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How pandemics shape social evolution

WHEN will we learn never to declare the end of anything? Only 50 years ago, two prominent US universities closed their infectious-disease departments, sure that the problem they studied had been solved. Now, cases of measles and mumps are on the rise again in Europe and the United States, new infectious diseases are emerging at an unprecedented rate, and the threat of the next pandemic keeps philanthropist Bill Gates awake at night…

Illustration by Antoine Dore

This article first appeared in Nature on 15 October 2019. To continue reading, click here (paywall).

Right to know v. right not to know

IN THIS information-saturated age, what happens when the right to know comes up against the right not to know? The ease of genetic testing has brought this question to the fore. Genes, some of which contain disease-causing mutations, are shared within families, meaning the results of a test for a genetic condition inevitably affect more people than the one who consented to be tested. Two contrasting legal cases pitting these rights against each other – one in Britain, the other in Germany – stand to extend the idea of who, exactly, is a patient and to alter the way in which medicine is practised…

This article first appeared in The Economist on 28 September 2019. To continue reading, click here (paywall).

 

Fit to stand trial?

LLOYD Barrus stands accused in Montana of five federal crimes, including accountability to deliberate homicide relating to the death of a police officer. The charges have to do with an incident in 2017 that appears to have started in a dispute about a traffic violation. By the end of it, both Barrus’s son and Broadwater County sheriff’s deputy Mason Moore were dead…

Josie Ford for New Scientist

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 25 September 2019. To continue reading, click here (paywall).

Royal women revisited

ELEANOR of Aquitaine is often portrayed as one of the most powerful queens in history. Wife, mother and counsellor of kings, crusader, landowner, patron of the arts, her power eventually grew so great – at least in the eyes of one royal husband, Henry II of England – that he chose to lock her up. But what if Eleanor wasn’t exceptional? What if, in the manner and the degree to which she exerted power, she was very much in line with royal women throughout history…?

The tombs of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England at Fontevraud Abbey, France. Photo courtesy of Martin Cooper/Flickr.

This essay first appeared on Aeon on 12 July 2019. To continue reading, click here.

 

Disaster memories fade fast

AFTER Hurricane Betsy pummelled New Orleans in 1965, causing damage so severe that “Betsy” was retired from the rotating list of names given to Atlantic hurricanes, the Governor of Louisiana, John McKeithen, pledged that nothing like it would happen in his state again. Exactly 40 years later Hurricane Katrina brought even greater destruction to the city, and hazard planners were deemed to have ignored the lessons of the past. New research suggests that far from being an exception, Louisiana’s forgetfulness is the rule…

Hurricane Katrina

This article first appeared in The Economist on 19 April 2019. To continue reading, click here (paywall). It was also featured in the Babbage podcast.