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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. It was also featured in the Babbage podcast.

 

Cosy up with the Neanderthals

PUT Matt Pope in a valley apparently untouched by humans and he can tell you where Neanderthals would have built their home. “It’s about a third of the way up a slope, with a really good vista and a solid bit of rock behind,” he says. Anyone who goes camping will recognise these preferences: this is where you want to pitch your tent when you arrive in an unfamiliar place at dusk. It is also where aspirational types dream of buying a place to live. In other words, this is the spot that lures us with siren calls of “home”…

Jack Hudson

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 8 February 2019. To continue reading, click here.

Ebola psy-ops

THE Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is providing a natural experiment in fighting fake news. Occurring in a conflict zone, amid a controversial presidential election, the epidemic has proved to be fertile ground for conspiracy theories and political manipulation, which can hamper efforts to treat patients and fight the virus’s spread. Public health workers have mounted an unprecedented effort to counter misinformation, saying the success or failure of the Ebola response may pivot on who controls the narrative…

A member of UNICEF’s Ebola outreach team addresses the public in Beni, a city in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. © UNICEF/UN0228985/NAFTALIN

This story first appeared in Science on 15 January 2019. To continue reading, click here.

On nodding syndrome

A DISEASE mystery with no shortage of leads now has an intriguing new one. Since the 1960s, thousands of children in poor, war-torn regions of East Africa have developed epilepsy-like seizures in which their heads bob to their chest; over time, the seizures worsen, cognitive problems develop, and the victims ultimately die. Researchers have proposed causes for nodding syndrome that include malnutrition, parasites, and viruses, but have not proved a clear link to any of them. Now, the first published examination of the brains of children who died after developing the condition suggests it has a key similarity to certain brain diseases of old age, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s: It leaves victims’ brains riddled with fibrous tangles containing a protein called tau…

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This article first appeared in Science on 21 December 2018. To continue reading, click here.