It has been a year of contrasts, with the extraordinary possibilities of our future world sharing the news agenda with modern crises on a global scale. As ever, University of Sussex experts have been out there helping to make, break and commentate on the headlines.
Here we celebrate some of the ways in which Sussex voices were heard in 2015, in our Press review of the year.
Against the grain
Going against the grain is in Sussex’s DNA and our academics forced people to rethink things time and again in 2015.
Professor Mariana Mazzucato (SPRU) rattled free-market economists around the world, taking her arguments about state-driven innovation to policy makers in Austria, Brazil, Indonesia and UAE. The US launch of her award-winning book The Entrepreneurial State inspired articles in the New York Times, TIME and the Financial Times (FT). Back in the UK, she was a regular studio guest on BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ and Channel 4 News, debating the size of the state, inflation, Greece, China and the Budget. Her criticism in the Guardian of George Osborne’s plans for permanent budget surpluses – and her support for ‘Corbynomics’ – was followed by her appointment as economic advisor to Labour’s new leadership, prompting articles in Le Monde, La Repubblica, BBC News, The Sunday Times, Bloomberg, Washington Post, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and City AM.
In other money matters, Dr Surendranath Jory’s (Business and Management) surprising finding that scandals can actually help businesses raised eyebrows at the Daily Telegraph, USA Today and others. And despite a Sussex-Brighton joint report, picked up by the i newspaper and BBC Radio 5 Live, finding that freelance workers are happier and better paid than employees, doubts were cast on the economic benefits of entrepreneurship by Professor David Storey (Business and Management) in the FT.
"Corporate scandals can act as a catalyst to implement changes that benefit investors."
Numbers don’t lie… but they can mask important considerations, as our researchers demonstrated this year. Data expert Dr Jacques Pezier (Business and Management) suggested revisiting the Heathrow airport expansion decision in the light of skewed numbers in the original reports. Professor Richard Tol (Economics) re-evaluated the efficacy of rainfall and air-pollution climate-cost models for Fox News and the BBC respectively. Ahead of climate talks in Paris, he spoke to international media about the tipping point where net benefits of climate change become net negatives and the ‘unrealistic’ target of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius. Elsewhere, Professor Peter Newell (International Relations) wrote for the Conversation about how to ensure governments stick to their Paris climate commitments and Dr Lucy Baker (SPRU) investigated green-energy spending in South Africa. On the policy front, Dr Philip Johnstone (SPRU) and Professor Andy Stirling (SPRU) called for greater clarity over Britain’s nuclear programme in the Ecologist.
Few issues are as morally and emotionally charged as those involving life or death, but it was into this arena that Dr Ted Morrow (Evolution, Behaviour and Environment) strode earlier this year as he spoke out against controversial plans to allow so-called ‘three-parent IVF’ in Britain. He told The Sunday Times, Medical News Today, the Daily Telegraph, BBC 5 Live, Nature and a parliamentary select committee that the technique, intended to prevent mitochondrial diseases being passed on to the next generation, had not been sufficiently tested for safety.
And it was to crowd expert Dr John Drury (Psychology) that the media turned to try to understand the tragic death of hundreds attending the hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. He challenged reports that blamed the worshippers, telling the Daily Telegraph, Yahoo!, LA Times, Gulf News and Sky News that poor management is generally the culprit in fatal crushes. He also contributed to a BBC Future piece on how to survive a disaster and commented on the 10th anniversary of the July 7 2005 terrorist attacks in London for the Argus and Heart Sussex.
The HE sector itself was something of a political football this year and numerous Sussex experts sought to influence or make sense of policy changes. The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Farthing, argued, in The Times, BBC News at Six, BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ and the Conversation, that lowering tuition fees would, paradoxically, be detrimental to poorer students. Elsewhere, Professor James Wilsdon’s major review into the role of metrics in research assessment was trailed by Times Higher Education (THE), the Guardian, Nature and Chemistry World. Professor Wilsdon was highly vocal in the science and innovation policy debate, discussing the importance of social science, public engagement, research funding, quangos and the spending review in the Guardian, PhD funding and the government’s HE green paper in the THE, and the European Commission’s new science advisors in The Scientist and Nature.
