Science & Technology

Eeek!

Rupert Beale

19 February 2021

What might the end of the pandemic look like? There are two main possibilities. The first, and most likely, is that Sars-CoV-2 becomes an endemic coronavirus that gives rise to large numbers of infections in winter. The second, more desirable outcome is that we treat Sars-CoV-2 a bit like measles, and try to stamp it out as completely as we can.

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Space Forces

Tom Stevenson

4 March 2021

Unlike planets, asteroids have no atmosphere and much less energy is needed to lift materials off their surfaces. In December, a Japanese mission returned to Earth with the first samples taken from below . . .

Four-Dimensional Hinton

Adam Mars-Jones

4 March 2021

Charles Howard Hinton​ was a Victorian mathematician and theorist of the fourth dimension, the scandal of whose conviction for bigamy led him to lose his job as a schoolmaster and to exile himself . . .

The Ramsey Effect

Kieran Setiya

18 February 2021

Picture,​ if you can, a single person with the talents of Keats, Schubert and Seurat: an inspired poet, a prodigious composer, a revolutionary painter, a figure of unlimited promise who died, like . . .

The First Vaccine

Steven Shapin

4 February 2021

In the British market for domestic lab­our, both inoculation and a personal hist­ory of smallpox counted as qualifications: you could then work safely with the em­ployer’s children. Parish . . .

The Sucker, the Sucker! What’s it like to be an octopus?

Amia Srinivasan, 7 September 2017

Their intelligence is like ours, and utterly unlike ours. Octopuses are the closest we can come, on earth, to knowing what it might be like to encounter intelligent aliens.

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You Are the Product: It Zucks!

John Lanchester, 17 August 2017

I am scared of Facebook. The company’s ambition, its ruthlessness, and its lack of a moral compass scare me.

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In Hyperspace

Fredric Jameson, 10 September 2015

Science fiction is not the only mass-cultural genre (or subgenre) whose relationship to ‘high literature’ and to modernism in particular presents problems.

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Ghosting: Julian Assange

Andrew O’Hagan, 6 March 2014

It was exciting to think that no novel had ever captured this new kind of history, where military lies on a global scale were revealed by a bunch of sleepy amateurs two foot from an Aga.

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Diary: After the Oil Spill

Rebecca Solnit, 5 August 2010

New Orleans’s Saint Charles Avenue is lined with oak trees whose broad branches drip Spanish moss and Mardi Gras beads from the pre-Lenten parades, and behind the oaks are beautiful old...

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Why does it take so long to mend an escalator?

Peter Campbell, 7 March 2002

The descent to the tunnels through which the deep lines run is a tax on the spirit that is paid willingly because it makes it easier to live in an old, tight-packed city. But when the system fails it is strongly resented.

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What’s left of Henrietta Lacks? HeLa

Anne Enright, 13 April 2000

I don’t know where I heard of her first: a woman whose cells are bred in culture dishes in labs all over the world; a woman whose cells were so prolific that there is more of her now, in...

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On the Darwinian View of Progress

Amartya Sen, 5 November 1992

It is now a century and a third, almost exactly, since the publication in 1859 of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In this period the view of evolutionary progress introduced by Darwin...

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The man who mistook his wife for a hat

Oliver Sacks, 19 May 1983

The scientific study of the relationship between brain and mind began in 1861, when Broca, in France, found that specific difficulties in the expressive use of speech (aphasia) consistently...

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In the late 1950s, the CIA’s schemes included using an aerosol to lace the air with LSD in the Havana studio where Fidel Castro made his radio broadcasts, sprinkl­ing Castro’s boots...

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The Head in the Shed: Reading Bones

Gavin Francis, 21 January 2021

When the police bring Sue Black a bag of bones and ask what she makes of them she starts out with four questions: Are they human? Are they of forensic interest? Who was this person? Do they tell us anything...

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A com­puter can play chess to superhuman levels and yet have no concept of what chess is, what place chess has in the world, or even that there is a world. Does this mean that its behaviour isn’t...

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The violence and ecological collapse of the Anthropocene isn’t a wrong turn, a death spiral by which we have doomed life on Earth, but part of the evolution of Gaia. The next evolutionary stage awaits....

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Get the jab!

Rupert Beale, 17 December 2020

Until the vaccines arrive – like the cavalry, if you want – it makes sense to be extremely cautious and to suppress transmission of the virus as much as reasonably possible. More stringent...

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Twenty Types of Human: Among the Neanderthals

John Lanchester, 17 December 2020

That feeling of similar-but-not-quite is present all through the history of our engagement with the Neanderthals: when we look at them we are looking at a distorted reflection in a mirror. As with a mirror-gazer,...

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Blips on the Screen: Risk-Free Assassinations

Andrew Cockburn, 3 December 2020

The record of this year’s wars shows that although these weapons may not provide a decisive edge in combat they excel in self-advertisement, projecting an image of all-seeing omnipotence. Drones...

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Consider the Giraffe

Katherine Rundell, 19 November 2020

The world is a wild and unlikely place: the giraffe, stranger than the griffin, taller than a tall house, does us the incomparable gift of being proof of it.

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Flour Fixated

Bee Wilson, 24 September 2020

‘Wheat is in everything!’ a friend of mine exclaimed with fury after being diagnosed with coeliac disease. To those of us who live far from the land, wheat seems a changeless and universal...

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In the Lab

Rupert Beale, 13 August 2020

A substantially reduced chance of death for patients in intensive care is good news of a sort, but isn’t going to make the world normal again. You will still avoid hugging and kissing your nearest...

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Consider the Hare

Katherine Rundell, 2 July 2020

‘The cat of the wood,’ Heaney calls them. ‘The stag of the cabbages.’ If there is magic in this world, some part of it lies with them. So if you are reading this, my love, I don’t...

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The more we learn about ourselves and the universe, the more we appreciate that aliens probably won’t just be humans with longer limbs and waving antennae. How do you communicate with a planet-sized...

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All hail the microbe: Things Pile Up

Lavinia Greenlaw, 18 June 2020

As a concept, ‘future fossils’ seems a bit reductive, too slickly oppositional, when put to work in such open terrain. What we’re really talking about is stuff. From plastic teaspoons...

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Drain the Swamps

Steven Shapin, 4 June 2020

It​ starts with bone-shivering chills, which give way to a high fever. The attacks last between six and twelve hours, and end in profuse sweating. When the chills and fever subside, they leave...

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Not in Spanish: Bilingualism

Michael Hofmann, 21 May 2020

The author is obviously in love with his subject, taking it everywhere with him, seeing it wherever he goes. ‘Most of the people I know are bilingual’ is his delightful shrug.

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The government is now keen to claim it was never prepared to tolerate high levels of infection in order to achieve herd immunity, but while it was defending the mitigation strategy it was prepared to argue...

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Consider the Greenland Shark

Katherine Rundell, 7 May 2020

I am glad not to be a Greenland shark; I don’t have enough thoughts to fill five hundred years. But I find the very idea of them hopeful. They will see us pass through our current spinning apocalypse,...

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Short Cuts: Internet Speak

Lauren Oyler, 7 May 2020

The tone of my correspondence veers from ebullient to combative to conspiratorial to semi-ironically frustrated, outraged, mournful. A message that follows spelling and grammar conventions is rare; it’s...

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