Short Cuts: The Amazon Burning

Benjamin Kunkel, 12 September 2019

He​ who laughs hasn’t heard the news, Brecht wrote, probably in 1939. Eighty years later, the words could serve as the motto of the eco-tourist, to be pronounced in sardonic tones of...

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Consider the Swift

Katherine Rundell, 15 August 2019

A common swift​, in its lifetime, flies about two million kilometres; enough to fly to the moon and back twice over, and then once more to the moon. Weighing less than a hen’s egg,...

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Apollo 11

Inigo Thomas, 15 August 2019

In​ Neil Armstrong’s photograph of Buzz Aldrin standing on the moon, taken with a camera strapped to his chest, Aldrin stands at ease, his right arm hanging loosely at his side, the left...

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Our Alien Planet

Francis Gooding, 1 August 2019

‘We have already exited the state of environmental conditions that allowed the human animal to evolve in the first place,’ David Wallace-Wells writes, ‘in an unsure and unplanned bet...

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As​ a young researcher applying for a US visa to go to a conference in the mid-1960s, I presented myself at the fortress-like embassy in Grosvenor Square and ticked the boxes affirming that I...

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Rachel Carson’s Forebodings

Meehan Crist, 6 June 2019

As we grind up against the absolute limits of humanity’s use and misuse of our environment, it’s tempting to look to Silent Spring and ask why it had such a profound impact.

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Consider the Golden Mole

Katherine Rundell, 18 April 2019

The word​ iridescent comes from the Greek for ‘rainbow’, iris, and the Latin suffix, escent, ‘having a tendency towards’. Iridescence turns up in many insects,...

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There are​ 290 species of pigeon in the world, but only one has adapted to live in cities. Feral pigeons are synanthropes: they thrive in human environments where they can skim a living off our...

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John Tyndall’s Ascent

Jonathan Parry, 21 March 2019

On 21 December​ 1859 John Tyndall, a professor of natural philosophy at the Royal Institution, set out to measure the structure and movements of the Mer de Glace, a glacier above Chamonix. In...

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Beaks and Talons

Francis Gooding, 21 February 2019

If​ you are at all familiar with bird guides, examining a first edition of The Ornithology of Francis Willughby is a strange experience. Despite its great age and large size, the many defunct...

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Travels in the Apocalypse

McKenzie Funk, 7 February 2019

Disasters like the conflagration that consumed Paradise, California, in November, killing 81 people – the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the state’s history – do happen....

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Solving the Ribosome

Steven Shapin, 24 January 2019

RNA​ gets no respect. It is similar in make-up to its charismatic chemical cousin, with small structural variations. DNA is a very long double-stranded helix while many forms of RNA are shorter...

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Consider the Narwhal

Katherine Rundell, 3 January 2019

For now, there are perhaps eighty thousand narwhals in existence. The Arctic is currently in its polar night. In some corner of the sunless sea, passing through waters cold and dark enough to keep us at...

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The End-Cretaceous Event

Francis Gooding, 3 January 2019

No doubt some hardy creatures will ride out the current planetary catastrophe, and birds are as good a contender as any; after all, 66 million years ago they had what it took to evade the effects of a...

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Poison and the Bomb

Norman Dombey, 20 December 2018

In​ February 1945 the Soviet people’s commissar for state security, V.N. Merkulov, sent a memo on the status of the Manhattan Project to his boss, Lavrentii Beria, head of the NKVD....

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Diary: Rare Birds

Christopher Nicholson, 22 November 2018

When,​ as a boy of eight or nine, I began to watch birds with some seriousness, I kept lists. The RSPB sold little grey notebooks with lists of British species, and I kept a life list of all...

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Pushing Buttons

David Trotter, 22 November 2018

Towards​ the end of his time at Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios, Charlie Chaplin began to direct as well as star in the short slapstick films that were the company’s staple product....

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Stefan Collini, 8 November 2018

How much​ does your spouse or partner love you? Is it more or less than other people love their partners? To find out, we would need to measure the available evidence. Suppose that having...

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