What’s the true cost of being cool? How important are early friendships? What influences achievement at school? Is scary television really bad for kids?
There are so many questions about how to raise children and this year, thanks to Sussex academics, we came closer to some of the answers.
As the Christmas tills are ringing, a study by Dr Robin Banerjee and Dr Matthew Easterbrook (Psychology) may make parents think again before giving in to their children’s demands for cool stuff. Contrary to popular belief, embracing consumer culture to fit in with your peers may well lead to unhappiness and make you less popular by the time you reach adulthood – a sobering tale for a raft of media, from Discovery News to the Sun.
But it seems there’s an important difference between popularity and genuine friendships. The Daily Mail, Boston Globe and Bright FM were among those noting Dr Rebecca Graber’s (Psychology) study, which found that a single supportive close friendship can help young people from low incomes thrive in challenging circumstances.
It may also be the case that your early friendships determine your later wealth. The Independent and Daily Telegraph were intrigued by a report by Professor Peter Dolton and Lucia Barbone (Economics) that showed children who held key roles in social groups at school earned more as adults.
Children who held key roles in social groups at school earned more as adults.
When it comes to academic achievement, stability at home is among the key factors. As Professor Gillian Hampden-Thompson (Education and Social Work) explained for The Conversation, young people in stable, lone-mother and lone-father families were just as likely to stay in education as those in stable, married households.
Meanwhile, Dr Alison Pike‘s (Psychology) research, which attracted the attention of Newsroom America and may others, found that self-esteem is linked to the parent who is considered most powerful in the household.
Her findings were echoed in Rachel Latham’s (Psychology) study, which showed that children are more likely to be troublesome at home in families in which the father feels unsupported (as covered by Children and Young People Now). And Dr Bonamy Oliver (Psychology) joined experts on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Bringing up Britain’ to argue that nature as much as nurture plays a role in children’s behaviour.
The one thing parents may be relieved to hear is that, according to a literature review by Laura Pearce and Professor Andy Field (Psychology), the impact of scary TV on children has been overstated. News coverage - including in the Sun, Science Word Report and BBC Sussex - highlighted the assertion that the rise in childhood anxiety may be linked to the content of news reports rather than an increase in zombies and aliens on the small screen.
One in two young people identified as something other than 100-per-cent heterosexual.
Another sign of modern times is that children are now more fluid in their views of sexuality. Dr Sharif Mowlabocus (Media and Film) joined a discussion on BBC World Service’s ‘News Hour’ to review an opinion poll that showed one in two young people in the UK identified as something other than 100-per-cent heterosexual.
There’s one aspect of growing up that will never change: embarrassing teenage diaries. As BBC Sussex reported, a celebration of pubescent musings was hosted by Mass Observation in partnership with Cringe UK as part of the Being Human Festival of Humanities. Brave members of the University community, including Dr Lucy Robinson (History), Dr Pam Thurschwell (English) and Jane Harvell (Library), were among those revisiting the smudged pages of their youth.
Power to the people
There were times during 2015 when global politics became as baffling as an M&S Brussel sprout smoothie. Fortunately, Sussex experts were on hand to give some clarity.
The year began with eyes focused on the Greek elections and the success of the far-left Syriza party, which led Professor Dan Hough (Politics) to speculate in the Washington Post and on BBC Five Live and Channel 4 News what this may mean for the country, still in the throes of a financial crisis.
“While parties such as Syriza can talk radically, they tend to behave rather differently when in government.”
When various Greek bailout offers failed, Professor Mariana Mazzucato (SPRU) argued in the Guardian why monetary union in the eurozone was impossible and went on Channel 4 News to advise how the money should be invested in infrastructure. Also contributing to the debate were Professor Paul Taggart and Dr Kai Oppermann (Politics), who wrote on The Conversation about why the Greeks voted against austerity, and Dr Andreas Antoniades (International Relations), who spoke to Bloomberg about the risks of accepting payments from Greek bank accounts.
