Tag Archives: research

Crucial unanswered questions remain in Amazon’s pre-Christmas UK drone delivery announcement

The fanfare announcement by Amazon that they have recently made their first successful delivery by drone to a customer in the UK, whilst it provided valuable pre-Christmas publicity for Amazon and its Prime Air delivery service, should not be allowed to hide some serious issues concerning the overall viability of large scale drone deliveries and the public acceptance factor of such delivery services.

Amazon claim that this first delivery was achieved within 30 minutes from the purchaser’s click to the package being delivered at their home. A heavily choreographed positive-message video was released showing the delivery being made. Even with this carefully scripted video however it was possible to see obvious pointers to the thorny issues that are likely to be prevalent where drones are used as delivery vehicles. For much of 2016 Amazon have been conducting drone delivery research from an isolated rural location near Cambridge, and the video of the delivery being made on December 7th highlights the rural nature of the general locality, but also contains footage of the drone flying over houses and following the route of a road below it.

Whilst Amazon for the purposes of their Cambridge research have permission from the Civil Aviation Authority to fly drones beyond line of sight of the drone operator, and given the law on trespass and nuisance in respect to aircraft in the UK, it would prove challenging for anyone to bring a successful legal action against Amazon, the fact remains that some people, perhaps many, will not be happy having the airspace above their homes used as a road in the sky. Furthermore, there are safety concerns, including how distracting it may be for drivers to have autonomous drones flying above and across roads? If distraction accidents occur who will be legally responsible? Such issues need addressing, but unfortunately with Amazon’s beyond line of sight drone delivery programme there appears a void.

The Cambridge drone research programme had already earlier in the year attracted some significant criticism from a local group of conservation volunteers, the Friends of the Roman Road and Fleam Dyke, who voiced strong concerns over the impact of drone activity on wildlife and the tranquillity of the area they work to preserve. The voluntary group only became aware of Amazon’s drone delivery programme when they were approached by the media for their comments on the programme.

The Civil Aviation Authority have following an FOI request recently published on their website the email correspondence between themselves and Amazon, going back over two years to 2014 when Amazon first approached the CAA about the possibility of conducting drone delivery research in the UK. Included within that email correspondence is a very telling email dated the 28th July 2014 from an Amazon employee to the CAA, which states that if Amazon do decide to start testing in the UK (which of course they subsequently were allowed to do), that they would discuss further with the CAA how to tackle the issue of public perception.

Unfortunately, other than a somewhat belated invitation to some local Cambridge schoolchildren to visit the Amazon laboratory in Cambridge, there appears to have been no obvious attempt to engage with the wider Cambridge public on the use of drones for delivery purposes, and it may be asked that if Amazon truly envisage drone deliveries to be a viable commercial proposition, whether they have actually taken the view that so long as they are seen as acting within the law, then public perceptions can be left to others to address. If this is the case, then this attitude points to an arrogant corporatist approach, and it does great dis-service to the drone industry as a whole, in which many have been working to engage with the wider public to highlight the value for society of drone technology.



Insurers mesothelioma research donations to be welcomed, but should only be seen as a down payment

Whilst any fresh money that is made available for research into mesothelioma is to be welcomed, today’s announcement of the donations by insurers, Zurich and Aviva, to the British Lung Foundation needs to be put into context.

The BLF are to be congratulated in obtaining funds from these two companies after the protracted and clearly difficult discussions they have had with insurers.

The donations in total are £1 million over 2 years. In other words £250,000 per year for each company. This in reality is petty cash for these corporations. Aviva for instance made in 2013, £2.8 billion in pre tax profits. In the same year they donated on what they call Community Investment schemes (in other words charitable donations) £6.2 million. So £250,000 is clearly not an extraordinary sum for a yearly donation. Furthermore, these donations are eligible to be set against corporation tax, which currently stands at 21%, so the actual cash cost to these companies comes down to under £200,000 for each of them per year.

These companies may have an eye on the General Election and the possible Labour Party plan if elected to amend the Mesothelioma Act to introduce a further levy on insurers to provide for mesothelioma research funds. If Labour are elected and they were to be swayed by such donations, this would be tantamount to a sell out of mesothelioma victims. Labour, if elected in May, should go ahead with their plan, but they also need to include the savings the Government are making under the Mesothelioma Act, to boost the overall mesothelioma research funding pot of money, in order to provide for long term meaningful and sustainable research funds.

Cancer Survival Report

A major new study on cancer survival rates has been published by Cancer Research UK, with all of the major media outlets picking up on the huge increase in relative survival rates since the 1970’s. Great news that shows the progress made through years of research into the different cancers.

