Category Archives: Evolution

Wonder food

ns_logoIN April 1789, Lieutenant William Bligh set off from the Pacific island of Tahiti to sail halfway round the world to Jamaica. Twenty-three days into the voyage, his crew mutinied. They set him adrift in the Bounty’s launch, along with 18 men who were loyal to him, and dumped the ship’s cargo overboard. That cargo included 1000 breadfruit plants destined for the Jamaican sugar plantations, whose owners were clamouring for a cheap and reliable source of food for their slaves…

This article was first published in New Scientist on 28 June 2014. To continue reading, click here.

 

The progress illusion

ns_logoWHEN Admiral Zheng He led his fleet out of the eastern Chinese port of Suzhou in 1405, it must have been a sight to behold. The largest of the several hundred ships under his command were the size of modern aircraft carriers and housed 500 men apiece. The fleet made seven expeditions in all, to advertise the might of the Ming dynasty around the Indian Ocean, but having returned to port for the last time it was dismantled, vanishing along with the engineering know-how that created it. For the next few centuries China’s seagoing vessel of choice was a much humbler junk…

This article was first published in New Scientist on 4 October 2012. To continue reading, click here.

Human cycles

page11-nature_logoSOMETIMES, history really does seem to repeat itself. After the US Civil War, for example, a wave of urban violence fuelled by ethnic and class resentment swept across the country, peaking in about 1870. Internal strife spiked again in around 1920, when race riots, workers’ strikes and a surge of anti-Communist feeling led many people to think that revolution was imminent. And in around 1970, unrest crested once more, with violent student demonstrations, political assassinations, riots and terrorism…

This article was first published in Nature  on 1 August 2012. To continue reading click here.

The underhand ape

ns_logoIN 2004, Benjamin Olken visited a road-building project in rural Indonesia. There was just one small section missing – a bridge over a stream – but the money had run out because of embezzlement, and construction abandoned. “By the time I got there, you could see where the road had been cleared and built, but the grass had completely grown back,” he says. “The road had fallen into decay…”

This article was first published in New Scientist on 9 November 2011. To continue reading click here.

God-loving linguists

il_logoIN 1963 Barbara and Joseph Grimes sat down with their Huichol neighbours to discuss what to do about the bandits terrorising their remote community. It was clear to everyone that the Grimes themselves were the problem. Seeing Americans living there, at the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains, the bandits assumed the community was rich. The Grimes recognised that it would be best for everyone if they left…

This article was first published at More Intelligent Life on 19 November 2010.