As financial and political issues engulfed Greece, the country was also among those struggling to cope with the surge of refugees from Syria and its neighbours. Dr James Hampshire (Politics) explained to the Argus and BBC Sussex how increasing boat controls or building more fences would not prevent or deter those desperate to flee their war-torn homelands, and he told the Daily Mirror that the UK and Europe had a “moral responsibility” to act now. For The Conversation and BBC Sussex, Dr Michael Collyer (Geography) addressed the practical steps countries and communities need to take to integrate these new populations, while Professor Alex Szczerbiak (Politics) argued on The Conversation why Poland’s new right-wing Government was taking a hardline stance on immigration.
VIDEO: Dr Suraj Lakhani, Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Sociology, describes how his research into youth subcultures can help inform government policies on terrorism.
When Islamic State turned to the cold-blooded killing of tourists in Tunisia and the bon viveurs of Paris, the UK media understandably wanted to know who would be next. Multiple news organisations, including the Daily Mirror and Wales Today, reported on Dr Suraj Lakhani's (Sociology) research, which showed that, although more than a thousand IS supporters had left the UK to join the militants, only some had returned. Dr Paul Lashmar (Media and Film) turned his attention to security issues for The Conversation. And in the run-up to the government’s vote for airstrikes on Isil targets, Dr Rumy Hasan (SPRU) was quoted in Metro as doubting that there were 70,000 moderate Syrians prepared to fight against the terrorists.
The UK’s parliamentary election provoked some interesting comment, particularly in the early stages when it seemed to be an open field. Professor Paul Webb (Politics) predicted for Policy Network that the Greens would have their highest-vote ever, and Professor Taggart joined a discussion on BBC Radio 4’s Analysis on the rise of populism.
Meanwhile, Professor Ivor Gaber (Media and Film) wrote regular columns for the Argus on how the local politicians might fare. And Dr Alban Webb (Media and Film) commented on BBC Radio 5 Live about some of the more amusing tactics used by the parties – such as the Greens’ video with lookalikes singing about a coalition - to win over voters.
When news emerged that Jeremy Corbyn had become the Labour Party’s new leader, Radio Sussex turned again to Professors Webb and Taggart for their takes, while Professor Mazzucato discussed Corbyn’s economic proposals on Bloomberg.
The disempowered also had Sussex champions this year. Professor Louise Morley and Dr Barbara Crossouard (Education) highlighted the dearth of female leaders and researchers in higher education in Asia (as reported by Times Higher Education and others), and for The Conversation, Dr Mari Martiskainen (SPRU) called for urgent action to tackle fuel poverty.
The year ended with a ray of hope at the Paris climate-change talks, when 196 countries agreed to keep global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees centigrade. Good news for the planet and its people, although the Daily Mail still managed to turn Professor Jim Watson's (SPRU) reminder about finding alternatives to our domestic energy sources into the grim news: “Climate change signals end to gas cookers.”
Tricks of nature
Nature may be red in tooth and claw, but according to academics at Sussex, the natural world is also a place of trickery and deception.
Bumblebees are nature’s burglars, found Sussex researchers, with many stealing pollen and nectar from nearby nests rather than gathering it themselves. The study by Dr Ellen Rotheray (Evolution, Behaviour and Environment) and her team caused quite a buzz in the media, with the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and Metro all featuring the story.
“One side will always want to cheat the other if they could get away with it.”
Another Sussex study revealed that bees are themselves the victims of dirty tricks, as plants are lacing their nectar with caffeine in order to keep the insects coming back.
The study led by Dr Margaret Couvillon (Life Sciences) made the news internationally, with publications including New Scientist and Washington Post comparing bees’ caffeine cravings with our own addiction to coffee.
The insect world is not the only place where deception abounds: as we saw earlier in the year when #TheDress began trending, our own brains are capable of catching us out.
“What enters the eye is just a spectrum of wavelengths of light.”