But with these things it is always important to look past the bigger picture, and look at the specific detail. 21 cancers were measured in the study carried out by a team led by Professor Michel Coleman. For 10 year survival, bottom of the table comes Pancreas cancer at a 2.8% survival rate, with Lung cancer just above at 5%. Compare that for example to Prostate cancer, where the 10 year survival rate is 68.5%. Clearly these are huge variations. The 5 year survival rate has a similar picture, with Pancreas cancer a 4% survival rate, Lung cancer  around 9%, and Prostate cancer 81%.

Mesothelioma comes within the lung cancer figures, and arguably whilst the overall trend is positive, the low percentage survival rates for lung cancer and pancreas cancer highlight the need for increased research to begin to close the substantial percentage survival gaps that exist with most of the other 21 cancers surveyed.


I thought I would re-publicise the petition I started on the government e-petition website back in January. Mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases need research to help identify new treatments. Research needs funding, which the government has never provided. Mesothelioma is not going away, and thousands more victims will die from it in the coming years.

Please sign if you can.


Good news for mesothelioma victims, but Government windfall of £63 million is a bitter pill

Those mesothelioma victims who will soon be able to claim compensation under the provisions of the new Mesothelioma Act received some good news this week, when the Department of Work and Pensions announced that as a result of reduced administration costs related to the running of the new compensation scheme, victims will now receive an extra £8000, bringing the expected average payments to £123,000.

Government figures suggest that ultimately around 3500 victims will benefit from the new compensation scheme, which enables those former employees negligently exposed to asbestos by their employer, but who are unable to sue their former employer as they are no longer in business and no insurance policy can be found, to receive money from the insurance industry funded scheme.

When the Mesothelioma Act was going through the House of Commons, the government resolutely refused to raise the level of payments above 75% of the average level of payments received in successful civil claims. Whilst the announcement raising the level of payments is to be welcomed, it does raise some questions over how the government have constructed the scheme. The savings that have enabled the extra  money to be paid are coming from a lower than expected tender for the running of the scheme. The contract has been awarded to Gallagher Bassett. A quick calculation show that the saving is £28 million, which is quite frankly a staggering figure, and suggests the government were either negligent in their calculations, or deliberately over budgeted the forecast administration costs in order to be able to triumphantly raise the payment levels subsequently.

The government besides being robust in their earlier rejection of a higher pay out than 75%, were also robust in rejecting a levy to create research funds that have been so desperately needed for mesothelioma research. The government themselves are going to benefit from this scheme to the tune of at least £63 million. How? Quite simply, victims such as those who will now be claiming under the new scheme will no longer be making claims under the statutory Pneumoconiosis (Workers Compensation) Scheme funded by the government. Average payments under this scheme are about £18,000. Therefore 3500 x £18,000 = £63 million.

This money should be ring fenced and made available for research into mesothelioma.  If this government truly care about mesothelioma victims, as they have tried to claim, then they should do the right thing.

Mesothelioma Research Funding Vote – List of Shame

On this very sad day I am going to list the MP’s who voted against the Late Paul Goggins amendment to the Mesothelioma Bill which  would have provided dedicated funds for research into mesothelioma. Those Conservative and Liberal Democrat MP’s in voting against the amendment were in effect denying hope to the victims of mesothelioma. Hang your head in shame

