists and their collaborators sequenced the entire genomes of 4,000-year-old Canaanite individuals who inhabited the region during the Bronze Age, and compared these to other ancient and present-day populations. The results, published in the August issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics suggest that present-day Lebanese are direct descendants of the ancient Canaanites.

The Near East is often described as the cradle of civilisation. The Bronze Age Canaanites, later known as the Phoenicians, introduced many aspects of society that we know today – they created the first alphabet, established colonies throughout the Mediterranean and were mentioned several times in the Bible.

However, historical records of the Canaanites are limited. They were mentioned in ancient Greek and Egyptian texts, and the Bible, which reports widespread destruction of Canaanite settlements and annihilation of the communities. Experts have long debated who the Canaanites were genetically, what happened to them, who their ancestors were, and if they had any descendants today.

In the first study of its kind, a team led by scientists of the Sanger Institute have uncovered the genetics of the Canaanite people and a firm link with people living in Lebanon today. The team discovered that more than 90 per cent of present-day Lebanese ancestry is likely to be from the Canaanites, with an additional small proportion of ancestry coming from a different Eurasian population. Researchers estimate that new Eurasian people mixed with the Canaanite population about 2,200 to 3,800 years ago at a time when there were many conquests of the region from outside.

The analysis of ancient DNA also revealed that the Canaanites themselves were a mixture of local people who settled in farming villages during the Neolithic period and eastern migrants who arrived in the area around 5,000 years ago.

The researchers sequenced whole genomes of five Canaanite individuals who lived 4,000 years ago in a city known as Sidon in present-day Lebanon were, as well as the genomes of 99 present-day Lebanese, and analysed the genetic relationship between the ancient Canaanites and modern Lebanese.

Dr Marc Haber, first author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: “It was a pleasant surprise to be able to extract and analyse DNA from 4,000-year-old human remains found in a hot environment, which is not known for preserving DNA well. We overcame this challenge by taking samples from the petrous bone in the skull, which is a very tough bone with a high density of ancient DNA. This method of extraction combined with the lowering costs of whole genome sequencing made this study possible.”

Dr Claude Doumet-Serhal, co-author and Director of the Sidon excavation site* in Lebanon, said: “For the first time we have genetic evidence for substantial continuity in the region, from the Bronze Age Canaanite population through to the present day. These results agree with the continuity seen by archaeologists. Collaborations between archaeologists and geneticists greatly enrich both fields of study and can answer questions about ancestry in ways that experts in neither field can answer alone.”

Prof Holger Schutkowski of Bournemouth University’s Department of Archaeology, Anthropology and Forensic Science and a co-author, said: “We are delighted to be part of this significant collaboration with the Sidon excavation and the Sanger Institute, and to contribute to elucidating the Canaanite origin and legacy.”

Dr Chris Tyler-Smith, lead author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: “Genetic studies using ancient DNA can expand our understanding of history, and answer questions about the likely origins and descendants of enigmatic populations like the Canaanites, who left few written records themselves. Now we would like to investigate the earlier and later genetic history of the Near East, and how it relates to the surrounding regions.”

Burial 63: Middle Bronze Age II B, about 1600 BC. Photos courtesy of Dr Claude Doumet-Serhal.

*For more information on the Sidon excavation site, please visit

Marc Haber et al. (2017) Continuity and admixture in the last five millennia of Levantine history from ancient Canaanite and present-day Lebanese genome sequences. American Journal of Human Genetics. DOI: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2017.06.013

This work was supported by the Wellcome Trust (grant 098051).

Building Roman Britain: The Movie

Bournemouth University’s archaeologists have released a short video on one of their projects in which they have been working closely with partners at the famous Roman sites of The Roman Baths and Fishbourne Roman Palace. The project has been using new methods to examine the main materials used by the Romans in their buildings.

Project Director, Professor Mark Brisbane, said “When the Romans arrived in Britain in the first century AD they brought with them a new form of architecture that used carefully cut, squared stone blocks and materials made of fired clay such as bricks and tiles. This would have been a completely new form of construction to most of the local inhabitants whose main building materials were wood, thatch and daub.”

In order to better understand these ‘new’ materials of the Roman World, the Building Roman Britain project investigated their composition and production through an innovative programme of archaeological science. To do this, BU’s Department of Archaeology, Anthropology & Forensic Science worked in a knowledge exchange partnership with two well-known heritage organisations, Fishbourne Roman Palace Museum near Chichester and The Roman Baths in the City of Bath.

The project aimed to characterise stone and ceramic building materials (the bricks, tiles, etc.) by using a relatively new type of instrument known as portable X-ray Florescence (or pXRF for short). This allows us to chemically ‘fingerprint’ archaeological examples of these materials, so that we can learn more about where the stone was quarried and where the ceramic building material was produced.

Mark Brisbane added, “Central to the project was a need to communicate the process of scientific discovery to the general public. To do this we decided to produce a short video to communicate to a wide audience the project’s novel scientific approach to understanding the organisation of early Roman Britain’s building industries. We are particularly grateful to our partners in Bath and Fishbourne for their assistance in the project and to IMMIX Media Ltd who brought their creative know-how to the video and its production.”

As well as discussing the project’s results and their implications, the video includes an outline of the development of the project, the manner in which questions were structured to examine the potential and limitations of the use of the handheld pXRF, and the way in which the approach was applied within the museums and in the field. Some preliminary results are also discussed as well as where the project goes next.

The work was largely funded by HEIF (Higher Education Innovation Fund), part of HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) and will be the subject of on-going collaborations between the university and our partner museums.

The work has subsequently helped underpin a successful bid by The Roman Baths to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a major new learning centre known as the Archway Project:

For further information on the Building Roman Britain Research Project see:

For further information on Fishbourne Roman Palace see:

BU research models spread of disease through aquatic communities

The interaction of species within an ecosystem is important in predicting how they will respond when diseases are introduced, Bournemouth University (BU) modelling has found.The research examined how aquatic communities can recover after a disturbance – in this case, the introduction of the rosette agent, a fish parasite which was introduced to UK waters through invasive species the topmouth gudgeon and has had severe effects on native UK fish populations.