The public may have been divided over whether the garment was blue and black, or white and gold, but Sussex academics Marie Rogers (Psychology) and Professor Anil Seth (Sackler Centre) were able to clear things up in the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and the Sun.
The University also hit the headlines after researchers discovered new methods for exploiting how the mind works, opening up a possible future where we drink less, have better memories and see the world as a happier place.
Dr Dominic Conroy (Psychology) found that campaigns to get young people to cut down on drinking should focus on the benefits of sobriety rather than the risks of binge‑drinking, news that was lapped up by press outfits including the Argus, Belfast Telegraph and The Australian.
We also learnt that gabbing gives the game away. A study led by Professor Tom Ormerod (Psychology) showed that engaging people in conversation during security checks at airports is a highly effective way of exposing those with false cover stories. Metro, the Daily Mirror, and BBC Future all reported on the research, which could also have implications for police inquiries and job interviews.
Next, ever wondered how to improve your memory? Research by Dr Chris Bird (Psychology), mentioned by BBC Future and NBC News, found that it’s possible to improve your recollection of an event by replaying it to yourself and describing it in your head as soon as it’s happened.
We discovered how a person can change their worldview – by smiling more. The New York Times gave the nod to Professor Hugo Critchley’s (Sackler Centre) study showing that when we smile, we see other people’s frowns as less severe, and that when we frown we see their smiling faces as less happy.
Lastly, it may seem that horses have long faces, but Sussex researchers made the national news after revealing that the animals share some surprisingly similar facial expressions to humans and chimps.
Professor Karen McComb (Psychology) and Jennifer Wathan (Psychology) featured in a range of publications including the Guardian, Daily Mirror¸ Daily Mail and the Independent after discovering that horses, like humans, use their nostrils, lips and eyes to create a variety of facial expressions in different social situations.
The massive and the miniscule
Answers to life’s big questions can come in all shapes and sizes, as Sussex researchers demonstrated in 2015.
Clever crunching spurned a number of insights from big data this year, including a visual mapping of Boko Haram attacks over time for CBC News, using Caitriona Dowd’s (Geography) Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project, while Sussex’s work to open up the NHS’s electronic records was mentioned on PMLive.
Consciousness expert Professor Anil Seth (Informatics) took to the airwaves to analyse the first results of a number of large projects into the human brain for BBC Radio 4, and Professor Tim Hitchcock (History) delved into digitised historical records to show The Big Issue how poor people made Britain great.
VIDEO: Professor Anil Seth, Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience and Co-Director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, describes how technology can now illuminate what’s happening in our brains when we have experiences.
There aren’t many bigger sources of big data than social media, of course. That’s why an algorithm created by computer scientists in the Text Analytics Group – capable of listening to and understanding thousands of tweets a minute – was the ideal tool for measuring the public mood around May’s general election in the UK. The Sunday Times, BBC News, BBC One ‘Breakfast’, Sky News, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and the Hindu Times all signed up to count campaign cheers and ballot-box boos.
The team delved into the Twittersphere again to assess the state of racial slurs online, as Huffpost Tech found out, and told the Guardian datablog about their work into ethics in social-media research.
But it was in matters of particles and planets that things got really massive.
The rebooting of the Large Hadron Collider – the largest particle accelerator in the world – reinvigorated Professor Antonella De Santo (Physics and Astronomy) and her team in their search for ‘supersymmetry’, evidence of which would solve some of the Universe’s biggest mysteries. The Times, ITV1 Meridian South and Latest TV got the lowdown.
Meanwhile, Dr Shaun Hotchkiss (Physics and Astronomy) commented on the search to understand the early Universe using data from the Planck satellite.
The most spectacular solar eclipse for 15 years sent eyes skyward in March and Dr Darren Baskill (Physics and Astronomy) illuminated readers of the Argus, stopping off at BBC Sussex’s studios to preview his Stargazing Live event on campus.
The public’s interest in space piqued, Dr Jillian Scudder (Physics and Astronomy) explained how the dying Sun will wipe out the human race (in a billion years) and imparted what we know about hypergiant stars, both in the Conversation.