Nigel Adams – Con
Adam Afriyie – Con
Peter Aldous – Con
David Amess – Con
Stuart Andrew – Con
James Arbuthnot – Con
Norman Baker – Lib
Steve Baker – Con
Tony Baldry – Con
Harriett Baldwin – Con
Gregory Barker – Con
Guto Bebb – Con
Henry Bellingham – Con
Richard Benyon – Con
Paul Beresford – Con
Jake Berry – Con
Andrew Bingham – Con
Brian Binley – Con
Bob Blackman – Con
Crispin Blunt – Con
Nick Boles – Con
Peter Bone – Con
Angie Bray – Con
Julian Brazier – Con
Andrew Bridgen – Con
Steve Brine – Con
James Brokenshire – Con
Annette Brooke – Lib
Fiona Bruce – Con
Malcolm Bruce – Lib
Aidan Burley – Con
David Burrowes – Con
Paul Burstow – Lib
Alistair Burt – Con
Lorely Burt – Lib
Vince Cable – Lib
Alun Cairns – Con
Menzies Campbell – Lib
Neil Carmichael – Con
Douglas Carswell – Con
William Cash – Con
Rehman Chishti – Con
James Clappison – Con
Greg Clark – Con
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown – Con
Therese Coffey – Con
Damian Collins – Con
Oliver Colvile – Con
Mike Crockart – Lib
David T Davies – Con
Glyn Davies – Con
Nick de Bois – Con
Caroline Dinenage – Con
Johnathan Djanogly – Con
Stephen Dorrell – Con
Nadine Dorries – Con
Jackie Doyle-Price – Con
James Duddridge – Con
Alan Duncan – Con
Michael Ellis – Con
Jane Ellison – Con
Tobias Ellwood – Con
Charlie Elphicke – Con
Graham Evans -Con
Jonathan Evans – Con
Nigel Evans – IND
David Evennett – Con
Tim Farron – Lib
Lynne Featherstone – Lib
Mark Field – Con
Liam Fox – Con
George Freeman – Con
Mike Freer – Con
Lorraine Fulbrook – Con
Roger Gale – Con
Edward Garnier – Con
Mark Garnier – Con
David Gauke – Con
Andrew George – Lib
Stephen Gilbert – Lib
Cheryl Gillan – con
John Glen – Con
Zac Goldsmith – Con
Robert Goodwill – Con
Richard Graham – Con
James Gray – Con
Chris Grayling – Con
Damian Green – Con
Andrew Griffiths – Con
Sam Gyimah – Con
Robert Halfon – Con
Matthew Hancock – Con
Mark Harper – Con
Richard Harrington – Con
Rebecca Harris – Con
Simon Hart – Con
Nick Harvey – Lib
Alan Haselhurst – Con
John Hayes – Con
Oliver Heald – Con
David Heath – Lib
Chris Heaton-Harris – Con
John Hemming – Lib
Gordon Henderson – Con
Charles Hendry – Con
Damian Hinds – Con
Mark Hoban – Con
George Hollingbery – Con
Phillip Hollobone – Con
Kris Hopkins – Con
Gerald Howarth – Con
John Howell – Con
Simon Hughes – Lib
Jeremy Hunt – Con
Julian Huppert – Lib
Nick Hurd – Con
Stewart Jackson – Con
Margot James – Con
Sajid Javid – Con
Gareth Johnson – Con
Joseph Johnson – Con
Andrew Jones – Con
David Jones – Con
Marcus Jones – Con
Daniel Kawczynski – Con
Chris Kelly – Con
Charles Kennedy – Lib
Simon Kirby – Con
Kwasi Kwarteng – Con
Norman Lamb – Lib
Mark Lancaster – Con
Andrew Lansley – Con
Pauline Latham – Con
David Laws – Lib
Andrea Leadsom – Con
Jessica Lee – Con
John Leech – Lib
Jeremy Lefroy – Con
Edward Leigh – Con
Charlotte Leslie – Con
Brandon Lewis – Con
Julian Lewis – Con
David Lidington – Con
Peter Lilley – Con
Stephen Lloyd – Lib
Tim Loughton – Con
Peter Luff – Con
Karen Lumley – Con
Mary Macleod – Con
Anne Main – Con
Francis Maude – Con
Paul Maynard – Con
Jason McCartney – Con
Karl McCartney – Con
Patrick McLoughlin – Con
Stephen McPartland – Con
Stephen Metcalfe – Con
Maria Miller – Con
Nigel Mills – Con
Anne Milton – Con
Andrew Mitchell – Con
Michael Moore – Lib
Penny Mordaunt – Con
Nicky Morgan – Con
David Morris – Con
James Morris – Con
Stephen Mosley – Con
David Mowat – Con
Greg Mulholland – Lib
Tessa Munt – Lib
Sheryl Murray – Con
Andrew Murrison – Con
Robert Neill – Con
Brooks Newmark – Con
Sarah Newton – Con
Caroline Nokes – Con
David Nuttall- Con
Stephen O’Brien – Con
Matthew Offrd – Con
Eric Ollerenshaw – Con
Guy Opperman – Con
Richard Ottaway – Con
Neil Parish – Con
Mark Pawsey – Con
Mike Penning – Con
John Penrose – Con
Claire Perry – Con
Christopher Pincher – Con
Daniel Poulter – Con
Mark Prisk – Con
John Pugh – Lib
Dominic Raab – Con
John Redwood – Con
Jacob Rees- Mogg – Con
Alan Reid – Lib
Malcolm Rifkind – Con
Andrew Robathan – Con
Laurence Robertson – Con
Dan Rogerson – Lib
Amber Rudd – Con
Bob Russell – Lib
David Rutley – Con
Adrian Sanders – Lib
Laura Sandys – Con
Lee Scott – Con
Andrew Selous – Con
Alok Sharma – Con
Alec Shelbrooke – Con
Richard Shepherd – Con
Mark Simmonds – Con
Keith Simpson – Con
Chloe Smith – Con
Henry Smith – Con
Julian Smith – Con
Robert Smith – Lib
Anna Soubry – Con
Caroline Spelman – Con
Mark Spencer – Con
John Stanley – Con
Andrew Stephenson – Con
John Stevenson – Con
Bob Stewart – Con
Iain Stewart – Con
Rory Stewart – Con
Gary Streeter – Con
Mel Stride – Con
Graham Stuart – Con
Andrew Stunell – Lib
Julian Sturdy – Con
Ian Swales – Lib
Desmond Swayne – Con
Robert Syms – Con
Peter Tapsell – Con
John Thurso – Lib
Edward Timpson – Con
Justin Tomlinson – Con
David Tredinnick – Con
Elizabeth Truss – Con
Andrew Turner – Con
Andrew Tyrie – Con
Paul Uppal – Con
Martin Vickers – Con
Charles Walker – Con
Robin Walker – Con
David Ward – Lib
Angela Watkinson – Con
Mike Weatherley – Con
Steve Webb – Lib
James Wharton – Con
Heather Wheeler – Con
Chris White – Con
John Whittingdale – Con
Bill Wiggin – Con
David Willetss – Con
Roger Williams – Lib
Stephen Williams – Lib
Gavin Williamson – Con
Jenny Willott – Lib
Rob Wilson – Con
Jeremy Wright – Con
Simon Wright – Lib
Tim Yeo – Con
George Young – Con
Nadhim Zahawi – Con

