It’s been a year of economic upsurges and rising political tensions, of deadly diseases and searches for cures, of ‘yes’ votes and ‘no’ votes. And once again, University of Sussex staff, students and alumni have been out there helping to make, break and commentate on the news.
Here, in our Press Review of the Year, we celebrate some of the ways in which Sussex voices were heard in 2014.
A word in your ear…
What you say, how you say it, and to whom is far more revealing than you might think, according to Sussex researchers who have been listening in on the world of human – and animal – communication.
Making a big noise on BBC Radio 4’s 'Today' programme and elsewhere was research by Professor Karen McComb and Dr Graeme Shannon (Psychology) that showed African elephants can distinguish between different human languages – identifying those tribes that pose a threat to them.
It seems that dogs also have the ability to process human words and emotion, much to the delight of journalists. As soon as a study by Dr David Reby and Victoria Ratcliffe (Psychology) was off the leash, global media, including the New Scientist, Scientific American and the Daily Telegraph, were in pursuit, while Victoria and her dog Kira were even invited onto BBC One’s 'Breakfast' sofa.
It’s long been recognised that Americanisms creep into the English language, but as Dr Lynne Murphy (English) has been observing for Mail Online, the trend is reversing. ‘Standing in a queue’ is cropping up in conversations in the States where people used to ‘wait in line’. Dr Murphy was also on BBC Radio 3’s ‘The Verb’ discussing when such differences began to appear in English and American dictionaries.
Variations within a language are one thing. What difference does it make if you stray from your native tongue? Dr Justyna Robinson (English) discussed the effectiveness of world and business leaders giving speeches in languages not their own on BBC Radio 4’s 'The World Tonight’, following Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s address to Chinese students in Mandarin.
But words have no meaning without context. Dr Lucy Robinson (History) reflected on our desire to make narratives out of chaos, with reference to personal accounts by Falklands War veterans, for BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Human Zoo’.
And then there’s the unspoken word. Body language was thought to be a give-away when looking out for suspect passengers at airport security, but Professor Tom Ormerod’s (Psychology) new study, which he discussed on BBC Radio 4’s ‘All in the Mind’, revealed that conversation was far more effective at ferreting out the no-good.
Humans and machines
Well-known physicist Professor Stephen Hawking recently warned that artificial intelligence (AI) could pose a threat to mankind’s existence – echoing the plots of dystopian films such as ‘The Terminator’ and ‘The Matrix’. However, Sussex academics were on hand throughout the year to paint an altogether more balanced picture of the relationship between humans and machines.
Elsewhere, Professor Maggie Boden (Informatics) questioned in Forbes whether robots could ever rival the human brain when it comes to creativity, defined as “the ability to come up with ideas or artefacts that are new, surprising, and valuable.” Professor Boden, whose ‘life scientific’ was recently reviewed on BBC Radio 4, also appeared on the radio station’s ‘Can a computer write Shakespeare?’, suggesting that our cyborg friends would have a hard time creating a text that could equal the bard’s.
Ideas about the fast pace of technological innovation were challenged by Professor Mariana Mazzucato (SPRU) on the BBC World Service’s ‘In the Balance’; she claimed that instead of focusing on research and development, modern companies are instead choosing to spend money on boosting their financial profile.
Nevertheless, researchers in Sussex’s Physics Department may have brought us one step closer to intelligent computing with their new form of quantum microchip. The chip, which could lead the way to developing superfast computers, was featured in many physics-related blogs.
Elsewhere it was 'appy days for Sussex scientists working on mobile apps and computer programs, several of which caught the press’s attention.
Three Sussex graduates in AI have developed a fitness app that made it into the Argus – the application uses ‘cognitive technology’ to process user information and medical research more like a human than a computer.
Business Day reported on Dr Judith Good’s (Informatics) 'African Farmer' – an online game that simulates life as a small-scale farmer living in sub-Sahara Africa, and can be used in teaching or training at universities or schools.
Also on the topic of gaming, Dr Good and Dr Kate Howland (Informatics) caused a stir in the print and online media with their study that found girls were better than boys at making complex computer games. The story was picked up by the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and the Huffington Post among others.
Lastly, Sussex academics have applied themselves to the question of whether technology is good or bad for us.
