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History as a giant data set

IN its first issue of 2010, the scientific journal Nature looked forward to a dazzling decade of progress. By 2020, experimental devices connected to the internet would deduce our search queries by directly monitoring our brain signals. Crops would exist that doubled their biomass in three hours. Humanity would be well on the way to ending its dependency on fossil fuels…

Joan of Arc by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1882)

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 12 November 2019. To continue reading, click here.

Who owns life?

NEXT week, delegates will gather in Rome to discuss a question that could have profound implications for global biodiversity, food security and public health. Stripped of technical language, it boils down to this: who owns life? …

Josie Ford for New Scientist

This article was first published in New Scientist on 6 November 2019. To continue reading, click here (paywall).

 

 

Tongue twisters

IN 1882, linguists were electrified by the publication of a lost language—one supposedly spoken by the extinct Taensa people of Louisiana—because it bore hardly any relation to the languages of other Native American peoples of that region. The Taensa grammar was so unusual they were convinced it could teach them something momentous either about the region’s history, or the way that languages evolve, or both…

George Catlin (American, 1796 – 1872 ), Chief of the Taensa Indians Receiving La Salle. March 20, 1682, 1847/1848, oil on canvas, Paul Mellon Collection

This article was first published in Slate on 30 October 2019. To continue reading, click here.

PAUSE for thought

THE UK might have been too busy refusing visas to the children of foreign academics to have noticed that academic freedom is under threat again – but France has been paying attention. Last week its minister for higher education, research and innovation announced that she was putting more money into supporting scholars fleeing repressive regimes…

This article was first published on 18 October 2019. To continue reading, buy the issue…

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).