The BU study modelled the introduction of a healthy carrier of a fungal infection into a host community and examined how the susceptibility of predators at the top of the food chain influenced the spread and impact of the disease.

The paper, published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Animal Ecology, found that to make predictions about the effect of a disease on a given disease, the species’ interaction with each other is as important as their response to the disease.

The presence of resistant hosts at the top of the food chain controlled the population growth of the disease carrier, but was not able to effectively eliminate the spread of infection.

The study was led by Dr Demetra Andreou, Principal Academic in Environmental Science at BU, with PhD student Farah Al-Shorbaji and Professor Rob Britton alongside Rudy Gozlan and Benjamin Roche from L’Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD) in France.

“Different communities can recover to different degrees, based on many factors,” said Farah Al-Shorbaji.

“Two of those factors are how much the disease affects each species, and interactions like predation. Our model combined both those factors. This allowed us to test possible ways of controlling the disease. For example, we could test if adding a predator that would eat infected fish might control the spread of the disease.”

Dr Andreou added: “Our results demonstrate why disease emergence can occur in some communities but not others, and show how management practices such as biocontrol (the introduction of one species to manage another) must be closely monitored.

“It also highlighted the danger of a fungal pathogen that can transmit widely through direct contact and the environment.”

Read the full paper on the Journal of Animal Ecology website.

Launch of the VISTA AR project at Exeter Cathedral

Discover the digital possibilities in cultural heritage at the launch event of the VISTA AR project (led by the University of Exeter), held in Exeter Cathedral. Experience first-hand the range of augmented reality and virtual reality scenario available and how the project could help you to develop affordable digital solutions for your business model.

There will be demonstrations of cutting-edge geospatial tracking / augmented reality / virtual reality thanks to headsets and apps on tablets. This is your chance to engage with the project and register your interest in this new solution. It is also a unique opportunity to find out about Exeter Cathedral and also Fougères Castle in France. We are taking over the Cathedral for the event so it is a fantastic chance to see first-hand one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture anywhere in the world.

Key note speakers: Sir Tim Smit, Co-Founder of the Eden Project and Tom Barker, Head of Digital at the National Trust. 

To find out more more and register click here

Blue sky thinking: we need your help

Why do we remember summers of our youth as warmer, and the skies bluer? Despite our nostalgic view of the past, climate is getting warmer not cooler. Old photos hold clues to past climate in the clouds and the blue tones of the sky. In 2014 people uploaded an average of 1.8 billion digital images every day[1]. That’s 657 billion photos per year, or put another way every two minutes we create more pictures than in the previous 150 years combined. That’s a lot of sky (both blue and cloudy!) with which to create a unique climate archive, with a very personal twist.

Using this incredible and growing archive we have launched a project that aims to unlock the climate record in these images and to make it personal by allowing you to create your own climate history from the images stored on your phone, or in a dusty shoebox. So our photo algorithms use state-of-the-art deep learning techniques to extract a climate signal from images whether they are online, in your phone or even from the art in a gallery. Our outdoor experiences and memories as recorded in the photographs we take, or in the art we create, are influenced by the weather. We have developed tools to unlock this. Now your own images are location and time specific, but put them with millions of others and they become powerful, allowing us to reconstruct specific summers, winters or even temporal trends in different places or in time countries.

We are just starting out and have our first prototype running, which automatically classifies every single pixel in an image into cloud, sky or other and samples the blue tones. We are currently using measures of cloudiness and colour intensity within sky segments to get a record of the weather in an image, but we’re also experimenting with cloud textures and other automatically descriptors that the algorithms came up with on their own.

Why does it matter? Making historic and contemporary climate change real and tangible to the public is a priority to altering perceptions and behaviours about climate and our changing planet. It also provides a way of appreciated landscape art in a different way, the manifestation of climate in art has been well documented[2] and this project simply continues this trend bringing it up to date. It also showcases the potential of machine learning and big data to create new perspectives on old problems.

As we say we are starting out and will shortly launch a citizen-science project, via a dedicated website that will allow you to scan and upload your images and for the climate data to be extracted. We need your help to test safely within BU our algorithms and to collect some initial data. In short we need help to break our system before we launch it on the world! The system also learns and the more data we can get at this initial stage the more it can learn – better to send an 16 year old kid out into the world than one with the learning of a 4 year old! So put another way we would like your help in educating our algorithms.

You can access our site on campus only at:

Go online and upload some of your pictures and give it a try. We are particularly interested in pictures from Bournemouth/Poole over the last twenty years.

Marcin Budka, Bastian Fraune, Sally Reynolds, Matthew Bennett


[1] According to Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report

[2] Bonacina, L.C.W., 1939. Landscape meteorology and its reflection in art and literature. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society 65, 485-498.

Neuberger, H., 1970. Climate in art. Weather 25, 46-56.

Thornes, J.E., 2000. A brief history of weather in European landscape art. Weather 55, 363-375.

Robinson, P.J., 2005. Ice and snow in paintings of Little Ice Age winters. Weather 60, 37-41.



Publishing case studies in high quality journals

case study image

The Influences on Consumer Behaviour cluster are pleased to a session on ‘Publishing case studies in high quality journals‘ with Professor Jillian Dawes Farquhar

Date: 19th July 2017

Time: 1pm to 5pm

Venue: Sandbanks Hotel, 15 Banks Road, Sandbanks, Poole, Dorset, BH13 7PS

Despite the benefits that case studies offer, many management researchers (and particularly those in marketing) still face an uphill battle when trying to get their papers published in top quality journals.  This session aims to identify the reason why and offers insight into how to address case study rigour. Drawing on a study of selected high quality case studies, lessons are identified to help all case study researchers to improve their case study papers.

