The flawed brilliance of J.B.S. Haldane

TOWARDS the end of his life, J.B.S. Haldane was inseparable from a pebble that had been found in the Valley of Elah in Israel, where David felled Goliath with a similar projectile. A king-size man who towered over British biology for several decades in the middle of the 20th century, Jack Haldane—the “half-Dane”—was a more obvious Goliath, but he always took the side of the underdog…

Haldane in Spain during the civil war

This story first appeared in The Economist  on 18 July 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).

 

 

 

‘It’s not over’: intimate diaries from the eye of the UK’s coronavirus storm

WHEN the Oxford team working on a Covid-19 vaccine first started holding weekly catchups in early February, Christina Dold, a 35-year-old senior postdoctoral researcher, jokingly referred to them as “Cobra” meetings. But it was in one of these early sessions that she found out how many volunteers they would be immunising daily, once the vaccine was ready to be tested. “I remember looking at a colleague. We were either going to cry or laugh, because the huge number of samples we’d have to process – potentially more than 100 a day – scared the living daylights out of us…”

Christina Dold, vaccine scientist. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Guardian

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 4 July 2020. To continue reading, click here.

Drugs, money and misleading evidence

IN the race to find treatments and a vaccine for COVID-19, it’s more essential than ever that society can trust drug companies seeking regulatory approval. The Illusion of Evidence-Based Medicine is the latest in a long line of books that caution us not to hold out much hope…

This article was first published in Nature on 29 June 2020. To continue reading, click here.

 

Body consciousness

PARTS of Ann Arbor bring The Truman Show to mind, with their wood-frame houses and white picket fences. Home to the University of Michigan, the city oozes middle-class prosperity and security. So, while doing research there a decade ago, Sarah Garfinkel was shocked to discover that young veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan felt terrified even in Ann Arbor. “It broke my heart,” she says. And it changed the course of her career…

Charles Babbage’s brain (in a vat)

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 27 June 2020. To continue reading, click here.

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