Roots of brutality

ns_logoWHY would an apparently normal young adult drop out of college and turn up some time later in a video performing a cold-blooded execution in the name of jihad? It’s a conundrum we have been forced to ponder ever since a group calling itself ISIS declared war on infidels. But 70 years ago we were asking something similar of guards in Nazi concentration camps – and, sadly, there have been plenty of opportunities to ponder the matter in between…

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 14 November 2015. To continue reading, click here.

Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos




Sedition in the stores

page11-nature_logoIN 1942, French photographer Robert Doisneau (perhaps best known for his image of a couple kissing outside the Hotel de Ville) was commissioned to record life behind the scenes at the various arms of the National Museum of Natural History (MNHN) in Paris. Most of the images have never been published. They are a unique document of the work of a research institute in occupied France during the Second World War. Now, a small jewel of an exhibition brings them out of the stores where they were taken, and places them in the limelight where they belong…

This article first appeared in Nature on 29 October 2015. To continue reading, click here.

© Atelier Robert Doisneau
© Atelier Robert Doisneau


To sing of one origin

Times_Literary_Supplement_logoNOBODY understood the power of boundaries better than Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz (1878–1947). A Swiss writer who had to go to Paris to find his voice, he returned to his native canton of Vaud during the First World War to create a distinctively French-Swiss body of literature. He was loyal to his patrie but his patrie was not Switzerland. It was his village, at most his canton – the people who shared his language and who sprang from the same soil as him. From his home on the north shore of Lake Geneva he looked across the water at the French Alps, a reminder that boundaries are where both creation and destruction happen; where opposing forces clash and new forms are born out of the old…

This article first appeared in The Times Literary Supplement on 21 August 2015. To continue reading, click here.


A Faustian bargain

economist-logoHUNTINGTON’S disease is awful. It slowly robs its victims of mobility, wits and emotions. And there is no cure. The idea that it might be the obverse of something good sounds, to say the least, counter-intuitive. Yet that is the contention of a small band of neuroscientists who have been studying it. They suggest the underlying cause of Huntington’s, a strange form of genetic mutation called a triplet-repeat expansion, might also be one of the driving forces behind the expansion of the human brain. Huntington’s, these people suspect, may be a price humanity pays for being clever…

This article first appeared in The Economist on 7 March 2015. To continue reading, click here.