This session will be of interest to those undertaking (or considering undertaking) case study research as well as those using qualitative methods.  The session will be interactive so please bring along papers/details of case study research that you are currently working on.

Note, places are limited to 30 delegates.  If you are unable to make your own way to the venue, please let the organisers know and we will look to arrange transport.

To reserve your place please contact: Prof. Juliet Memery.  Email:

Sandcastles, trivialising science?

Most scientists agree that we have an image problem. This is serious at a time when research is at a premium to inform decision-making as argued so beautifully by Mark Henderson in The Geek Manifesto. We have a new generation of skilled science communicators on television today like Brian Cox, Jim Al Kalil, Alice Roberts and Iain Stewart to name but four and the quality and availability of science reporting has increased dramatically with the digital age. But the focus remains on discovery, the easy or sexy headline and therefore often on the trivial. Complex more nuanced, incremental stories are more often than not ignored. Every publically funded researcher is under pressure to engage the public and to increasingly justify what they do as part of the social contract with the public which funds them. For example, almost all funding in the UK requires statements now about pathways to engagement, but with this focus there is an ever present risk of simply pandering to the trivial and the easy as researchers seek publicity. It is something that I have been accused of myself.

The month of June is here which means for me the inevitable phone call to write something about building the perfect sandcastle. Professor Sandcastle, or the Sandcastle Boffin, was born in the summer of 2004 when I innocently became involved in a bit of summer ‘fluff’ for a holiday company. They wanted a formula for the perfect sandcastle. I obliged and the result caused a small unexpected media frenzy. The formula made it into the tabloids, was reported across the broadsheets and was a perfect regional story for radio and local television that summer. Much to my embarrassment I found myself portrayed as the Sandcastle Boffin. All was light hearted except for a barbed comment in the Independent, my newspaper of choice at the time, which cut deep: ‘haven’t they got anything better to do?’ ‘Yes of course I have, but you’re not interested in what I normally do’ I might have replied. The barb of triviality stuck fast.

The thing about the sandcastle story is that it would not die, despite the fact that the original research was never worthy in my view at least of publication. The following May I started to receive messages ‘we were so impressed by what you did for sandcastles last year can you . . .’ I was asked to create equations for love, happiness and luck. I turned most of them down but the idea of the ‘science equation as a’ tool was firmly embedded in a new generation of PR consultants. An appearance on the BBC Coasts programme with a linked session at the Cheltenham Science Festival helped cement the sandcastle connection, along with a slow but steady request for articles and radio interviews over the years. Most summers don’t pass without a request of some sort, nor has this one [].

I have always delivered something when requested, seeing it as part of my remit as a modern academic to engage with the public slipping in messages about geology and earth history at every turn. I have resisted feelings of rancour when my real research has got less publicity remaining for the most part philosophical; if the public want fluff let them have it, better something than nothing, right? In truth it has done me no harm. The original interest gave me media training like no other and BU likes to remind people of its golden sands. It helped me as an academic appreciate the power and pitfalls of the media and the need for the sound bite and money shot in presenting more serious and challenging stories. Despite this the barb still twists; I am not just trivialising my academic discipline of sedimentology that I care deeply about? Is this not an ever present risk as we strive as academics for more public engagement? It is easy for us to write into funding pitches that we will do school events, give popular talks, create websites, attend and run festivals but does this really engage the public in the value and power of research? Are we not just feeding the media-machine with yet more trivia in lip-service to our funding aims? I have no idea whether my work on the perfect sandcastle over the years has made any real difference, it is impossible to quantify in terms of output. The truth is that measuring the consequences of engagement is hard and often undertaken post hoc. I am left without the answers but a gut feeling that is it better to show that science is all around us even in the humble sandcastle however trivial this may seem, than simply sit aloof concerned only about the more serious science stories that we may occasionally have to peddle.

Professor Matthew Bennett


How to build the perfect sandcastle – according to science

Whether we prefer water sports or relaxing with a good book, the humble sandcastle is often a seaside must. But what’s the secret to building a majestic sandcastle that will withstand the tide of time? Luckily, there’s a scientific formula for that.

It all started back in 2004, when a holiday company asked us to investigate the question. As a sedimentologist, someone who studies fragments of rock, I began pondering what kind of beach would work best for castle building. To find out, I compared the sand from the ten most popular beaches in the UK at the time. Though in truth any sandy beach will do, Torquay came out top with its delightful red sand, closely followed by Bridlington, with Bournemouth, Great Yarmouth and Tenby tied in third. At the bottom of the league was Rhyl.

Having selected a beach one has to find the perfect spot. Now this is a question of taste rather than hard rules. Some might prefer a spot close to the car park with easy access when the rain arrives while others might want to stay next to a cafe. Others yet might hanker after the secluded fringes of the beach, perhaps sheltered by natural promontories of rock that keep the biting wind at bay.

Torquay harbour.
averoxus/wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Now a castle should be a symbol of military strength, but to stand proud one needs strong sand. The strength of sand depends on the properties of its individual grains and on the water between them. The more angular the grains, the better they will lock together. The more a grain is transported the more rounded it becomes. Microscopic shell fragments work well in this regard. The finer the grains the more they hold the water. And water matters.

Too much water and your sand will flow, too little and it will crumble. You need to get it just right and your castle will stand proud and last. It’s all down to the surface tension of water – the thing that gives the “meniscus”, or skin, to a glass of water and holds down that glass when placed on a wet bar top. The film of water between individual sand grains is what gives sand its strength, too much and it lubricates one grain over the other, but just right and it binds them strong.

The magic formula

Now the experimentation we did suggested that the perfect sandcastle requires one bucket of water to eight buckets of dry sand. Or if you want the magic formula: Water = 0.125 x Sand. So assuming that you don’t have any science gear with you, then you are looking for a spot close to the high tide line – usually marked by a line of seaweed and flotsam – and the low tide line where sand is still visibly wet and the waves are close. But remember that this will change as the tide comes and goes during the day.

High tide line.