As scientists will tell you, sometimes the biggest answers come from the most tiny sources. Enter the neutrino. This ghost-like sub-atomic particle ‘won’ the Nobel Prize for Physics this autumn and could have another on the way, said neutrino scientist Dr Simon Peeters (Physics and Astronomy) in The Conversation, PhysOrg and Epoch Times.
With a superfast computing revolution edging closer, journalists made a special effort to get their heads around quantum technology this year. Electronic News and others explained the significance of a Sussex project to fit photon pairs on a computer chip, and a team led by Professor Winfried Hensinger (Physics and Astronomy) used microwaves to freeze atoms to within a millionth of a degree of absolute zero, impressing science websites including Information Society.
Moving from microwaves to microscopes, researchers in Life Sciences honed in on the tiniest structures in our bodies to discover new ways of fighting diseases.
We also took a step closer to understanding a key process in the bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB) thanks to Dr Mark Paget (Biochemistry), prompting stories in a host of pharmaceutical publications, including Medical Xpress.
“Without Terry Pratchett's contribution, we would not be at the stage that we are now.”
Finally, Professor Louise Serpell (Biochemistry) paid a fitting tribute to giant of fantasy fiction Sir Terry Pratchett - who helped fund her work into Alzheimer’s disease – by writing for the Conversation about her progress in the search for a cure.
The future is now
The way we treat diseases, grow crops, and even watch TV is set to change in future, and researchers at Sussex have been helping to bring about this brave new world.
The University made the headlines this year as the home of several cutting-edge inventions, including the world’s first ‘sonic tractor beam’. The device, which uses sound waves to lift and move objects, could be used to treat diseases in future by transporting drug capsules through living tissue. It was a big hit with the press, with publications including the Daily Telegraph, the Independent and the Guardian all drawing parallels with fictional ‘tractor beams’ mentioned in the Star Wars and Star Trek movie franchises.
Elsewhere, the Daily Mail featured another Sussex story with a sci-fi twist, reporting that ‘fleets of Terminator-style drones’ controlled by artificial bee brains could soon be buzzing around our skies. Professor Thomas Nowotny (Informatics) and his team are exploring the use of insect-brained drones to pollinate crops or even assist on search and rescue missions.
Love was truly in the air, as a study led by Dr Marianna Obrist (Informatics) found that human emotion can be transferred by a device that stimulates different parts of the hand with bursts of air. The media fell head over heels for this research, with BBC News, the Daily Mail and Vice all running the story.
Machines and technology seemed likely to inherit the earth, yet we also got a glimpse of what art will look like in tomorrow’s world.
Dr Obrist and her team at the Sussex Human Computer Interaction (SCHI) Lab made the news for helping art-lovers to gain a new perspective on paintings in the Tate collection. The Guardian, BBC News and Wired all covered Tate Sensorium, an ‘immersive art experience’ that used taste, touch, smell and hearing to bring an extra dimension to four of the Tate Britain’s paintings.
Also uncovering new and hidden perspectives was Familiars, an exhibition by Wesley Goatley (Media and Film) and Dr Georgina Voss (SPRU). The researchers used data from planes, trains and cargo ships to expose the transport infrastructure that operates around us, earning them a mention in the Argus.
The past may be a ‘foreign country’, but an exhibition at the Science Museum caught the press’s attention by highlighting the connections between photography’s past, present and future.
“Early scientific photographs both exposed and surpassed the limits of human vision.”
The exhibition, co‑curated by Dr Benedict Burbridge (Art History), focused on how early scientific photography has influenced modern and contemporary art. The Wall Street Journal, Daily Mirror, BBC World Service and BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme all provided a snapshot of what was on display.
Other Sussex academics have piqued the media’s interest this year with their efforts to bridge the gap between the past and the present. Professor Andrew Hadfield (English) wrote for the Irish Times about the importance of the year 1606 for Shakespeare – a year in which the bard is claimed to have written two of his most famous tragedies, King Lear and Macbeth.