The Big Data challenge

We are hearing more and more the term Big Data, and I suppose like many vogue terms it can mean whatever we want it to mean. However, it seems that the basic idea it represents is that computer technology now allows us to collect more information/data than has ever been possible in human history, and that is precisely what we are doing – hence Big Data. Simple examples of Big Data in operation are the vast data warehouses operated globally by Google, and of course the governmental collecting of vast amounts of data in a digital format. But it is not merely giant corporations or governments that are able to establish vast repositories of digital data. Computer technology allows us as individuals to create our own large scale databases. The exponential growth in storage capacity means that we can store huge quantities of material on our personal digital devices, or alternatively store such material in ‘The Cloud’, that mysterious phenomenon provided by commercial operators that allows us limitless storage capacity out there in the cyber ether – although in reality it is held in places such as the Google data warehouses. Much of our own personal Big Data of course is likely to take the form of films, music and photographs.

For academics the revolution in data collection and storage is already fundamentally changing how some forms of research is conducted. A recent article in the New York Times by John Markoff  (20th May 2013), ‘New Research Tools Kick Up Dust in Archives’, showed how researchers no longer needed to spend days/weeks in libraries and archives painstakingly going through books and documents to find material of relevance to their research. Instead, using a digital camera and laptop they can simply photograph everything and download it into their computer, creating their own vast personal research database. Ah yes you might say, they will still need to read everything to find the relevant material. Perhaps….but as the Markoff article highlights, there are now being developed data mining tools which seek to provide a contextual basis to the vast quantities of data collected. Such tools and variants on them are being used increasingly widely. For example for professional lawyers E-discovery technologies are of growing importance in sifting through material to find what might be relevant to their particular cases.

If professionals and academics can effectively use such technology I wonder whether undergraduate students might over time seek to follow suit. What might be the purpose of them copying into digital devices pages of material and then using data mining tools other than to replicate on a far smaller scale what the academic researcher is undertaking? Well if we take this a stage further, could this be combined with essay writing software to actually write students essays for them? Without doubt essay writing software is growing in sophistication.

With forms of plagiarism a matter of huge concern throughout academia, how might we deal with this? Currently we use proprietary systems such as Turnitin; but that relies heavily on a database of material by which to compare student essays, which would be ineffective where material was in essence being ‘freshly created.’

Before any students who may stumble across this Blog start feeling aggrieved, let me balance things up a little. With the technology making copying so much easier, even supposedly respected professionals can fall into the trap of trying to make their lives easier, and seeking unethical short cuts to do so. The recent case of Crinion & Crinion v IG Markets (2013), will not be remembered for the specific issues of the case, but rather for the unfortunate way the judge, His Honour Simon Brown QC, chose to write up his judgment. After having been provided with closing submissions in electronic format by both parties legal counsel, the judge proceeded to use almost verbatim (about 94%), the electronic submission of the claimant’s counsel in producing his written judgment. Whilst not overruling the judgment, the Court of Appeal understandably made clear their displeasure at the judge’s working practices in the case. Sir Stephen Sedley considered that, ‘Information technology has made it seductively easy to do what the judge did in this case.”….the possibility of something approaching electronic plagiarism is new, and it needs to be said and understood that it is unacceptable.’ (para. 39)

We are seeking to develop the tools to effectively utilise the Big Data Everests we are creating, but with time pressures a continuous constant in our lives, in seeking to conquer our Big Data Everest, at times it is very likely we will be tempted just to use our shiny new Big Data helicopter.