My next tip refers to quality of your tools. In my experience there is a direct correlation between the age of the builder, spade size and the speed at which boredom sets in. Adult helpers find the smallest spade nothing but frustrating, and while young assistants might aspire to use the biggest spade, it is often too big to handle. A selection of tools will keep the workforce in harmony. The bucket also has to be the perfect size and shape. The best buckets are the simple round ones – not the ones with the fancy turrets which when turned out produce a castle in itself. A round bucket will allow you turn out countless towers and architectural features. A single bucket can be turned out several times to create a large mound from which you carve an amazing tower.

As you build, spare a thought to the story, not just of the castle one is building with its tales of derring-do, but also the story of the sand itself. Each grain is a fragment of rock and contains a story of relict mountains, ancient rivers, dinosaur-infested swamps and seas, of past climates and events which tell the amazing story of our planet. The red sand of Torquay once blew in giant sandstorms, as the area was once part of a desert far greater than that of the Sahara. The sand at Bridlington or Great Yarmouth tells a tale of giant ice sheets and drowned lands below the North Sea.

The ConversationMy next tip refers to size. Yes, size matters – at least in the game of sandcastles. The modest castle with perfect towers, battlements and moat is ok, but it is the huge castles which break the beach horizon that inspire awe and wonderment in people that pass by. Think big! Pebbles, shells, driftwood fragments and feathers all enhance a castle. And let’s face it: a castle is about being seen. And although there may be science behind the humble sandcastle, don’t forget to have fun building it.

Matthew Robert Bennett, Professor of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Impact training – spaces avaliable

Over the course of the summer, RKEO has been running a number of training sessions with Vertigo Ventures aimed at supporting academics to develop the impact of their research.

The next two sessions are booked for Monday 3 July (one between 9am – 12:15pm and one between 1:15pm – 4:30pm) and will take place at an off campus location.  Lunch and refreshments will be provided.

The aims of the training as follows:

  • Attendees will have identified what their intended impact could be by 2020 and what knowledge exchange/impact acceleration activities they should be looking to do over the next year
  • Attendees will have developed a workable plan for their  potential (REF2021) impact case studies between now and 2020
  • Attendees will have identified what kind of evidence will be gathered and how this will be obtained.

The session is being run by Laura Fedorciow and Shireen Ali-Khan of Vertigo Ventures, one of the few established specialist firms operating in this arena.

Places are being offered on a first come, first serve basis.  Please email Rachel Bowen to book your place.

A day in the life of a smart-city commuter – and why it’s not so far from reality

The alarm on your smart phone went off 10 minutes earlier than usual this morning. Parts of the city are closed off in preparation for a popular end of summer event, so congestion is expected to be worse than usual. You’ll need to catch an earlier bus to make it to work on time.

The alarm time is tailored to your morning routine, which is monitored every day by your smart watch. It takes into account the weather forecast (rain expected at 7am), the day of the week (it’s Monday, and traffic is always worse on a Monday), as well as the fact that you went to bed late last night (this morning, you’re likely to be slower than usual). The phone buzzes again – it’s time to leave, if you want to catch that bus.

While walking to the bus stop, your phone suggests a small detour – for some reason, the town square you usually stroll through is very crowded this morning. You pass your favourite coffee shop on your way, and although they have a 20% discount this morning, your phone doesn’t alert you – after all, you’re in a hurry.

After your morning walk, you feel fresh and energised. You check in at the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled bus stop, which updates the driver of the next bus. He now knows that there are 12 passengers waiting to be picked up, which means he should increase his speed slightly if possible, to give everyone time to board. The bus company is also notified, and are already deploying an extra bus to cope with the high demand along your route. While you wait, you notice a parent with two young children, entertaining themselves with the touch-screen information system installed at the bus stop.

Bus stops of the future.

Once the bus arrives, boarding goes smoothly: almost all passengers were using tickets stored on their smart phones, so there was only one time-consuming cash payment. On the bus, you take out a tablet from your bag to catch up on some news and emails using the free on-board Wi-Fi service. You suddenly realise that you forgot to charge your phone, so you connect it to the USB charging point next to the seat. Although the traffic is really slow, you manage to get through most of your work emails, so the time on the bus is by no means wasted.

The moment the bus drops you off in front of your office, your boss informs you of an unplanned visit to a site, so you make a booking with a car-sharing scheme, such as Co-wheels. You secure a car for the journey, with a folding bike in the boot.

Your destination is in the middle of town, so when you arrive on the outskirts you park the shared car in a nearby parking bay (which is actually a member’s unused driveway) and take the bike for the rest of the journey to save time and avoid traffic. Your travel app gives you instructions via your Bluetooth headphones – it suggests how to adjust your speed on the bike, according to your fitness level. Because of your asthma, the app suggests a route that avoids a particularly polluted area.

Sick ride.
Mr.tinDC/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

After your meeting, you opt to get a cab back to the office, so that you can answer some emails on the way. With a tap on your smartphone, you order the cab, and in the two minutes it takes to arrive you fold up your bike so that you can return it to the boot of another shared vehicle near your office. You’re in a hurry, so no green reward points for walking today, I’m afraid – but at least you made it to the meeting on time, saving kilograms of CO2 on the way.

Get real

It may sound like fiction, but truth be told, most of the data required to make this day happen are already being collected in one form or another. Your smart phone is able to track your location, speed and even the type of activity that you’re performing at any given time – whether you’re driving, walking or riding a bike.

Meanwhile, fitness trackers and smart watches can monitor your heart rate and physical activity. Your search history and behaviour on social media sites can reveal your interests, tastes and even intentions: for instance, the data created when you look at holiday offers online not only hints at where you want to go, but also when and how much you’re willing to pay for it.

Personal devices aside, the rise of the Internet of Things with distributed networks of all sorts of sensors, which can measure anything from air pollution to traffic intensity, is yet another source of data. Not to mention the constant feed of information available on social media about any topic you care to mention.

