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OpenLearn Live: 29th September 2015

Updated Tuesday, 29th September 2015

The economist who's also a pop star - then more free learning across the day.

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OpenLearn Live dances between the world you live in, and the worlds of learning and research. This page will be updated across the day, and there's also a Twitter feed.

Yesterday we looked at some amazing pictures from the lunar eclipse, and heard about an island with high levels of colourblindness

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Today's posts

Rugby World Cup

A quick catch-up with a couple of rugby-related stories now - first, does the hosting of a sporting event do anything for the local economy? (A question more pressing in light of London choosing to not host the Grand Depart of the Tour De France):

The economic impact of such global sports events is huge and far-reaching. A report by the accountancy firm Ernst & Young estimates that the host economies will benefit from £2.2 billion being spent. With almost half a million international visitors expected for the tournament, they predict that an extra £982m will be added to the UK’s GDP and that international visitors will spend £869m.

Coming from all over the world, especially the southern hemisphere rugby-mad countries of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, many of these visitors will enjoy an extended stay in the UK, ploughing around £200 a day into its economy. For some, it will likely be seen as the trip of a life-time – all the more reason to make the most of their visit. Nic Fletcher, head of marketing at English rugby’s governing body, the Rugby Football Union, anticipates that World Cup tourists will spend time exploring the UK as well, following their respective teams’ progress over the 44-day tournament.

Read Making the conversion

And after our explanation of the Haka's role in New Zealand, a companion piece on how rugby cements a sense of unity in the fragile nation of South Africa:

The Rugby World Cup is upon us and rugby fever is gripping South Africa. South Africans don’t agree on many things politically and socially but, like most countries, they agree that they like to win in the sporting arena.

The nation goes into mourning on a regular basis when its cricket and football teams perform badly, which is often the case. However, rugby is the shining star in the galaxy. South Africans all know that if the “Springboks” lose, it is because of poor coaching and poor team selection. It certainly isn’t the fault of the “infallible” rugby heroes.

Read Rugby in South Africa

Can the Hajj be made safer?

Last week saw the second tragedy at this year's Hajj, with hundreds crushed in a stampede. The pilgrimage attracts large numbers of the faitful each year, which creates a crowd control problem - so could the solution be better understanding of how crowds behave?

Recent research has shown that feelings of group identity may mean psychological crowds are easier for their members to cope with even if they are tightly packed or very slow moving because they feel safe within the group [External link]  . But when there are several psychological crowds within the same physical space they can inadvertently limit the movement of one another.

In a recent (unpublished) study we found that people in one psychological crowd walk more closely together, walk more slowly and walk further distances to stay together than people who are just in physical crowds. Those outside the psychological crowd did not try to walk through it but instead walked around it.

Read How can the Hajj be made safer

Water of Life on Mars?

The announcement yesterday of water on Mars might have given you a slight sense of deja-vu - aren't we constantly hearing about water on Mars? In fact, back in 2007 OpenLearn was talking about a discovery:

Although I only briefly heard a headline on the radio as I left the house, a while back now, I was still pretty excited to hear that NASA believes it has found the most compelling evidence for water on Mars than ever before. All sorts of things were going through my head on the walk into work before I got to read more of the story. Would this change NASA's priorities from a return to the Moon? Would NASA's commitments to a lunar base leave the door open for a sneaky European mission to the red planet? Would these findings end up being erroneous and actually inhibit future exploration?

Read Water on Mars? from 2007

But this isn't a case of scientists constantly reissuing the same press release, like they were junior ministers in a sinking government in need of a news boost. Dave Rothery takes a journey through the life on Mars stories, and explains what's different about this one:

What is most noteworthy about the new research is that it is the first determination of the composition of the streaks. They used an instrument called CRISM (Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars) on board the orbiter to analyse the light reflected off the surface of these streaks. In this way, they could show that they contain salts that are most likely to be magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate [External link]  . These kinds of salts have antifreeze properties that would keep water flowing in the cold temperature, and tallies with what Phoenix had suggested in 2008.

Read Haven't we been told there's water on Mars before?

Part time, full heart: Amelia Fletcher

This week, we're looking at people who combine two (or sometimes more) roles. Yesterday, we recalled how WG Grace, off the cricket pitch, was also a doctor working in a pit village. Today, we're back in the 21st Century, and focusing on Amelia Fletcher.

The Catenary Wires, with Amelia Fletcher Creative commons image Icon John Kell under CC-BY licence under Creative-Commons license The Catenary Wires playing in January 2015

A few weeks ago, regular readers will recall, we ran a short series of musicians who are also scientists. Amelia Fletcher didn't make the cut on that occasion, because we didn't want to kick off a turf war on whether economics really counts as a science or not.

Whether you think economics is a science or not, there's no denying that Amelia is one of the UK's foremost economists. For a long period, she was chief economist at the Office of Fair Trading; she's a non-executive director at the Financial Services Authority and is currently Professor of Competition Policy at the UEA Norwich Business School. In 2014, she was awarded an OBE in recognition of how her work has helped consumer economics.

That's an impressive cv by any standards. What makes it even more impressive is that Amelia has had a parallel career - she is as celebrated in the field of indie rock as she is in consumer economics.

The list of bands of which she's been a key part - Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research, The Tender Trap, and now The Catenary Wires - is impressive; she's also provided support vocals for everyone from The Wedding Present to The Pooh Sticks.


Talking to The Quietus last year, Fletcher described how Talulah Gosh not being the sole focus of the band's life helped shape the band:

Although she admits to having experienced hunger pangs of fame, she always knew that the music would play second fiddle to her degree and later, her professional career.

“I think we needed to treat it more like a job and not just a fun diversion but, actually, that's a great thing because now that's how it will always be remembered.” 

As "second fiddles" go, though, it was a pretty significant fiddle.

What could you achieve through part-time study? Find out what you're capable of





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