Science & Technology

First photo of a black hole, Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration (2019)

Primordial Black Holes

David Kaiser

6 June 2024

What if dark matter is just ordinary matter locked inside black holes – from which, after all, light cannot escape. Such massive, dark objects would trundle around the cosmos, nudging the motion of visible matter while themselves evading direct detection.

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On the Nightingale

Mary Wellesley

6 June 2024

We walked​ in the darkness beneath beeches and hornbeams until, suddenly, we heard the sound of birdsong, an ethereal noise, a sound associated with daytime. What bird would sing the song of day two . . .

Gulag Medicine

Sheila Fitzpatrick

9 May 2024

‘Born of the devil and filled with the devil’s blood’ was Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s typically over the top dismissal of the Gulag medical system, which he had encountered at first hand in his years . . .

Total Eclipse

Chris Lintott

25 April 2024

It is very difficult​ to describe what I witnessed on Monday, 8 April, standing in a field in Ohio a little after three in the afternoon. As the shadow of the Moon swept across the surrounding cornfields . . .

Why do we sleep?

Mike Jay

4 April 2024

Why​ do we sleep? The habit is pretty much universal among animals, though it takes a wide variety of forms. Many hibernate; a dolphin sleeps with half its brain at a time, so it can keep surfacing for . . .

The Sucker, the Sucker! What’s it like to be an octopus?

Amia Srinivasan, 7 September 2017

Octopuses frustrate the neat evolutionary division between clever vertebrates and simple-minded invertebrates. Their intelligence is like ours, and utterly unlike ours. Octopuses are the closest we can come, on earth, to knowing what it might be like to encounter intelligent aliens.

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You Are the Product: It Zucks!

John Lanchester, 17 August 2017

I am scared of Facebook. The company’s ambition, its ruthlessness, and its lack of a moral compass scare me.

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In Hyperspace

Fredric Jameson, 10 September 2015

The time-travel story literally depicts the physical conditions of ‘the Place’ where the ‘points’ from which we ‘view’ plots unfolding must be presumed to abide. But modernity has in fact invented such a hyperspace from which to observe the observer: it is called the camera.

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Ghosting: Julian Assange

Andrew O’Hagan, 6 March 2014

It was exciting to think that no novel had ever captured this new kind of history, where military lies on a global scale were revealed by a bunch of sleepy amateurs two foot from an Aga.

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Diary: After the Oil Spill

Rebecca Solnit, 5 August 2010

The blowout was not only the biggest oil spill in American history by far: it’s a story that touches on everything else – taints everything, like the black glop on sandy beaches, on pelicans, terns, boats, sea turtles, marshlands and dolphins. It’s about climate change, peak oil, the energy future, the American presidency, about corporate power and the corrosive effect of Big Oil on global politics.

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Why does it take so long to mend an escalator?

Peter Campbell, 7 March 2002

The descent to the tunnels through which the deep lines run is a tax on the spirit that is paid willingly because it makes it easier to live in an old, tight-packed city. But when the system fails it is strongly resented.

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What’s left of Henrietta Lacks? HeLa

Anne Enright, 13 April 2000

I don’t know where I heard of her first: a woman whose cells are bred in culture dishes in labs all over the world; a woman whose cells were so prolific that there is more of her now, in...

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On the Darwinian View of Progress

Amartya Sen, 5 November 1992

It is now a century and a third, almost exactly, since the publication in 1859 of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In this period the view of evolutionary progress introduced by Darwin...

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The man who mistook his wife for a hat

Oliver Sacks, 19 May 1983

The scientific study of the relationship between brain and mind began in 1861, when Broca, in France, found that specific difficulties in the expressive use of speech (aphasia) consistently...

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Antimarket: Capitalism Decarbonised

William Davies, 4 April 2024

When it’s capitalism that’s the problem, and not markets, the only alternative is post-capitalism. But the central fact of the climate crisis is that there is very little time, and the scale of the...

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A great deal of importance seems to be attached to preventing models from generating harmful content if used inappropriately, but many of the most worrying consequences of AI will stem from it being used...