The ConversationWith so much data available, it seems as though the picture of our environment is almost complete. But all of these datasets sit in separate systems that don’t interact, managed by different entities which don’t necessarily fancy sharing. So although the technology is already there, our data remains siloed with different organisations, and institutional obstacles stand in the way of attaining this level of service. Whether or not that’s a bad thing, is up to you to decide.

Marcin Budka, Principal Academic in Data Science, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What if opinion polls had been banned during this election?

When the prime minister, Theresa May, called a general election back in mid-April it was widely assumed she would easily win a large majority. The Conservative leader was far more popular than her Labour rival Jeremy Corbyn, and had a clear path back into No 10. We know this because the voters themselves told us – through opinion polls.

Six weeks later, the narrative is rather different. Labour’s manifesto has been praised while the Tory campaign has stuttered. Though a Conservative majority is still the most likely outcome, Corbyn appears increasingly confident while May seems more worried. But again this is largely down to the polls.

Like it or not, opinion polls are a staple part of an election campaign narrative. The media often obsesses over the slightest swings, enquiring of their readers and of party leaders: why, what have you done to increase or lose support?

But what if the media was not allowed to report on such polls during an election campaign? It might lead to a renewed focus on policy issues instead of “who is winning”. But banning polls may also hand even more power to political parties and media gatekeepers.

The influence of polls

Polls can drive campaigning style and substance. A leader buoyant in the polls will appear more confident and relaxed, so fulfilling the prophecies of the polls by delivering more assured performances. A leader lagging may seem edgy and nervous about answering questions, constantly second guessing how the media will replay their words and how the public will respond. This can lead to the sort of less assured performance that voters can find a turn off.

But an impact on substance matters. A struggling campaign will seek magic bullets to secure victory, which may simply mean candidates repeat slogans they think have traction, or focus on negative messages and image building exercises. As polls narrow, so does the debate, and candidates will completely avoid getting drawn into debates on policy detail that might obscure their message. Without the distraction of headlines based on polling, however, campaigns may feel more able to engage in serious and detailed policy debate.

Polls also influence voters. There has long been talk of polls creating a bandwagon effect, with voters flocking to support the party or candidate who is the most likely winner. This might explain the recent surge in Labour support, or the landslide victory in Scotland for the SNP in 2015. In both cases polls suggested the tide was moving one particular way, which can drive the decision making of undecided voters.

Alternatively poll predictions can mobilise or depress activism and voter turnout. If activists believe their party is doing well they may not feel the need to do as much door-knocking, while if a party is doing poorly they may feel disillusioned (though the reverse can be the case for both scenarios).

Similarly on election day voters can look at the polls and form the belief their vote does not matter or that they will get the outcome they want without making the effort to vote. Hence polls affect the nature and levels of engagement of an election campaign.

Polls provide transparency

But polls will be commissioned regardless of coverage, and many parties rely on pollsters to give an indication of how their campaign is going. If polls go unreported citizens will not be aware of why the focus of a campaign is shifting.

Voters may attribute a less than assured performance to poor poll performance and be sympathetic. Similarly they may see an act as desperate and driven simply by the polls and so grow cynical. Without the polls a vital sense of transparency of process is lost, and voters would only be able to speculate at what is driving campaign strategies.

So a campaign without polls could allow leaders to be themselves, unaware of the public reaction beyond that from the audience immediately in front of them. Leaders may also feel they must get more into the detail, persuading through the use of facts and costed promises that can be interrogated, rather than resorting to headlines or negative attacks in order to draw in the least engaged voters. Parties may also court activists more, in the hope that every leaflet or phone call can make a difference.

While many of these things happen in the course of a campaign anyway, the focus can be skewed by the erroneous notion that polls are shifting for or against a party. Comparing the performances of May and Corbyn one might attribute some of their performance style and communication strategy to perceptions of their relative standing in the polls.

All this relies on party leaders and strategists also being unaware of their standing with the public, however. And with pollsters in the business of making news and attracting corporate clients, it is hard to imagine an election truly without polls.

But what if polls were treated with greater caution and scepticism? If reporters were more clear about margins of error, or the difficulty of factoring in underrepresented groups, then both parties and citizens may not be so ready to be influenced by each percentage point change. In turn elections may be less negative, more substance focused and leaders could perform with fewer worries about the next day’s headlines.

The ConversationPerhaps reporting of polls simply needs to be better – not banned.

Darren Lilleker, Associate Professor of Political Communication, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

BU staff and students help undertake international research into salmon and sea trout populations in the English Channel

An international project to research the salmon and sea trout populations in the English Channel, which is supported by BU staff and students, is set to receive a multimillion pound investment.The environmental project called SAMARCH (SAlmonid MAnagement Round the CHannel) is being led by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) with 10 partner organisations, five in France and five in the UK – including BU.

The project, which provides vital research on rapidly declining salmon and sea trout (Salmonid) populations, is set to receive a €5.4 million contribution from the EU’s Interreg France (Channel) England programme.

SAMARCH will focus on the behaviour and mortality of salmonid populations in estuaries and coastal waters to determine where they are dying. It will also use DNA analysis to map areas in the channel that are important for sea trout and to determine the sex ratio of salmonids to improve the tools used by the regulatory bodies in England and France to manage their salmon stocks.

Genoveva Esteban, Professor at Bournemouth University, said: “SAMARCH is a marvellous opportunity for students to carry out work placements and research projects here in the UK and in France.

“This partnership will also facilitate cross-border student exchanges and knowledge – not just for the benefit of all partners, but of society in general.”

This project will use state-of-the-art fish monitoring facilities on five rivers across the south of England and northern France – including the Freshwater Biological Association’s River Laboratory on the River Frome in Dorset.

The knowledge gathered during the five-year project, which runs to 2022, will be used to update regulations in both France and England on the management of salmonids in estuaries and coastal waters.

If implemented, this could lead to a 6% to 9% increase in adult salmonid populations in the channel area.

