Why UWE shouldn’t close their Philosophy department

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Yesterday, I found out that UWE Bristol were announcing the potential shutdown of their Philosophy department to new students after this year.

I found this out from a tweet, which shared a petition launched by a just-graduated student yesterday. While I’m not sure how effective the petition might be, it has recieved 2700 signatures in a day. I encourage you to sign and share this petition, in the hope that it persuades whoever made this decision to change their mind. The decision to close the UWE philosophy course is counterproductive and destructive, for reasons I’ll detail below. More importantly, this decision was made abruptly, with little consultation or communication.

Whoever made this decision has acted rashly and callously, leaving a cohort of foundation year students (and their programme leaders) unsure of whether the course they are preparing for will even exist after their preparation year. No student or staff member deserves to be placed in this position.

The petition is here: https://www.change.org/p/marc-griffiths-uwe-pro-vice-chancellor-and-executive-dean-of-health-and-applied-sciences-save-uwe-s-philosophy-programme

So, why is this decision misguided? Below the cut are three major reasons:

  1. Philosophy is one of UWEs most successful and highest-rated courses.
  2. UWEs philosophy course offers a unique module other philosophy courses cannot match.
  3. Philosophy is one of the most important subjects a university can offer, and philosophy graduates have essential skills and knowledge for today’s society.

Note: I’m not currently affiliated with UWE, aside from being an alumnus. I studied both of my degrees at UWE, and published my MSc research with supervision from UWE staff. I’m also not a philosophy student or graduate; my view of the value of philosophy comes from personal study and from how philosophy links to my degree subjects of psychology and science communication.

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Robot Wars Season 10 Post-Mortem

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This post is much later than intended, as I wasn’t able to watch all six episodes at the time and had to wait for reruns. Late enough, in fact, that the unfortunate news of its cancellation has already had its 15 minutes of angry tweets. So consider this a retrospective look at Season 10 rather than a live response. Also, spoiler warnings for the finalists and winner of Season 10.

Going into Season 10, I had been concerned about a few aspects of the show, such as the low profile of female team members, the robot reliability issues, and the focus on professionally-built robots. Rule changes ahead of Season 10 promised to bring in more diverse robots, and to counteract the dominance of spinners. So, how well did Season 10 live up to those promises?

Robots and Weapons

Episode One started well by introducing clusterbot The Swarm, built by Ian Watts of Team Big Brother fame. Clusterbots have often been failed experiments in previous series, mostly due to their weight limits and elimination rules. Clusterbots were either equally-sized pairs, or a near-heavyweight bot accompanied by a distraction minibot. As they were ruled out if either piece was immobilised, minibots were merely a liability, while paired bots were weaker than standard competitors without many corresponding advantages. However, due to advances in materials and weapons, The Swarm was made of five featherweight robots with individual working weapons. The Swarm could use four robots in each fight, and they would remain in if at least two robots (>40% by weight) were moving. This approach meant they could carry out the roles clusterbots were designed for, and generate tactical advantages like distractions and multiple angles of attack.

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Robot Wars and Women in STEM – Can the show achieve its goals?

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Season 10 of Robot Wars will hit our screens in the next few months. As a long-term fan, I’m happy that the most memorable show of my childhood is doing well. However, I’m uncertain whether Season 10 will be able to outgrow the problems that Seasons 8 and 9 highlighted.

Interviews with cast members such as Angela Scanlon hinted at the social goals invested under the fun and spectacle. Rebooted Robot Wars aimed to encourage women into engineering, to make robots more than just “boy’s toys”, and to interest children and young people in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths). But Seasons 8 and 9 revealed dramatic advances in robot technology – advances which have taken Robot Wars far from its amateur roots. To me, the rebooted show is less interesting or entertaining than the original show as a result. Also, the way both seasons have portrayed roboteering teams has arguably locked out women and people without a STEM background.

As a result, I believe that rebooted Robot Wars is currently failing at the social goals it set out to achieve. In its current format, it’s instead opposing the causes it wishes to champion. Something needs to change, and I hope that whatever is planned for Season 10 can bring the show closer towards its aims.

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