Tag - Chris Buckham

Afterword to The New Optimists

For some time, I’d thought about publishing. The revolution with print-on-demand and web-based technologies has changed the game. In the cold damp light of a winter day in early 2009, I speculated that much could now be done with insouciance, a laptop on the kitchen table and a lifetime’s fascination with how scientists work, how seemingly ordinary men and women as part of their daily routine engage with extraordinary matters and, to paraphrase the mathematician Ian Stewart, defend us from believing what we want to.

An initial idea to provide written demonstration of the value created by scientists has, through the efforts of many people, morphed into a fledgling not-for-profit multimedia publishing venture, Linus Publishing. The book you’re reading now, The New Optimists, is its first offering.

The scientists who feature here, over half of whom are professors, over two-thirds working in medical and life sciences, have written “this most exhilarating of books”, as Jenny Uglow describes it in her Foreword. I thank every one of these remarkable men and women.

In the Foreword, Jenny has done the scientists proud, creating such a lyrically pertinent context for their work.

Thanks are also due to Keith Richards, whose light-touch editing of the essays themselves, and his imaginative structure for the book as a whole adds to the impact of the essays both individually and collectively.

The book you’re now reading simply wouldn’t exist without an experienced publisher on board. Right at the outset, Etica’s Julian Roskams saw something catching in providing a means for these scientists to tell their tale. It’s his efforts that have translated all the ideas of all of us, scientist and non-scientist, into paper and print. His cheerfully calm professionalism has never wavered even when I have been unreasonably demanding.

There has been much other work behind the scenes. Fiona Alexander, Steve Bedser, Nick Booth, Chris Buckham, David Edmonds, Kevin Johnson, Alison Murray and Mike Smith have, in their free time, responded to my calls, my texts, my emails and from time to time have met, often over my kitchen table, to make things happen.

“What is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures and conversations?” As Jenny Uglow says in her Foreword, this collection of essays “is itself a kind of conversation”. Pictures in a book, however, present a costly option. But we have these intriguing, inspiring images on the bookcover from many-times Wellcome Image Award winner, local photomicrographer Spike Walker. He readily agreed to designer Jonathan Doyle using them, as did the Wellcome Trust. On the back cover, we have a derived image of dopamine, one of the birth of a daphnia; the spine has an image of human brain cells; on the front cover are the images of urea, the moment before a (failed) human IVF, a spider’s mandibles and liver blood vessels (double injected with two pigments to show the complexity of the blood supply).  All of these are visually delicious examples of how science enables us literally to see the world quite differently.

As you’ve read here, many people have given of their time and energies. But there are some bills that can’t be avoided, some favours that go too far beyond the reasonable. Aston University and the University of Birmingham (College of Medical and Dental Sciences) have sponsored this early stage of the project, and I thank them very much indeed for their generous support.

As well as this book, we’re creating web and e-book versions and, funding permitting, multimedia spin-offs about aspects of the scientists’ work. Plus, there are plans afoot for our next publication about science, about its value and impact on us all, as well as its beauty and excitement.

Much can indeed be done with insouciance, a laptop on the kitchen table . . . and a wonderful coterie of over 100 people. I salute them all.

Kate Cooper


Chris Buckham & the name ‘Linus’

When the bluebells were in all their glory in the spring of 2009, Chris Buckham and I walked the Cotswold Way from Broadway to the Mount Inn at Stanton with me talking about this project as we made our way along this lovely path.

I wanted his take on whether I was off my head or not in thinking it was a brilliant idea.

I’ve known him yonks so I knew he’d tell the truth, plus I valued his opinion as he’s an experienced marketeer, currently an Experian Decision Analytics executive. Yup, he saw it for what it was, a brilliantly simple and effective idea.

And a couple of months later, he and I talked over supper one evening after his kids had gone to bed about the business of it all. It was that evening that we came up with the name “Linus” for the publishing company; whether it’s the double Nobel prize winner Linus Pauling (even if, especially as he did “go doolally about vitamin C” as one of the scientists put it), the intellect-with-comfort-blanket Linus van Pelt or Linus Torvalds of Linux fame, it seems right then, and it still does.

And it’s been useful, too, that Chris lives but a hop skip and a jump from The Fleece Inn at Bretforton.


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