Category Archives: History of science or medicine

John von Neumann, not the coldest of cold warriors

IN 1945, while in a state of exhaustion, the mathematician John von Neumann had a kind of stammering premonition. He was in Los Alamos, working on the atom bomb, and he told his wife Klari that the “energy source” he was helping to develop would make scientists “the most hated and also the most wanted citizens of any country”. Then he informed her that his other ongoing project, the computer, would one day be even more important—and potentially even more dangerous…

John von Neumann

This article first appeared in The Economist on 6 October 2021. To continue reading, click here (paywall).

Brace for the surge

IS there one pandemic, or two? That was a question being asked a year ago, when wealthy countries accounting for only 15% of the global population had 80% of the Covid deaths. Could it be that the rich world was more vulnerable, somehow, because its populations were older, or more individualistic, or had forgotten to be scared of infectious disease…?

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 27 April 2021. To continue reading, click here.

 

On pandemic time

LAST week, 15 volunteers descended into a cave in south west France, where they will remain for 40 days and 40 nights, without sunlight or watches, in an experiment designed to probe the dislocation in time that has characterised life with Covid…

This article first appeared in The Telegraph on 23 March 2021. To continue reading, click here.

Memorialising Covid

JUST over two years ago, my friend Janet came over to commiserate with my husband, whose leg was in plaster after a road accident. We immediately noticed a change in her. This sharp, funny woman in her mid-60s, who had nothing good to say about men (with the exception of her three beloved sons, whom she had raised almost single-handedly) had softened…

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 18 March 2021. To continue reading, click here.

 

The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson – review

ONE of the most striking passages in Walter Isaacson’s new book comes towards the end. It is 2019 and a scientific meeting is under way at the famous Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory in New York State, but James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, is banned from it because of the racist and scientifically unfounded views he has expressed on intelligence. Isaacson, who is to interview Watson, therefore has to make his way to the house on the nearby campus that the scientist has been allowed to keep. When the conversation sails dangerously close to the race issue, someone shouts from the kitchen: “If you are going to let him say these things, then I am going to have to ask you to leave.” The 91-year-old Watson shrugs and changes tack…

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 11 March 2021. To continue reading, click here.