VIDEO: Professor Peter Boxall, Professor of English and author of 21st-Century-Fiction, reviews the history of the novel from Defoe to the contemporary and asks if words can ever capture reality.
Just as Shakespeare lives on as a talking point, so the novel as an art form continues to inspire debate. Professor Peter Boxall (English) cast an eye over the shortlist for the latest Man Booker prize for The Conversation, commenting that the genre is thriving despite endless prophecies of its demise.
Across-the-board league table rises, soaring employability figures, record student numbers, a much-loved building restored and £500m of new ones on the way – Sussex’s remarkable year certainly caught the eye of the nation’s media.
Sussex’s campus and its setting near bustling Brighton is a big draw for our students, so it was good news for all when the University’s £500-million masterplan for future development was approved this summer. The Argus, ITV Meridian, Heart FM, BBC Sussex, Planning Resource and Times Higher Education all reported the news.
The future of the University’s many listed buildings was also secured with the signing of an unprecedented partnership agreement with Historic England and the local council to streamline the planning process, as followers of the Argus, B Daily, BBC Sussex, Planning Resource, Brighton and Hove News, BBC South East and others found out.
And the opening of Sussex’s first-ever off-campus site – a new Croydon branch for our hugely successful Sussex Innovation business growth engine – caused a stir in the Evening Standard, The Sunday Times, StartUps.co.uk and others, boosted by the release of new research showing that two-thirds of London business owners are considering leaving the capital.
“We recognised two decades ago that universities like Sussex have huge innovation potential.”
Labour MP Chuka Umunna dropped by on the campaign trail in April and Small-Business Minister Anna Soubry MP officially opened the centre in October.
But the widest smiles were reserved for the return of what Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Farthing called the “campus heartbeat” in an interview with the Argus – the newly refurbished Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, named in honour of the late Lord Attenborough. BBC News, Wallpaper, Architect’s Journal, Training Zone, The Latest and Building all showed an interest in the £7.2 million revamp and the appointment of new Creative Director Laura McDermott.
It was a fitting tribute to our former Chancellor to celebrate the opening with a giant picture show of his films and family photos projected on the side of the building that bears his name. The Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, The Times, and a host of international media shared the spectacle, timed to coincide with the first anniversary of his death.
And the Attenborough family’s decision to entrust the University with Lord A’s extensive archive of personal and work papers excited many journalists… but they will have to wait a bit longer for their feature stories while our Special Collections team painstakingly sort and catalogue the collection.
The great man once said that “art is for everyone” – an ethos that lives on in our approach to education. Which is why we responded in the best way we knew how to the humanitarian crisis sweeping Europe, by making available 50 scholarships for Syrian refugees to come and study with us. ITV Meridian, the Argus and Huffington Post were among those helping to spread the news. For students already with us, our pioneering internship scheme with firms in China made headlines in the Times Higher Education.
Closer to home, our work to open up university education to bright youngsters from all backgrounds continued to attract attention from the outside world. To give just a flavour… A-level students heard from top female scientists at a Life Sciences symposium, the Guardian visited our clearing engine room on A-level results day, our Head of Admissions gave teenagers UCAS application advice in the Observer, schoolchildren learnt about programming, we hosted a chemistry competition for local schools and we put on GCSE revision classes.
“The best personal statements are analytical and reflective, not just descriptive.”
Of course the most satisfying moment comes when those young people reach their potential, which is why the huge improvement in career outcomes for our students – with 90 per cent in graduate-level jobs or study six months after graduating – was so welcome. It played a big part in Sussex’s rise in all the major league tables this year, resulting in a top-20 position in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’. The same magazine also named Sussex in the top 50 most international universities in the world and, as Brighton Business and the Argus reported, we beat Harvard and Oxford to be ranked number one in the world for Development Studies.
The year started with the news that Sussex was one of only two universities (Exeter is the other) to see a rise in students accepting a place for the eighth year in a row. After a year like 2015, it’s hard not to feel optimistic for more good news in January and beyond.