Science & Technology

Houses beside an asbestos mine (Quebec, Canada).

On Asbestos

Tom White

21 July 2022

Asbestos fibres break down into smaller and smaller strands, a process that continues long after they become invisible to the human eye. When inhaled, these filaments don’t get caught at the back of the throat, but glide into the lungs where they can pierce any cells they reach. And there they remain.

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Shanghai Shelf Life

Mimi Jiang

21 July 2022

During the latest lockdown I ate only rice dumplings, wontons and boiled vegetables. After two months of that it’s difficult to remember what your favourite food tastes like. At the end of April, I traded . . .

Contagious Convulsions

Gavin Francis

23 June 2022

Functional​ disorders are conditions in which the body’s normal processes are disrupted, but for which no organic cause can be determined. They do, though, have characteristics evident to a trained . . .

Carnival of the Insects

Edmund Gordon

12 May 2022

Insects don’t get a great deal of airtime in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. The book that exposed the harmful effects of DDT on fish, birds, livestock and people had surprisingly little to say about . . .

Blink, Bid, Buy

Donald MacKenzie

12 May 2022

Click​ on a link to an article on a news website. If you have a fast internet connection, you’ll see the article almost immediately, but the slots for adverts will usually remain empty for another . . .

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

The time-travel story literally depicts the physical conditions of ‘the Place’ where the ‘points’ from which we ‘view’ plots unfolding must be presumed to abide. But modernity has in fact invented such a hyperspace from which to observe the observer: it is called the camera.

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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

The blowout was not only the biggest oil spill in American history by far: it’s a story that touches on everything else – taints everything, like the black glop on sandy beaches, on pelicans, terns, boats, sea turtles, marshlands and dolphins. It’s about climate change, peak oil, the energy future, the American presidency, about corporate power and the corrosive effect of Big Oil on global politics.

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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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On Antibiotic Resistance

Gavin Francis, 7 April 2022

As antibiotic resistance rises, we are already starting to look back on the 20th century as a golden age of medicine, when infections could be treated effectively and there were plenty of antibiotics to...

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Bad Judgment: How many people died?

Paul Taylor, 10 February 2022

Estimated weekly excess deaths in England and Wales in 2021. One of the tactics​ used over the past few weeks by Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions, and by loyal MPs and...

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Short Cuts: Born in Light

Chris Lintott, 27 January 2022

Telescopes are time machines, bringing ancient light from the universe’s past to be observed in the present, and the James Webb Space Telescope is our most powerful yet.

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Whack-a-Mole: Anti-Vax Sentiments

Rivka Galchen, 27 January 2022

When the cause of milkmaids’ mysterious invincibility to smallpox was unknown, they were sometimes accused of being witches. What other explanation could there be for their persistent good health?

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On Omicron

Rupert Beale, 16 December 2021

Since Delta, every variant from Epsilon to Kappa has been downgraded, with Lambda and Mu still designated as merely 'Variants of Interest'. If the mighty Delta could be crushed by the first-generation...

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As the Lock Rattles

John Lanchester, 16 December 2021

Much of the poorer part of the world is still susceptible to the disease, and as long as it is, many more people will die, and the risk of new and more dangerous variants will remain. In May 2020, the...

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Diary: Epistemic Injustice

Bernadette Wren, 2 December 2021

If a whistle-blowing report on the Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock Clinic was needed, I wish I’d written it myself. It would have highlighted the isolation of a group of conscientious...

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Lab Leaks

Alex de Waal, 2 December 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic may well have been a ‘normal accident’; it’s equally possible that ‘Disease X’, the WHO’s codename for the next pandemic, will be another. If so, it will be the by-product...

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Ten Million a Year: Dying to Breathe

David Wallace-Wells, 2 December 2021

Wherever you look, the earth is in flames. The residue is carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, black carbon, sulphur dioxide, and the particularly toxic grouping of small particulate matter known...

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Short Cuts: Mayonnaise Miracle Babies

Ashley Moffett, 18 November 2021

As​ a young postgraduate in 1942, Peter Medawar was asked to look into the reason skin grafts given to injured airmen were quickly rejected by the body. His work introduced the concept of a...

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On Pegasus

Edan Ring, 4 November 2021

With​ the Covid infection rate soaring in spring last year, Naftali Bennett – Israel’s then defence minister, now its prime minister – came up with an original approach to the...

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On the Boil

James Meek, 7 October 2021

Britain is in a particularly dire place, afflicted by four decades of free market fanaticism that left it up to commercial companies to pay for the storage of natural gas reserves against a supply crunch...

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Replication Crisis: Shoddy Papers

John Whitfield, 7 October 2021

If a brutally competitive environment helped the best work rise to the top, there might be an argument that the misery was justified. You might, for example, think that a system which can deliver several...

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What does Fluffy think? 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,...

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It leads to everything: Heat and Force

Patricia Fara, 23 September 2021

Every time you ride a bicycle or freeze a bag of peas or carry out a search on Google, some energy becomes unavailable, and the total amount of entropy in the universe gets ever so slightly larger.

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Diary: Wild Beasts

Fraser MacDonald, 23 September 2021

There’s a more general disquiet among the unlanded residents of the areas that are increasingly deemed ‘wild’. For them, beavers or wild cats aren’t the problem. They question why the laird gets...

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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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