#Cameronmustgo must go. Photo: Getty
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The seven deadly sins of tweeting about politics

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As #CameronMustGo hashtaggers are tweeting their fury about the fact that mainstream news outlets haven't picked up their online campaign, it's time to look at the worst sins committed by those who take their political insights to Twitter.
 

Accusing the BBC of bias for not reporting things that... aren't stories.

Although this particular sin has been heightened today by #CameronMustGo tweeters attacking the BBC for refusing to pick up on their hashtag campaign, it is a time-old, enduring trope of angry political tweets. If the Beeb doesn't mention Some People Being Angry at the Prime Minister, whether it's stated in a hashtag or via a handful of people protesting somewhere, it is accused of rightwing bias. If it does anything else, it's accused of leftwing bias.


Failing to understand the point of the House of Commons chamber.

This is a particularly popular genre of political tweetery: taking a screenshot of MPs debating in the Commons, and commenting on how heartless and detached they are because not all 650 of our representatives are present for whichever debate the tweeter has seized upon. Even if it's a late afternoon adjournment debate about the capacity of the West Anglia Rail Line. This lack of a fundamental understanding of how the Commons is supposed to work is nicely parodied here:

And here are some real ones:


Saying "this keeps being removed" when it really doesn't.

A nefarious internet conspiracy is inevitably pointed out whenever someone makes a meme of a politician of the ruling party being ripped apart, usually by a civilian wide-eyed with sincerity, on television. For some reason, many users decide that Twitter's staff can be bothered to rake through its billions of tweets to delete a minor skirmish from the Daily Politics on a Tuesday in order to protect the reputation of a little-known UK government minister. And they beg you for a retweet.


Tweeting a picture of a politician you admire/Owen Jones beside a big block of text.

A particularly offensive Twitter sin, mainly due to the fact that the font is always terrible on these things. Someone somewhere sits and transcribes a favourite quote from a respected heavyweight politician, or a junior shadow minister, or Owen Jones, highlights it all and hits Tempus Sans, pastes it over a picture of their fave public figure and then watches their treasured work take flight among fellow Twitter sinners.


PMQs verdict/review/in short – and then just listing your party's attack lines.

If watching Prime Minister's Questions with Twitter by your side, it is common practice to give your snap "verdict" on the exchange. This means politicians and supporters of both Cameron and Miliband's parties give us the same review each week: summing up their party's attack lines. Sometimes "privatising the NHS" is exchanged for "tax-cuts for millionaires", but each week is pretty constant.


Nazi/Communist references.

This is the GCSE school of politics tweets: linking rightwing parties with Hitler, and leftwing parties with Marx.


Orwell references.

Well, really it's just the one reference: They "looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again... ". A favourite accompanying picture for this one is the Prime Minister with a pig for a face, but, as seen below by one inventive tweeter, it can equally be used to say something cynical about the Labour party:

Niina Tamura
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“Anyone can do it, I promise you!”: meet the BBC’s astronaut-ballerina

Why science needs to be more open to women, minorities - and ballet.

Whether dancing on stage with the English National Ballet or conducting an experiment for her PhD in quantum physics, 29 year-old Merritt Moore often appears a model of composure. But in last Sunday's opening episode of BBC2's Astronauts: do you have what it takes? we got to see what happens when high-achievers like Merritt hit breaking point.

Merritt is one of 12 candidates attempting to win the approval of Chris Hadfield, former commander of the International Space Station. Along with her fellow competitors, who include mountaineers and fighter pilots, the dancer has had to face a series of gruelling tasks designed to measure her potential to operate well in space; from flying a helicopter, to performing a blood test on her own arm.

Many of these tasks left Merritt far outside her comfort zone. “I’ve only failed my driving test three times and crashed every car I’ve gotten into - but I think helicopters are different?!” she joked nervously before setting off to perform her first-ever helicopter-hover. Yet after a shaky start, her tenacious personality seemed to pull her through. “I’m good at being incredibly persistent and I don’t give up,” she told the space psychologist when asked to name her strengths.

Merritt also believes it is persistence (and hours of practice) that have allowed her to excel in two disciplines which are typically seen as requiring opposite traits: ballet and science. While studying for her PhD at Oxford, she has continued to perform as a professional dancer around the world. It's a stunning feat by any measure, and when I talk to her on the phone this weekend I ask whether it’s only possible because she’s some kind of genius? “No!” she exclaims, with a winning mix of genuine shock and self-deprecation. “I’m as far from a genius or a natural dancer as you can get - everyday I just feel like flailing mess! My thought process is that if I can do it anyone can do it, I promise you!”

But there is one thing that Merritt thinks might be holding back others from pursuing a mixed career like hers – and that’s the way the scientific world is run.

“They kind of self-select themselves,” she says of many science-professionals she’s met. "You get some people who are not incredibly understanding of those who perhaps approach [physics] in a different way, or who need a different type of schedule," she says. "They look down on people who are different from themselves, which is really difficult; I think that’s why women have difficulties, and I think that's why minorities have difficulties."

A report from the Royal Society on Diversity in Science would appear to support Merritt’s conclusions. It showed that women are significantly underrepresented in senior scientific roles, and that black and minority ethnic graduates are less likely to go on to work in science than their white peers.

So how can these trends be reversed? For Merritt the answer lies as much in schools as it does with targeted scholarships and support groups. Science education needs to be re-branded, she says, so that thinking creatively is actively encouraged from a young age; “It makes no sense to divide it up and say everyone either has an analytic mind or a creative mind." Simply leaning a set of very technical facts from a textbook drives her “bonkers” - but “when there’s passion behind something then anything is possible.”

If she could one thing about physics education, Merritt says she would switch things up so that the “exciting bits” get taught first - such as the latest thoughts on quantum computing or DNA repair. Then if students do choose to continue, they’ll know why they need to study the boring, rigorous parts too. “You’re like right, I need to learn about a harmonic oscillator because that’s how I’m going to understand this quantum computer.”

More cross-fertilisation between science and arts could also help the ballet world, she believes. “I can visualise my centre of mass, how gravity is working on different parts of my body, and how the torque effects my turns – and I think that’s a massive help,” Merritt says of her dancing.

But that’s far from all. When performing she often finds herself thinking about the more bizarre and “mind boggling” sides to physics: “Why is there all this dark matter in the Universe? What is that?! - when that’s going on in my mind, my legs become free because it means I’m not thinking about whether I look bad, or if something is right or not. I’m just inspired - and I want my dancing to be inspiring rather than self-critical all the time.”

Focusing on actions rather than self-image was definitely something Merritt's parents encouraged from a young age. Her dad’s work as an entertainment lawyer in LA meant he was particularly alert to the stereotypes that were being laid on young girls. And, as a result, Merritt and her sister grew up without TV or fashion magazines. Her dad was even initially worried about the mirrors in ballet classrooms

But self-criticism is also very hard to avoid when your antics are being broadcast to the nation on Sunday night TV.

“When you see yourself on screen you just feel incredibly vulnerable,” she says, “they are getting the raw emotions of how you’re reacting to stuff that you’ve never done before in your life!”. What Merritt’s episode one journey showed however, is that knowing yourself makes it easier to bouceback from nerves and self-doubt. And that perhaps more of us should be encouraged to believe that you don't have to choose between the stars on stage or the ones in space. 

The next episode of BBC2's Astronauts: have you got what it takes? will air on Sunday 27th August at 9pm.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.