Archive for January 2012

No re-Morse

Oxford astrophysicist Professor Steve Rawlings was found dead on Wednesday. He was by all accounts an excellent academic, and I can vouch for the quality of his undergraduate lectures. Most importantly, my thoughts go out to his family, friends and the Oxford Physics community.

The tabloids’ thoughts, however, are nowhere to be seen (do they even have any?). I hate the prurient, half-baked insinuation flying around after a possibly-suspicious death, but sadly this one is close enough to home (I’m a physicist at Oxford University) that I have read some of it. I took the Telegraph’s hot-off-the-press reporting with an appropriate pinch of salt, revulsion and intrigue (the Beeb and Guardian being far too measured at this stage in proceedings to allow me to accrue any goss), but it’s The Sun which really took the biscuit, and pissed all over it like a US Marine. Murdoch’s red-top opens its sombre tribute to the great prof with

An Oxford University don has been found dead at a rival lecturer’s home after a suspected academic row.

A ‘rival’ lecturer? What does that even mean? Last time I checked, Oxford’s admittedly-unusual teaching system was not adversarial, and academics are notoriously benign. But, for those of us thickies for whom decoding nonsensical innuendo is too complicated, The Sun still delivers. Later in the article, it explains:

Prof Rawlings was based at St Peter’s College…in Oxford—setting of the Inspector Morse TV murders.

Oh, thanks The Sun, that’s really put this tragedy in a context I can relate to: it’s like a trite televised murder mystery! Now I understand. I guess a world of easy caricatures, cheap cultural shorthand and ‘rival academics’ who might kill one-another over differing interpretations of Bayes’ theorem is easier to write about than waiting for a police investigation to pan out in order to report actual facts.

Fuck you, The Sun.

And fuck you, The Daily Mail: they couldn’t even confine their self-satisfaction at having spotted the Morse connection to the article, and blurted it out in the headline:

Oxford don quizzed over the death of professor who was his best friend (with all the hallmarks of a Morse mystery)

Oh, so he’s his best friend now? I guess that does make some sense, given that they tell us

Professor Rawlings and Dr Sivia co-wrote a book titled Foundations of Science Mathematics…available for £13.99.

Sorry, what? Not content with merely ‘sickening’ and keen to rack up ‘bizarre’ to boot, The Mail’s remorseless search for not-even-circumstantial or just plain irrelevant non-evidence extended to seeking out some Amazon reviews for their co-written tome on maths. ‘It covers everything I need and will be useful to look back at maths I have done in the past, for future reference,’ explained a witness. I mean, student. Who read a book they wrote in 1999 and posted a review on the Internet. If that isn’t admissible evidence in our so-called justice system, I think we should probably abandon it right now and initiate universal Trial by Media in the Court of Public Opinion.

Every time a newspaper comes near something I know anything about, bullshit, inaccuracy and innuendo are thrown about as though salacious copy sells copies or something. The self-parodying, stereotype-laden stories in The Sun and The Mail lend the world a warm, simplistic familiarity, rather more like an episode of Inspector Morse than the diverse, messy world they claim to relate. Real life is far more interesting, and the real people in it far more complex than the column-filling caricatures in the tabloids. And one of those real people is now dead, and many whose lives he touched are now grieving. Have some fucking sympathy.

Rest in peace, Professor Rawlings.

Written by Statto

January 13, 2012 at 10:10

Posted in Daily Mail, The Sun, UK news