Dr Ryota Kanai (Psychology) and researchers in the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science revealed a relationship between lower-density grey matter in the brain and media multi-tasking. The media made hay with the findings, with publications such as The Times, the Telegraph, NBC News and the Boston Globe all commenting on the dangers of computer addiction and ‘second screening’.
But it isn’t all bad news: Professor Seth appeared on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Future Proofing’ to offer a vision of the future where virtual-reality machines will allow us to travel to the North Pole, or the heart of an orchestra pit, without leaving our rooms.
Extreme talking points
Religious extremism and fringe politics took their fights to the mainstream in 2014 - and the media was a key battleground.
The stranglehold of Islamic State (Isis) in Syria and Iraq and Boko Haram in Nigeria saw gruesome execution videos and young British jihadis making the headlines. According to data collected by Professor Clionadh Raleigh (Geography), used by the BBC, civilian casualties in Nigeria blamed on militants tripled in the year until May. Sociologist Dr Suraj Lakhani (Sociology) was on hand to explain the complex factors behind the radicalisation of young muslims for The Scotsman, the Voice of Russia and BBC World News. He also spoke out in the Voice of Russia against the “potentially chilling effect” of Theresa May’s anti-extremism plans.
Closer to home, Dr Rumy Hasan (SPRU) was a bold and prolific voice in the debate about religious extremism and social cohesion in the UK. He spoke to the Voice of Russia about a new wave of censorship in Britain caused by a fear to speak out against religious beliefs – this reluctance to intervene was one of the factors contributing to the extent of the child abuse in Rotherham, he argued. Meanwhile, Dr Hasan’s work on multiculturalism and schools drew the attention of the Huffington Post, who sought his opinion on extreme Islamic ‘Trojan Horses’ in Birmingham schools, the rise of segregated schools, and how increasing diversity is affecting Britain’s foreign policy. He was quick, though, to play down as media scaremongering talk of a far-right backlash against Islamic extremism.
All this contributed to fertile voting ground for anti-immigration party UKIP whose soaring popularity saw them shed their ‘swivel-eyed loons’ label and gain their first two MPs. Professor Paul Taggart (Politics) explained to BBC Sussex listeners after the European elections in May how Nigel Farage and his party managed to move out of the political shadows to pull in the voters en masse. Professor Paul Webb’s (Politics) analysis of how UKIP transformed itself to appeal to both Labour and Conservative voters also intrigued journalists, with both the Independent and The Conversation running pieces. And with Farage’s party’s incredible gaffes seemingly doing nothing to dent support, Professor Webb highlighted in a piece for the Huffington Post why untried parties can get away with making daft mistakes.
And UKIP wasn’t the only of the smaller parties to have a big year. The SNP had their long-awaited moment in the spotlight as they unsuccessfully encouraged Scots to vote for independence in September. Professor Taggart provided local angles on the UK’s big political story of the year, providing the Argus with his views on the Scottish referendum’s possible lasting effects on the people of Sussex and speaking to BBC Sussex about the feasibility of an English parliament.
Mind the gender gap
Gender has always been a thorny issue, but luckily Sussex academics have been on hand throughout the year to dispel myths and cut through controversy.
One of the key topics capturing the media’s imagination was ‘laddism’. Dr Alison Phipps (Sociology) spoke on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thinking Allowed’ about the links between lad culture and neoliberalism at British universities. She also contributed a piece to the New Statesman, arguing that contemporary free-market heartlessness was leading to the emergence of a ‘new sexism’ in the UK.
Meanwhile, Dr Richard de Visser (Psychology) discussed ‘lad points’ with presenter Chris Stark on BBC Radio 1’s ‘Stories’, explaining how and why young men score each other for behaviour ranging from binge drinking to saving people’s lives.
Sussex researcher Isobel Young also pointed out in a Huffington Post article that some male students are under intense peer pressure to conform to laddist behaviours.
The pressure to fit in doesn’t end when men leave university, either – Andy Medhurst (Media and Film) wrote in The Conversation that males who engage in comedy banter on panel shows are actually seeking validation from their fellows.
How women balance work and family is another perennial topic for the media. Dr Tamsin Hinton-Smith (Education) spoke in the Times Higher Education magazine about the cost of childcare for female academics and the need for generous maternity packages at universities.
Professor Clare Mackie, Sussex’s Pro‑Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, responded in the Guardian to TV presenter Kirsty Allsop’s comment that young women should focus on having children and leave university until later. Professor Mackie described this advice as “nonsense”, arguing that university was an empowering and life‑changing experience that should not be put off.