Atlantic salmon and sea trout populations have declined by around 70% since the 1970s; they play a major role in coastal and river ecosystems and have a considerable economic importance through angling in Europe estimated to be worth as much as €1.2 billion.

Dylan Roberts, head of fisheries at GWCT and project manager, said: “Until recently, management has focused largely on addressing issues in fresh water; however we know that more than 90% of salmon smolts that leave our rivers for their feeding grounds in the north Atlantic die at sea.

“Researching salmon in the sea has always been technically difficult, but recent developments in fish tracking technology, DNA methodologies and advances in data analysis techniques now enables us to quantify what proportion of this mortality that occurs in the estuary and coastal areas, their movements through these areas.

“SAMARCH will also sharpen the tools used to manage salmonid stocks and adjust our management strategies accordingly. We are delighted that the Interrreg programme has decided to support SAMARCH and we look forward to working with our partners over the next five years.”

The NHS faces a staffing crisis for years to come

From August, nursing, midwifery and most allied health students will no longer have their tuition fees paid by the NHS, nor will they receive maintenance bursaries. This will undoubtedly affect the number of students opting to study these subjects. And it will negatively impact NHS England staffing levels in three years’ time.

Many nursing students are mature students and having their fees paid has been an incentive to study. At Bournemouth University, we have a large number of mature students who have a mortgage and dependent children, so they may be reluctant to take on more debt. Taking away the bursary could prevent many talented people from becoming tomorrow’s nurses, midwives, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech-and-language therapists, to name just some of the healthcare degrees that will no longer be funded by the government.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) confirms that nursing and midwifery student applications across England are down by 23% this year. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the places on these courses won’t be filled, as they are often oversubscribed, but it’s a worrying dip, nonetheless.

If the government – whoever they may be after June 8 – is serious about securing an NHS workforce for the future, they need to be serious about investing in it now.

Inventing new roles

There are over 55,000 EU nationals working as nurses and doctors in the NHS. As a result of Brexit, fewer nurses from the EU are applying for jobs in the NHS. And the RCN confirms that student nurse applications from EU citizens are down 7% this year.

New healthcare roles have been created in an attempt to counteract the changes to student funding and to Brexit, such as the new nursing associate role. A nursing associate is more junior than a registered nurse, but they can go on to become a registered nurse either by completing a degree-level nursing apprenticeship or by taking a shortened nursing degree at university.

The government has also expanded the range of apprenticeship schemes, such as nursing-degree apprenticeships and apprenticeships which support the development of advanced-practice nurses. But none of these initiatives is a quick fix.

In fact, with the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, introduced for all large organisations since April 2017, the government hopes to train 100,000 apprentices in the NHS by 2020. These apprenticeships will include nursing associates and healthcare assistants (a position below nursing associates). This means that all organisations, not just the NHS, who have an annual wage bill of £3m or more will have an apprenticeship levy of 0.5% of their total wage bill deducted to pay towards the government’s apprenticeships scheme. However, paying for a three-year degree apprenticeship by the NHS Trusts will far exceed what the levy will pay for.

Dire consequences

Nursing shortages will not just be bad for patients, they will be bad for nurses too. A study, published in JAMA, showed that a poor nurse-to-patient ratio can result in an increase in patient mortality and have a detrimental effect on the health and well-being of the nurse, leading to job dissatisfaction and more nurses quitting.

The ConversationThe NHS cannot survive the continued and worsening workforce shortage and retain its reputation for high-quality patient care. So, unless incentives are introduced, such as fees paid for those with a first degree to enter these programmes at the postgraduate level, or assistance with childcare, or similar incentives that would encourage candidates to enter healthcare professions, the workforce crisis in the NHS can only continue to spiral out of control.

Elizabeth Rosser, Acting Dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How prehistoric water pit stops may have driven human evolution

Our ancient ancestors seem to have survived some pretty harsh arid spells in East Africa’s Rift Valley over five million years. Quite how they kept going has long been a mystery, given the lack of water to drink. Now, new research shows that they may have been able to survive on a small networks of springs.

The study from our inter-disciplinary research team, published in Nature Communications, illustrates that groundwater springs may have been far more important as a driver of human evolution in Africa than previously thought.

Great rift valley.
Redgeographics, CC BY-SA

The study focuses on water in the Rift Valley. This area – a continuous geographic trench that runs from Ethiopia to Mozambique – is also known as the “cradle of humanity”.

Here, our ancestors evolved over a period of about five million years. Throughout this time, rainfall was affected by the African monsoon, which strengthened and weakened on a 23,000-year cycle. During intense periods of aridity, monsoon rains would have been light and drinking water in short supply. So how did our ancestors survive such extremes?

Previously, scientists had assumed that the evolution and dispersal of our ancestors in the region was solely dependent on climate shifts changing patterns of vegetation (food) and water (rivers and lakes). However, the details are blurry – especially when it comes to the role of groundwater (springs).

We decided to find out just how important springs were. Our starting point was to identify springs in the region to map how groundwater distribution varies with climate. We are not talking about small, babbling springs here, but large outflows of groundwater. These are buffered against climate change as their distribution is controlled by geology – the underlying rocks can store rainwater and transfer it slowly to the springs.

The lakes of the African Rift Valley.
SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE

We figured that our ancestors could have stayed close to such groundwater in dry times – playing a greater part in their survival than previously thought. When the climate got increasingly wet, groundwater levels would have risen and made springs more plentiful – feeding smaller rivers and leading to lakes becoming less saline. At this point, our ancestors would have roamed across the landscape free of concerns about water.

Life and death decisions

To test this idea, we embarked on a computer experiment. If the springs and water bodies are thought of as the rest stops, or service stations, then the linkages between can be modelled by computers. Our model was based on what decisions individuals would have taken to survive – and what collective behaviours could have emerged from thousands of such decisions.

Individuals were give a simple task: to find a new source of water within three days of travel. Three days is the time that a modern human and, by inference, our ancestors could go without drinking water. The harder and rougher the terrain, the shorter the distance one can travel in those vital three days.

