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OpenLearn Live: 26th July 2016

Updated Tuesday 26th July 2016

Why does taking a trip between Camden and Clapham make a person legally significant? Can 34 questions predict dementia? Why do crabs wave? Free learning from across the day.

OpenLearn Live is the point where research and free learning connect with your world. This page will be updated during the day.

Yesterday we explored the Yahoo sell off and discovered why Syrians are taking hospitals into hillsides

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Today's posts

Personality shifts; memories fade?

At the weekend there was a big conference in Toronto bringing together various people working in Alzheimer's research. Amongst the presentations on offer was a draft questionaire that could one day provide an early-warning of dementia. The theory is that before the symptoms of dementia become noticeable in memory loss, there are mild changes to behaviour which could act as an early warning system. The New York Times reports:

“I think we do need something like this,” said Nina Silverberg, the director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Centers program at the National Institute on Aging, who was not involved in creating the checklist or the proposed new diagnosis.

“Most people think of Alzheimer’s as primarily a memory disorder, but we do know from years of research that it also can start as a behavioral issue.”

Under the proposal, mild behavioral impairment (M.B.I.) would be a clinical designation preceding mild cognitive impairment (M.C.I.), a diagnosis created more than a decade ago to describe people experiencing some cognitive problems but who can still perform most daily functions.

Dr. Zahinoor Ismail, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of Calgary and member of the group proposing the new diagnosis, said studies and anecdotes suggested that emotional and behavioral changes were “a stealth symptom,” part of the dementia disease process, not separate from it.

Whatever is eroding memory and thinking skills in the dementia process may also affect the brain’s systems of emotional regulation and self-control, he said.

The current checklist has 34 questions; if it proves effective, there are worries that early diagnosis may cause problems for those with MBI, especially when accessing health insurance.

Read the full article at The New York Times: Personality Change May Be Early Sign of Dementia, Experts Say

More from OpenLearn on dementia


Waving crabs

Here's a male crab waving his claws like he's watching his team score all the goals. So what's he really up to?

He's trying to attract a mate. It's common behaviour amongst these crabs, Ilyoplax pusilla. But not all the crabs wave all the time, and blogger Emily Makowski has been digging into the research that asks why:

Differences in waving behavior may be age-dependent. These crabs will only see two reproductive seasons during their short lives. Older males are bigger, and will spend more time waving because they have fewer mating opportunities left. Smaller, younger males will spend more time looking for food instead of waving in order to grow faster.

You don't need us to supply any off-colour jokes or sub-Open-Mic-night observations here. Emily does, though, go on to explore what difference the size of the claw makes to potential mates.

Read the full article at Sextraordinary: Wave that claw: how male crabs attract mates

Get to know the intertidal zone

On the buses: The man on the Clapham Omnibus

This week, we're starting up each day with a ride on some notable buses. Yesterday, we started our journey with the bus on which Rosa Parks took her stand by remaining seated. Today, we're looking at a passenger who doesn't exist. The man on the Clapham Omnibus.

The Clapham Omnibus Creative commons image Icon Colin Smith under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license A Clapham Omnibus from around the time the phrase was first coined

So, who is "the man on the Clapham Omnibus" if he doesn't really exist?

He's a reasonable, balanced figure who can be invoked in legal arguments - sat on a bus, travelling out to the suburbs; a type of everyman.

As with a lot of these stock characters, the point where he clambered onto the bus in the first place is a matter of some debate.

He appears to have an antecedent in Walter Bagehot's work of 1873 The English Constitution:

England is the type of deferential countries, and the manner in which it is so, and has become so, is extremely curious. The middle classes—the ordinary majority of educated men—are in the present day the despotic power in England. "Public opinion," nowadays, "is the opinion of the bald-headed man at the back of the omnibus." It is NOT the opinion of the aristocratical classes as such; or of the most educated or refined classes as such; it is simply the opinion of the ordinary mass of educated, but still commonplace mankind. If you look at the mass of the constituencies, you will see that they are not very interesting people; and perhaps if you look behind the scenes and see the people who manipulate and work the constituencies, you will find that these are yet more uninteresting.

However, this bald man is going nowhere in particular, and 16 years earlier the Journal of the Society of Arts had placed its man on the Clapham bus - although this man wasn't going anywhere at all, or at least not very quickly:

So thoroughly has the tedious traffic of the streets become ground into the true Londoner's nature, that ... your dog-collared occupant of the knife-board of a Clapham omnibus will stick on London Bridge for half-an-hour with scarcely a murmur.

The man got off the bus and entered the courtroom at some point around the turn of the century. In 1903, the Western Morning News ran a review of a piece of muscial theatre, The Major, which was far from flattering. If you've ever given a musician a bad review, you'll know that won't have gone down well and the writer of the musical, Mr. T. C. McQuire, launched a libel action against the paper. The paper claimed its opinion was fair comment.

Who should decide if a review was fair in its judgement? The legal argument called upon a bus passenger:

This raises a very important question as to what are the limits of "fair comment" on a literary work, and as to what are the respective provinces of the judge and jury with respect thereto. One thing, however, is perfectly clear, and that is that the jury have no right to substitute their own opinion of the literary merits of the work for that of the critic, or to try the "fairness" of the criticism by any such standard. "Fair," therefore, in this collocation certainly does not mean that which the ordinary reasonable man, "the man on the Clapham omnibus," as Lord Bowen phrased it, the juryman common or special, would think a correct appreciation of the work; and it is of the highest importance to the community that the critic should be saved from any such possibility.

Over the years, the bus has got pretty crowded, as a 2014 judgement made clear:

The Clapham omnibus has many passengers. The most venerable is the reasonable man, who was born during the reign of Victoria but remains in vigorous health. Amongst the other passengers are the right-thinking member of society, familiar from the law of defamation, the officious bystander, the reasonable parent, the reasonable landlord, and the fair-minded and informed observer, all of whom have had season tickets for many years.

The horse-drawn bus between Knightsbridge and Clapham, which Lord Bowen is thought to have had in mind, was real enough. But its most famous passenger, and the others I have mentioned, are legal fictions. They belong to an intellectual tradition of defining a legal standard by reference to a hypothetical person, which stretches back to the creation by Roman jurists of the figure of the bonus paterfamilias.


In recent times, some additional passengers from the European Union have boarded the Clapham omnibus. This appeal is concerned with one of them: the reasonably well-informed and normally diligent tenderer. 

And writing in 2012, Laura Oliver observed that the changing nature of London may have eroded the claims of typicality:

In 2012, property prices in Clapham have pushed houses there outside the means of the average man on the street, but in law reports and the affections of law students he will notionally remain on the Clapham omnibus and it is likely that his views will be taken into consideration for some years to come.

But what of actual men (and women) on an actual Clapham bus? What do they really think? Tim Madigan from Philosophy Now took a trip in 2001 to find out:

Another occupant, who volunteered the information that he was from South Africa, freely joined in the conversation.

South African Man: Life’s all about surfing.

Philosophy Now: Surfing?

South African Man: Six-foot barrels … It’s a great laugh. I live in South Africa, been here a week now, working. Trying to make bucks. I suppose that’s what’s life about as well.

Those aren't unreasonable answers.

The Man On The Clapham Omnibus, as holder of the nation's viewpoint of what is reasonable, has relatives in Mondeo Man and Worcester Woman, a typical voter to whom all appeals must be atuned.

But then, politics has its own buses - and we'll turn to them tomorrow.

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