In the Alchemist’s Den

Mike Jay, 27 July 2023

Smell has always been a crucial diagnostic sense, the one that brings us closest to the fundamental properties of matter, and the evolution of perfume follows an unbroken narrative thread that extends...

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On Marshy Ground: Fen, Bog and Swamp

Fraser MacDonald, 15 June 2023

Peatlands are wetlands, the argument goes, and wetlands disturb us; they’re the abject backwaters of modernity – marginal and malarial, disavowed and despoiled. We’ve ruined them and now they’ll...

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Short Cuts: High Seas Fishing

Chris Armstrong, 18 May 2023

The scale of the loss is mind-boggling. For every three hundred green turtles that swam the Caribbean before industrialised fishing, just one is left. Ninety per cent of the world’s large fish and oyster...

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Brain Spot Men

Gavin Francis, 4 May 2023

Neurologists are accustomed to breaking bad news. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst’s doctor was brisk and businesslike: ‘I’m going to come right out with it,’ she said. ‘I think you have multiple sclerosis.’

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Paradigms Gone Wild

Steven Shapin, 30 March 2023

Philosophers of science had long accepted their role in justifying science, making the case that scientific knowledge is – take your pick – true, objective, rational, reliable, progressive, powerful....

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Short Cuts: Elective Surgery

Alice Spawls, 30 March 2023

As the suffering increases so do the numbers who go private in desperation. I am sure that in doing so myself I contributed to what seems the unstoppable drift to a two-tier system. But there is a further...

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Before we get to the geopolitics, can we have a moment to inhabit the technological sublime? Microchips are some of the most extraordinary objects humanity has ever made.

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Short Cuts: A Puff of Carbon Dioxide

Donald MacKenzie, 19 January 2023

Generating the electricity to get just one ad to appear on your screen can produce a puff of carbon dioxide sufficiently large that, if it were cigarette smoke, you would be able to see it. Showing a single...

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On ChatGPT

Paul Taylor, 5 January 2023

Research​ into the generation and interpretation of what computer scientists call natural language processing has made extraordinary progress over the last ten years, and powerful systems now...

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Fortress Conservation

Simone Haysom, 1 December 2022

Linking wildlife trafficking to global security helped make states see it as an important problem, but framing it as a security concern made their response much more likely to take the form of militarised...

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In the Photic Zone: Flower Animals

Liam Shaw, 17 November 2022

Corals build on their predecessors, leaving their own legacy behind them for the next generation. Reefs are, in part, the frozen exuberant bouquets of the past.

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Space Snooker

Chris Lintott, 20 October 2022

While snooker, played with solid balls that bounce off each other in a fair approximation of what physicists call elastic collisions, may (at least in theory) be a simple game, the effects of slamming...

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What’s the difference? Sex in the Brain

Arianne Shahvisi, 8 September 2022

Being sceptical of sex differences doesn’t detract from the fact that brains are diverse along many other axes, and can relate to their bodies in ways that chafe against the world’s expectations. Maybe...

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Bad Dust: 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...

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Diary: Shanghai Shelf Life

Mimi Jiang, 21 July 2022

New group chats have sprung up to share the latest intel on which spots are secretly open. The best coded advertisement was for a badminton gym: ‘Due to Covid restrictions, our gym is not open to the...

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When I teach first-year medical students about community medicine I emphasise that no one’s suffering is experienced in isolation; it invariably has a social context. We fall ill in ways we have been...

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Insects dart suddenly towards you. They lurk in crevices; they take to the air. They can seem indestructible. It probably isn’t true that cockroaches could survive a nuclear explosion, but they can withstand...

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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...

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