We used the present landscape and existing water springs to map potential routes. The detailed location of springs may have changed over time but the principles hold. If our agent failed to find water within three days, he or she would die. In this way we could map out the migration pathways between different water sources as they varied through 23,000-year climate cycles. The map shows that there were indeed small networks of springs available even during the driest of intervals. These would have been vital for the survival or our ancestors.

The model also reveals movement patterns that are somewhat counter-intuitive. One would assume that the easiest route would be along the north to south axis of the rift valley. In this way, hominins could stay at the bottom of the valley rather than crossing the high rift walls. But the model suggests that in intermediate states between wet and dry, groups of people may have preferred to go from east to west across the rift valley. This is because springs on the rift floor and sides link to large rivers on the rift flanks. This is important as it helps explain how our ancestors spread away from the rift valley. Indeed, what we are beginning to see is a network of walking highways that develop as our ancestors moved across Africa.

Mapping human migration.

Human movement allows the flow of gossip, know-how and genes. Even in modern times, the water-cooler is often the fount of all knowledge and the start of many budding friendships. The same may have been true in ancient Africa and the patterns of mobility and their variability through a climate cycle will have had a profound impact on breeding and technology.

This suggests that population growth, genetics, implications for survival and dispersal of human life across Africa can all potentially be predicted and modelled using water as the key – helping us to uncover human history. The next step will be to compare our model of human movement with real archaeological evidence of how humans actually moved when the climate changed.

So next time you complain about not finding your favourite brand of bottled spring water in the shop, spare a thought for our ancestors who may died in their quest to find a rare, secluded spring in the arid African landscape.

The ConversationThis research was carried out in partnership with our colleagues Tom Gleeson, Sally Reynolds, Adrian Newton, Cormac McCormack and Gail Ashley.

Matthew Robert Bennett, Professor of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, Bournemouth University and Mark O Cuthbert, Research Fellow in Groundwater Science, Cardiff University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

African springs shed light on history of human migration

New research published this week in Nature Communications, has shown how African springs helped to shape human evolution.

A unique combination of groundwater and agent based modelling has revealed insight into the importance of spring water in human evolution across East Africa.

By mapping springs and other water sources across the African landscape researchers have been able to model how our ancestors may have moved between water sources taking into account the energetic cost of the landscape.

More importantly, by modelling these springs through a simulated climate cycle they have shown how the springs were vital to human survival in the most arid of times.   Springs acted as key hydro-refugia for our ancestors, a term first coined by one of the authors Tom Gleeson (University of Victoria).

As climate became drier the spring and water network became sparse and in reverse, during wet times, they became denser allowing widespread movement.   Understanding this pattern of mobility and its variation with both climate and geological conditions would have impacted on the mixing of genes within our ancestral populations.

Groundwater currently provides nearly a third of the world’s population with drinking water. It is used for irrigation to produce the largest share of the world’s food supply and is a vital commodity, but this research shows that it may have also shaped our evolutionary history.

Mark Cuthbert (Cardiff University) who led the inter-disciplinary team that did the research said, “We found that the geology is really important in controlling how much rainfall gets stored in the ground during wet periods. Modelling the springs showed that many could still flow during long dry periods because this groundwater store acts like a buffer against climate change”.

Matthew Bennett (Bournemouth University) said, “What we are seeing is the movement of people across vast areas of land. You can think of springs as the service stations or rest stops along the way, where people would be drawn to get their vital water sources.  Through our mapping we have found the routes on the current landscape by which our ancestors may have walked, like motorways, taking people from one water source to the next. This is another vital clue in understanding how these people migrated across the African continent, from water source to source, and how this may have impacted on gene flow and mixing.”

This explains the dispersal of people we have seen, as networks of springs have facilitated migration. We are able to see that there were geological reasons for migration, not just climate related reasons. The landscape was a catalyst for change in Africa.

The research was conducted by a collaborative team of academics from the Cardiff University, University of Birmingham, University College London, UNSW Australia, Bournemouth University, Rutgers University (USA) and the University of Victoria (Canada).

Cuthbert, M.O., Gleeson, T., Reynolds, S.C., Bennett, M.R., Newton, A.C., McCormack, C.J. & Ashley, G.M. (2017). Modelling the role of groundwater hydro-refugia in East African hominin evolution and dispersal, Nature Communications, May 2017

How electric car racing could one day challenge the spectacle of Formula One

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Motor racing’s most glamorous event, the Formula One Grand Prix in the glittering tax haven of Monaco is just around the corner. It is 67 years since drivers first took on the famous, twisty roads through the principality on the south coast of France, but is age starting to creep up on the F1 scene? The Conversation

Since the earliest Olympic Games, racing has been used to advance wheeled transport. It was in the Tethrippon, Keles and Apene events in Ancient Greece, that chariots were developed and the numbers of horses, foals and mules adjusted to provide optimum power and handling. Centuries later, in 1899, the French Renault brothers understood that city-to-city racing could help harness the very different horsepower of their new combustion-engined cars.

Today we use many F1 technologies on the road. Ferrari’s semi-automatic gearbox and the “flappy paddle” transmissions are now standard in many road cars. Shell and Total produced friction-reducing fuel additives, and tyres made by Goodyear, Michelin, Bridgestone and Pirelli have all benefited from F1 research. Williams Advanced Engineering created the technology behind the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) to be found in Volvo’s C30 Electric road car and the BMW i3 electric city car is the first to be constructed from carbon fibre-reinforced plastic, a technique pioneered in F1 by McLaren.

But while F1 has driven innovation that has made it to the car showroom, there is a risk it may fall behind by failing to embrace the key evolving trend in road car technologies. Could Formula E (FE), the fully electric vehicle street racing competition, end up being more relevant to the world’s major motor manufacturers?

