July 6, 2012

Delicious Parthenon Marbles Cake, stolen from Athens

Parthenon by K_Dafalias on Flickr

The Parthenon at night by Konstantinos Dafalias, creative commons licensed picture available on Flickr. If you look carefully, you can see the inscription “Elgin woz ‘ere, 1801” where the Marbles were stolen from.

Here is a recipe and serving suggestion for delicious Parthenon Marbles cake, originally developed by Thomas Bruce, better known as Lord Elgin.


  1. Buy a return ticket from the UK to Athens, Greece
  2. On arrival in Athens, find the most spectacular and beautiful cake you can
  3. Remove and vandalise the tastiest looking parts of the cake
  4. If anyone asks what you are doing, tell them you are an “ambassador”
  5. When you have finished vandalising, return to the UK with your souvenir cakes, leaving the leftovers in Greece.

Serving suggestion

These cakes are traditionally enjoyed in London. They are often decorated with large servings of patronising propaganda and a sprinkling of insults against the Greek nation. See for example Elgin Marbles: Relocation Debate on wikipedia and the Parthenon Marbles at the British Museum website.

Some people will tell you these cakes are many decades past their best before date. Ignore them if you can, while you enjoy the cakes at a safe distance from any Greeks who will legitimately demand that you return them to Athens immediately.

This is a controversial recipe as the ownership of the ingredients is keenly contested [1,2,3,4,5]. Consequently, it may not be possible to enjoy these cakes in the UK for much longer so enjoy them while you can.


  1. The Parthenon Marbles Should Be Returned to Athens, Intelligence Squared Debate, June 2012
  2. MarblesReunited.org.uk: promoting the case for the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures
  3. Trevor Timpson (2012) Stephen Fry’s Parthenon Marbles plea backed in debate vote, BBC News.
  4. Trevor Timpson (2012) To sue or not to sue? Parthenon Marbles activists debate, BBC News.

October 26, 2011

Why can’t people just say what they mean?

Stephen Fry

Why can’t the English just say what they mean, dammit?

Stephen Fry’s Planet Word is an entertaining romp through the English language. It provides a timely reminder as to why people don’t always say what they mean, see the episode on uses and abuses of language for some entertaining examples. Talking of the divergence between what people say and what they actually mean, reminded me of this handy British / American English translation key (which comes via the good people at OpenHelix).

What the British say What the British mean What others understand
I hear what you say I disagree and do not want to discuss it further They accept my point of view
With the greatest respect I think you are an idiot They are listening to me
That’s not bad That’s good That’s poor
That is a very brave proposal You are insane They think I have courage
Quite good A bit disappointing Quite good
I would suggest… Do it or be prepared to justify yourself Think about the idea, but do what you like
Oh incidentally/ by the way The primary purpose of our discussion is… That is not very important
I was a bit disappointed that I am annoyed that It doesn’t really matter
Very interesting That is clearly nonsense They are impressed
I’ll bear it in mind I’ve forgotten it already They will probably do it
I’m sure its my fault It’s your fault Why do they think it was their fault?
You must come for dinner It’s not an invitation, I’m just being polite I will get an invitation soon
I almost agree I don’t agree at all They are not far from agreement
I only have a few minor comments Please re-write completely They have found a few typos
Could we consider some other options I don’t like your idea They have not yet decided

All human languages have the facility for the kinds of little white lies shown above, not just English. Life would be quite different if people always said precisely what they meant, and the English would have less fun confusing Americans with their ludicrous limey language.

May 26, 2009

Grants on the Web: Transparent Scientific Funding?

Lord Drayson by DIUSGOVUKAll over the Britain, politicians are getting ready to publish their expenses on the Interweb. Why? Because they are trying to regain their lost credibility, after making some incredibly dodgy and embarrassing expense claims [1-7]. Scandals aside, this is all well and good since this money has come from the UK taxpayers pocket, and politicians are public servants, doing public work which is supposedly in the public good.

Scientists, like politicians, also provide a public service, spending public money, for the public good. Science is public knowledge after all and scientists spend quite a lot of public money. At least £3 billion was spent on scientific research in the UK during 2008 (see Who Funds Science in Britain?) and that was just research, not teaching. Wouldn’t it be great if anyone who was interested could see what all this money had been spent on, who spent it and what the outcomes were?

Thankfully you can already do this for some areas of research. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) which currently spends around £740 million a year on everything from “mathematics to materials science, and from information technology to structural engineering” has a system called Grants on the Web @ gow.epsrc.ac.uk. You can find out who spent the money and how much money was spent since the system was set up, see an EPSRC example here. Some of the original grant proposals are there too, which can be enlightening. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) also has a similar system (called oasis), though it is not as easy to use and link to – see a BBSRC example here. The trouble is, if you can’t easily link to it, it doesn’t get indexed by search engines. If it doesn’t get indexed by search engines, then it’s almost invisible. Fortunately, the BBSRC are working on improving this, with a new system due for release in the autumn of 2009.

Other organisations are putting grant information on the web too. Recently, thanks to the UK’s PubMed Central database you can also see the published results of publicly funded biomedical research. The funders pages at ukpmc.ac.uk/funders give a breakdown of published results from different funding bodies, as described in this article by Robert Kiley of the Wellcome Trust and this one by Alison Henning.

Now not all the research councils seem to publish their grants on the Web in a transparent manner*, and some of those that do, leave lots of room for improvement. But it is still useful to be able to see where some of that public money went and what the outcomes of the research were. More transparent spending of public money like this isn’t just a desirable extra, it should come as standard.

* (It is difficult to find the details of grants awarded by JISC, NERC, MRC and STFC, but please leave a comment below if you know where this information is published. More commentary on this post over at friendfeed.)

[Creative Commons licensed picture of Baron Paul Drayson, currently UK Science Minister from DIUSGOVUK.]


  1. The Daily Telegraph (2009) MPs’ expenses: all the gory details from the Daily Telegraph
  2. The Guardian (2009) Grauniad datablog: MP’s expenses as spreadsheet and Free Our Data: Make taxpayers’ data available to them
  3. Wikipedia (2009) MPs’ expenses in wikipedia
  4. BBC News (2009) MPs’ expenses: A triumph of journalism? A week after its opening salvo, the Daily Telegraph is still reaping great benefit from its exclusive expose of MPs’ expenses.
  5. BBC News (2009) Q&A: MP expenses row explained: Revelations in the Daily Telegraph about exactly what MPs have been claiming on expenses has prompted a public outcry and a pledge to reform the “gentlemen’s club” at Westminster
  6. BBC Newsnight (2009) Stephen Fry dismisses MPs’ expenses row, accusing journalists of hypocrisy
  7. The Guardian (2009) Censored version of MPs’ expenses will break the law, Hugh Tomlinson QC warns

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