The relationship between gender and technology has been a hot topic for the press recently, particularly when social media ‘trolling’ is involved. Both the Independent and the Daily Mail covered research by think-tank Demos and the University of Sussex suggesting that women are almost as likely as men to use misogynistic phrases on Twitter.
The Daily Mail also reported on further research by the Sussex-Demos partnership showing that men are more than twice as likely as women to be victims of trolling on Twitter, although they are also the ones most responsible for the bullying.
On a lighter note, University of Sussex research showing that women at their most fertile are more attracted to men who can produce complex music was a hit with both the national and international press. It just goes to show – music really is the food of love.
Economies around the world bounced back in 2014. But even with the language of recession and depression temporarily shelved, resurgent economies still provided plenty of discussion points for the media.
Journalists were hungry for fresh fiscal thinking and award-winning economist Professor Mariana Mazzucato (SPRU) stepped up to the plate, becoming a much-called-upon champion for governments to play a bigger role in driving innovation. Her book The Entrepreneurial State was used as the basis for an opinion piece in the New York Times on what the US government and private sector should be doing to promote research and innovation. She also guest-blogged for the Economist on start-up myths and evaluated the Canadian government’s ‘pro-business’ agenda for the Toronto Star. She put her debating skills to good effect, joining a BBC World Service panel discussion about innovation and the State and appearing on BBC Two’s Newsnight to provide expert commentary on the Chancellor’s Autumn Budget statement and economic prospects for the Eurozone.
And it was EU and its relationship with Britain and the rest of the world that dominated the financial news. Dr Peter Holmes (Economics) wrote about the tough road to a new trade deal between the US and Europe for The Conversation, Voice of Russia and the Argus. Dr Michael Gasiorek (Economics) illuminated the British jobs data that showed the value of being in the EU for The Conversation, which also ran a piece by Dr Rumy Hasan (SPRU) on the impact of immigration on growth. Meanwhile, Professor Ron Skeldon (Geography) showed in UK Net Guide that fewer Brits are migrating for work or retirement and Dr Des Doran (Business and Management) commented in Edinburgh News on why UK shoppers pay more than others in Europe for TVs and computers.
Growth can of course come at a cost. Dr Alex Coad (SPRU) was referenced in an Investors Chronicle article about how and why large companies become inefficient, and Dr Andrea Kornelakis (Business and Management) wrote for The Conversation about what has caused the huge pay inequalities in large companies. BBC Radio Sussex interviewed Professor Paul Nightingale (SPRU) about what would happen to the local and regional infrastructure if Gatwick Airport was to expand.
Meanwhile, the economic impact of the University itself was put under the spotlight in the Argus, with a new Oxford Economics report forecasting that Sussex’s contribution to the national and local economies will rise to £1 billion. The University was also a key partner in the £170-million Greater Brighton City Deal, approved by the Government in March to drive growth in high-tech businesses in the region. Many of Brighton’s digital and new media firms rely on highly skilled employees and Sussex graduates showing they can meet this need; successful digital marketing firm DC Storm – half of whose employees are Sussex graduates – was bought this year by a global e-commerce giant.
Made in Sussex
This year the media reported on the doings of Sussex graduates across the world and in all walks of life – from heads of state and business leaders to famous singers and athletes.
The Times Higher Education magazine featured graduate Elene Sopoaga, prime minister of Tuvalu, in a piece about current world leaders who studied in the UK.
Media attention was focused not only on grey eminences but also on young hopefuls: the Guardian ran a piece on alumnus Alex Ryabchyn, who is in line to be one of Ukraine’s newest politicians.
From the world of politics to the world of entertainment, actor and Sussex graduate Ophelia Lovibond appeared in the Metro and the Daily Mail to discuss her role in a new Sky Atlantic TV series, ‘Mr Sloane’.
Jessie Ware, a singer whose 2012 album ‘Devotion’ went gold, told BBC News online that she studied English Literature at Sussex and initially wanted to be a journalist.
Novelists also proved a popular subject with the press. Alumna Ann Cleeves talked to The Scotsman about the inspiration for her Shetland series of crime novels (now a BBC TV Series), while Carol McKee Jones’s success in jointly winning the Rethink Press New Novels Competition 2014 was picked up by the Argus.
