Category Archives: Forensic

The strange case of the mutilated horses

THE animals have been found missing ears and genitals, with eyes torn out, or deep, clean cuts to their bodies. The recent spate of horse mutilations reported across France has provoked horror and outrage. Satanic cults have been mooted, or individual perpetrators engaged in copycat crimes. But what if the panic reveals more about our collective state of mind in 2020 than any new and twisted form of human behaviour…?

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 23 September 2020. To continue reading, click here.

 

Phylloxera – a pest’s genome reveals its past

A CENTURY and a half ago an alien insect alighted in Europe. It displaced millions, ruined local economies and forced scientists, politicians and ordinary folk into a frenzy of defensive activity. Phylloxera, a member of the group known to entomologists as Hemiptera, or “true” bugs (as opposed to all the other critters known colloquially as bugs), appeared in France in the 1860s and proceeded to eat its way through many of the Old World’s vines…

“The phylloxera, a true, gourmet, finds out the best vineyards and attaches itself to the best wines.” Cartoon from Punch, 6 September 6, 1890

This article first appeared in The Economist online on 4 July 2020, and in the print edition of 11 July 2020. To continue reading, click here (paywall).

 

 

 

Europe’s first farmers

EIGHT thousand years ago small bands of seminomadic hunter-gatherers were the only human beings roaming Europe’s lush, green forests. Archaeological digs in caves and elsewhere have turned up evidence of their Mesolithic technology: flint-tipped tools with which they fished, hunted deer and aurochs (a now extinct species of ox), and gathered wild plants. Many had dark hair and blue eyes, recent genetic studies suggest, and the few skeletons unearthed so far indicate that they were quite tall and muscular. Their languages remain mysterious to this day…

First farmer of the Linear Pottery Culture in Neolithic Central Europe. Illustration: Karol Schauer, State Museum of Prehistory in Halle (Saale), Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.

This article first appeared in the July 2020 issue of Scientific American. To continue reading, click here.

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).

Inside the minds of torturers

WHEN Françoise Sironi was 6, her grandfathers met for the first time. One was Italian, the other from the French frontier region of Alsace. She remembers the conversation turning serious, then being mystified when the men fell weeping into each other’s arms. They had discovered they fought in the same first-world-war battle – but on opposite sides. The incident sparked a lifelong interest in what drives ordinary people to extraordinary acts. She became a clinical psychologist and, in 1993, helped found the Primo Levi Centre in Paris to treat the victims of torture. She is now an expert witness for the International Criminal Court in The Hague, specialising in assessing those accused of crimes against humanity or genocide…

Françoise Sironi by Serge Picard/Agence Vu

 

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 12 July 2017. To continue reading, click here.