Read more about Llamas, Pizzas, Mandolins: AI Doomerism

Diary: At the Recycling Centre

Georgie Newson, 7 March 2024

A recycling centre is a good place to go for a glimpse into the 21st-century industrial sublime. Standing above the maze of conveyor belts, you can watch as the relics from a thousand domestic scenes –...

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Unicorn or Narwhal? Linnaeus makes the rules

Lorraine Daston, 22 February 2024

Linnaeus’s personal contradictions do not make him a historical chimera. If he sounds odd to those who hold a view of Enlightenment science as rational and orderly, perhaps that’s because real Enlightenment...

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Its Rolling Furious Eyes: Automata

James Vincent, 22 February 2024

Artificial life could be both mechanical and magical. The term ‘automaton’, referring to a self-moving machine, was first used in Europe in 1531 in a catalogue of magic, De Occulta Philosophia. Automata...

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I don’t know whether these billionaires know what a city is, but I do know that they have laid their hands on the city that’s been my home since 1980 and used their wealth to undermine its diversity...

Read more about In the Shadow of Silicon Valley: Losing San Francisco

Petrifying Juices: Fossilised

Liam Shaw, 25 January 2024

Like sculptures, fossils need curators. A raw lump of stone must be prepared and cleaned before it can be studied as a fossil; scientists of the past may well have inadvertently destroyed interesting surface...

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A National Evil

Jonah Goodman, 30 November 2023

At the turn of the 20th century, the Swiss were plagued by strange, interlinked medical conditions, which existed elsewhere to a degree, but in Switzerland were endemic in more than 80 per cent of the...

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‘We’ve messed up, boys’: Bad Blood

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, 16 November 2023

Ultimately, the companies responsible for producing and distributing infected blood products paid more than a billion dollars in compensation worldwide, but most victims never got a penny.

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Take that, astrolabe: Medieval Time

Tom Johnson, 19 October 2023

 ‘Medieval people’, Gillian Adler and Paul Strohm write, were ‘more keenly aware of simultaneous and contending temporalities than we are, and more skilled at entertaining a wider range of temporal...

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Are you still living? Counting Americans

Kasia Boddy, 19 October 2023

Who is counted, how, and for what purpose, has changed a lot since 1790. No census has exactly matched its predecessor in method or design: each time, some questions are dropped and others added, while...

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Let them eat oysters: Animal Ethics

Lorna Finlayson, 5 October 2023

It hardly needs to be said that all is not well with our world. We are disempowered, isolated and (quite rationally) anxious about the future. The animal world offers both an escape and the promise of...

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The need for prosthetic brainpower has been apparent throughout human history, evidenced by the continual development of techniques and technologies to compensate for our biological inadequacies. The first...

Read more about Instrumental Tricks: Prosthetic Brainpower

Who scored last? Collision Sport

Gavin Francis, 5 October 2023

Is rugby a participation sport, or an entertainment spectacle? Which should take priority? The newer style of play is making a lot of money for a lot of people, but there is unequivocal evidence that injury...

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Short Cuts: Orca Life

Francis Gooding, 21 September 2023

We may understand less about orcas than they do about us. The example of Twofold Bay suggests they are able to understand human desire and intention, at least when it overlaps with theirs.

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Get a rabbit: Don’t trust the numbers

John Lanchester, 21 September 2023

Data and statistics, all of them, are man-made. They are also central to modern politics and governance, and the ways we talk about them. That in itself represents a shift. Discussions that were once about...

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Diary: Desperate Midwives

Erin Maglaque, 7 September 2023

‘What do you do?’ a midwife asked as she helped me to the bathroom. We were in the postnatal ward for people who have had a bad time of it. ‘I’m a historian of ... all this,’ I answered, and...

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Aha! Plant Detectives

Liam Shaw, 7 September 2023

Pollen is difficult to dislodge, burrowing down into the weave of fabric and insinuating itself into crevices. Inside our noses are delicate curled plates of bone known as the nasal turbinates, each covered...

Read more about Aha! Plant Detectives

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