Science & Technology

Black and white photo of a Siamese cat sitting on the couch.

Pets with Benefits

Amia Srinivasan

7 October 2021

Animal-human transgression is the fantastical norm in the dreamworld of myth, and operates still as a powerful symbol of the desire to reach beyond the confines of the possible or the acceptable. And yet, it’s one thing to read about animal-human sex in Yeats – ‘How can those terrified vague fingers push/The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?’ – and another to think about, say, your neighbour getting down with Fluffy. Could he be? So what if he is? And what does Fluffy make of it?

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Shoddy Papers

John Whitfield

7 October 2021

The pressure to churn out papers drives a culture of overwork – and in some cases bullying – which bears down most heavily on postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers. These are the people . . .

On the Boil

James Meek

7 October 2021

It​ wasn’t much of an investigation, and it wasn’t much of an experiment. It was like the kind of measuring you do in primary school and call an experiment: I came back from the deli . . .

Heat and Force

Patricia Fara

23 September 2021

The​ threat of catastrophe is alluring. In 1990, when the existence of global warming was routinely contested, a Nasa scientist spoke frankly on television: ‘It’s easier to get funding . . .

Wild Beasts

Fraser MacDonald

23 September 2021

Iknow​ the road to Abriachan better on the map than on the ground. I can trace it back and forth up the hill as it rises above the old graveyard at Killianan, through the hazel woods, out to the . . .

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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The Sixth Taste

Daniel Soar, 9 September 2021

Perhaps kokumi will put an end to the misery of people who buy low-fat, low-salt food while secretly wishing they were eating the full-fat version that actually has some flavour. It can make something...

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Short Cuts: Charity Refused

Malcolm Gaskill, 9 September 2021

Nextdoor works like a neighbourhood watch scheme, but laced with all the toxic gossip once exchanged at the village pump, or by the fireside as women span and their menfolk brooded, puffing on clay pipes....

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It shouldn’t be more important that the North Sea wind farms get built than that some of their towers are made by low-paid labourers working twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week; and yet the immense...

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On the Delta Variant

Rupert Beale, 1 July 2021

We will soon reach a point where the threat of Covid in the UK is substantially diminished by widespread immunity. The 19 July opening is unlikely to cause another devastating wave of hospitalisations...

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The illusion of science, for a writer in the embryonic American marketplace, sold better than the real thing. But Poe had grand scientific ambitions, with which he persisted in the teeth of indifference...

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Perhaps, as Cixin Liu’s science fiction trilogy The Three-Body Problem suggests, revealing your presence to a hostile cosmos results in your inevitable destruction, so sending messages into space...

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From Its Myriad Tips: Mushroom Brain

Francis Gooding, 20 May 2021

Fungi are diffuse, plastic beings: they reform themselves around the problem at hand. ‘Mycelium’, says Merlin Sheldrake, is a body without limits: ‘a body without a plan’. With...

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A Mystery to Itself: What is a brain?

Rivka Galchen, 22 April 2021

Descartes thought the brain functioned as a system of hydraulics, much like the statues he saw in the gardens of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Later thinkers also saw in the brain what they saw around them: electricity,...

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When was Hippocrates?

James Romm, 22 April 2021

Doctors today speak not only of a Hippocratic oath but a Hippocratic face (distorted by the approach of death), a Hippocratic bench (used for setting broken bones) and a Hippocratic manoeuvre (for popping...

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Your hat sucks: UbuWeb

Gill Partington, 1 April 2021

Perhaps the internet doesn’t so much reboot the avant-garde as make the whole concept obsolete: it has its own home-grown provocateurs in the form of trolls and shitposters and arguably its own culture,...

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Cookies, Pixels and Fingerprints

Donald MacKenzie, 1 April 2021

There is something unsettling – especially in the midst of a pandemic that has forced so much of commerce and everyday life to move online – about being brought face to face with the extent...

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Consider the Stork

Katherine Rundell, 1 April 2021

They produce marvels without warning: when the woolly-necked stork opens its wings in flight, it reveals a band of unfeathered skin on the underside of the forearm that shines a startling ruby red. Clattering...

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Eeek!

Rupert Beale, 4 March 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...

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Where are the space arks? Space Forces

Tom Stevenson, 4 March 2021

Where are the space arks in orbit? The exploration of exoplanets in the circumstellar habitable zone? Satellite wars over the tiny layer of space immediately above the atmosphere are evidence of a fear...

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Human Origami: Four-Dimensional Hinton

Adam Mars-Jones, 4 March 2021

In Hinton the non-appearance of a transcendent perspective does the book the great service of going against teleology, the sense of moving towards a predestined end that makes most historical novels so...

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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...

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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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A Pox on the Poor: The First Vaccine

Steven Shapin, 4 February 2021

Long before there was a science called immunology, the barrier between bodily self and non-­self was culturally electrified. Cowpox came from cattle, and vaccination was the introduction to your body...

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