The Guardian ran two interviews this year with entertainers who were previously Sussex students. Rising comedian Sara Pascoe told the paper that although a vegan herself, she can’t tell vegan jokes because they are ‘too quorny’. Virginia Wade, a very different type of performer – she is a former British number one tennis player – spoke of her love of Italy and how winning Wimbledon was her greatest achievement.
Our graduates have also been making waves in the world of business. Simon Segars, chief executive of ARM Holdings, discussed with City A.M. why so many people haven’t heard of the UK’s most valuable technology firm.
Also making the news was Sam Naef, a private tutor who spoke to The Argus about his social enterprise start-up iSKILLu, which allows people to share their skills through social media.
Lastly, the NY Times reported on the philanthropic activities of billionaire and Sussex alumna Zhang Xin. After studying at the University she went on to co-found SOHO China, the largest commercial real estate developer in Beijing, and she is now listed by Forbes as the 62nd most powerful woman in the world.
Commemorations and congratulations
With the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War this year, there has been a huge appetite for analysing what led to such a world-changing and tragic series of events.
Emeritus Professor John Rӧhl (History) was among those voices joining broadcaster Michael Portillo on BBC Radio 4’s ’The Great War of Words’ to discuss not just why the war began, but who started it. He also contributed to a panel discussion on BBC Radio 5 Live.
The 50th anniversary of another battle, albeit on much tinier scale and with no loss of life, was also subjected to closer scrutiny on the Sussex campus. Dr Pam Thurschwell (English) revisited the 1964 Mods and Rockers rumble on Brighton beach with a symposium looking back not just to the youth culture of the time, but to the inspiration behind one of her all-time favourite albums, The Who’s Quadrophenia. The event attracted attention from BBC Radio Sussex and BBC South East, as well as Rolling Stone magazine and a feature in Times Higher Education.
Another half-century was celebrated at Sussex in the summer when those who attended the University’s first graduation ceremony 50 years ago donned their gowns again to join the 2014 cohort. Two alumni, Roger Daw and Rachel Semlyen, were interviewed on BBC Sussex and also made the pages of the Argus with their reminiscences of when there were just 38 students and the campus was still largely under construction.
For others, this could be a year they will remember for their own achievements.
Professor Mariana Mazzucato won the inaugural New Statesman/SPERI award for her work on 'the entrepreneurial state' and innovation in the public sector. The story was covered in the New Statesman and picked up by the Argus.
The Argus and other media covered the news that Sussex Engineering and Design students won two of the categories in the Telegraph STEM awards, a national competition to recognise the best undergraduates studying science, technology, engineering and maths.
Also celebrating this year was Dr Minoli Salgado (English). She talked to BBC Sussex about her debut novel, A Little Dust on the Eyes, which was selected to be launched at the London Literature Festival at the Royal Festival Hall.
One of the saddest farewells this year was for Lord Attenborough, much-loved former Chancellor of the University and one of the most celebrated film makers and actors of his generation.
His death in August at the age of 90 sparked media tributes across the globe, many of them referencing his years at Sussex - including The Guardian and the New York Times - as well as looking back at an illustrious career that included directing Ghandi and Oh! What a Lovely War, and his chilling performances in Brighton Rock and 10 Rillington Place.
In local media he was also remembered, with the University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Farthing paying his respects on BBC South East, BBC Sussex, and in the Argus.
More tributes flowed in for Professor Mike Lappert, one of the world’s leading organic chemists, who died while playing tennis – at the age of 85. The Independent revealed that Professor Lappert had arrived in England in 1939 from Czechoslovakia on the Kindertransport. Both his parents died in Auschwitz.
The New York Times, the Daily Telegraph and The Scientist were among several publications to run obituaries on renowned Sussex primatologist Dr Alison Jolly, who died in in February. Her legacy to the science community has been both a ground-breaking study in the social behaviour of ring-tailed lemurs, and her work in raising awareness of the need to protect the rich wildlife of Madagascar.The science world was also mourning Professor John Postgate, who was at Sussex from 1965 until his retirement in 1987. An obituary in The Times described his ground-breaking work in microbiology – and his passion for playing jazz.
The untimely death of Professor Chris Marlin, Pro Vice-Chancellor at Sussex, shocked both the Sussex community and colleagues further afield. Times Higher Education ran an obituary noting how he had “led a sea change in internationalisation at Sussex,” while remembering him too as “a man of great warmth and adventurous spirit”.