Volvo: plugged in.
One Tonne Life/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Urban planning

This year, FE had its own race in Monaco, a fortnight before F1 arrived. According to Jean Todt, President of the Federation Internationale de L’Automobile (FIA), FE is the perfect showcase for new electric vehicle technologies; a device to promote the use of clean engine technology, especially in cities and towns.

It is in those urban settings that pollution is a major problem. Oslo banned diesel road cars for two days to combat rising air pollution while the Norwegian government intends to ban the sale of fossil fuel-based cars by 2025.

Others have similar intentions. India is considering a draft report recommending that all vehicles should be electric by 2032. China, where pollution in major cities can be devastating, is the largest electric vehicle market in the world. BYD Auto sold 507,000 cars last year and GAC Motor, another of China’s large motor manufacturers, intends to build 200,000 vehicles per year. Unsurprisingly, Alejandro Agag, founder and CEO of FE wants to expand the championship into China.

Agag recognised that the automobile industry’s focus on electric vehicles offered a different direction to most motor sports. He would appear to be right. FE already has an impressive line-up of contributing manufacturers, many of which have been familiar names in F1.

Brand awareness

FE cars currently use batteries supplied by Williams Advanced Engineering, a subsidiary of the Williams F1 Team. The Renault e.dams team has allowed Renault to demonstrate its FE pedigree with the all-electric TreZor concept car, which was one of the stars of the 2016 Paris Motor Show. McLaren Applied Technologies will supply all the championship’s new batteries from 2018. Jaguar, which was formerly in F1, has backed FE’s Panasonic Jaguar Racing team to showcase its future range of electric cars.

Other manufacturers, including current world F1 championship winning team Mercedes-Benz, are joining FE soon and even Ferrari, a cornerstone of F1 since the World championship started, is said to be interested.

BMW, which used to have a prominent position in F1 attained “Official Vehicle Partner” status by supplying electric utility vehicles for FE, including Safety Cars, Medical and Support Cars and the official Rescue Car. BMW will get further involved on track in the actual racing when it joins the FE grid in 2018 with the Andretti Team.

In 2017, Audi, which could have gone to F1, completely realigned its motor sport strategy after being dominant in sportscar racing. It became involved in FE with a factory-backed commitment to The Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport team. This fits Audi’s business strategy to produce new electric vehicles, particularly aimed at the Chinese market.

Musk makes baby steps into racing.

You might wonder why headline-grabbing US car maker Tesla hasn’t dipped its toe into FE. Well, Elon Musk’s firm has seen its Model S version P85+ chosen as the base car for the world’s first Electric GT Championship, which starts in a few months time.

So is F1 missing out? Certainly not financially. At the moment, the budgets involved in F1 remain much larger, but that should not be taken for granted if motor manufacturers continue to jump ship. The point has certainly been made that FE is attracting major companies for whom electric technology is becoming increasingly relevant, to the detriment of both F1 and Indycar.

It does seem unlikely that Formula e, as it stands, can truly compete with the decades of history and glamour associated with the combustion-engine machismo of F1. But in 2020, the FIA’s F1 engine rules are due to change and history shows that to justify the substantial investment, this will probably have to be for at least five seasons. The current 1.6-litre V6 600 horsepower hybrid turbo petrol engines, that gain an added 160 horsepower from their electrical recovery systems will be consigned to the scrap heap.

Will the FIA choose another hybrid engine configuration for F1 or could it too go more electric? Perhaps a path might even be laid for a fully electric F1 in later years? In any case, the FIA’s choice will be vital for the future of both F1 and FE. It will also be a strong signal of the pace of change which will dictate the types of cars we will all end up driving to the shops, in China, Norway and beyond.

Bruce Grant-Braham, Lecturer in Sport Marketing specialising in motorsport, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

New impact tracker added to BRIAN

A new impact tracker has been added to BRIAN as part of the recent upgrade. The tracker is designed to help you keep a record of your impact evidence, which is useful both to help manage the direction of your future impact strategy and for writing impact narratives.

Once logged into BRIAN, you now have the option to add in impact evidence, which will include details of internal or external collaborators, uploading documents and files or linking to URLs. The type of evidence you might wish to add will depend on your research and the difference it’s making, but could consist of:

  • A testimonial from an organisation or collaborator explaining how your research has influenced them,
  • Survey evidence from stakeholders demonstrating a change,
  • Media coverage statistics to show how your research is helping to inform public debate,
  • Financial or sales reports from a company you’re working with,
  • Evidence linking your research to a policy change,
  • Evidence to show that your research has influenced professional practice in your field.

Further examples can be found in BU’s impact guide. The evidence you gather will vary according to your project. The key point to remember is to gather examples that specifically link your research with the change that it has made.

A guide to adding your impact evidence can be found here.

For any queries about BRIAN, please contact

For more information about how to identify evidence or support to develop your impact strategy, please contact:

BU rises 18 places in Guardian University Guide 2018

Bournemouth University has risen 18 places in the Guardian University Guide 2018.The rise – up to 61st in the league table rankings from 79th the previous year – follows similar accolades for the university this year, such as the THE Young University Rankings, where BU also ranks among the top 200 universities in the world.

Professor John Vinney, Vice-Chancellor of Bournemouth University said, “We are delighted to see a rise in the latest Guardian University Guide, reflection for the work put in by our excellent staff over the past 12 months.

“This accolade, along with other recent rises, really underlines the quality of our teaching, research and links with businesses, all of which come together to offer an excellent student experience at BU.”

In the Guardian University Guide 2018 BU was shown to be fifth in the UK for the value that it adds to its degrees, one measure used to calculate a university’s overall score.

One such way that the university adds value for students is through its placement offer, with BU currently boasting more students on a work placement as a part of their degree than any other university in Great Britain (according to HESA data from 2015).

BU is also celebrating success in other university rankings; BU rose 20 places in the Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey 2017. In the same survey, BU was also rated among the top 20 universities in the UK for its links with industry.

In recent months BU has also risen 20 places in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2017.

The Guardian University Guide 2018 can be viewed in full on the Guardian website.