For decades, our view of heredity has been written in the language of DNA — and genetic mutations and recombinations have driven most descriptions of how phenotypic traits are handed down from one generation to another. Yet, as is amply demonstrated in Science‘sspecial issue of 10 August 2001, recent discoveries in the field of epigenetics … Continue reading

Why Your DNA Isn’t Your Destiny

JOHN CLOUD The remote, snow-swept expanses of northern Sweden are an unlikely place to begin a story about cutting-edge genetic science. The kingdom’s northernmost county, Norrbotten, is nearly free of human life; an average of just six people live in each square mile. And yet this tiny population can reveal a lot about how genes … Continue reading

Received wisdom

Average IQ is falling in Britain and beyond, explains Philip Hunter PHILIP HUNTER Back when Britain was brainy: applicants for the Mensa exam gather at the Russell Hotel in 1961 Intelligence quotients (IQs) have risen in developed nations for almost a century. This phenomenon, named the “Flynn effect” after the New Zealand intelligence researcher James … Continue reading

Everything Was a Problem and We Did Not Understand a Thing

Why can everyone learn Portuguese? Are some aspects of our nature unknowable? Can you imagine Richard Nixon as a radical? Is Twitter a trivializer? New Scientist takes a whistle-stop tour of our modern intellectual landscape in the company of Noam Chomsky. Graham Lawton Let’s start with the idea that everyone connects you with from the … Continue reading

Comes the Comer

LEON WIESELTIER A history of Jewish literacy remains to be written. It will be a colorful and complicated work, as befits the variegated linguistic history of the Jews, and for American Jewish readers of our day, I mean the honest ones, it will be a disturbing work. Whereas the Jews have always used many languages, … Continue reading

China’s monopoly on rare earths

Michael Marshall It’s a rare fight. The US, Europe and Japan have lodged a formal complaintwith the World Trade Organization over China’s export of rare earths – or lack of it. China produces 95 per cent of the global supply of the 17 metals, which are used in technologies from cellphones to wind turbines, but … Continue reading

Screening for heart problems?

Andy Coghlan The collapse of footballer Fabrice Muamba on live television on 17 March has sparked a debate about how often athletes should be screened for heart abnormalities. Could regular screening prevent sudden cardiac arrests?   What abnormalities actually cause sudden cardiac death? The most common one, accounting for about 35 per cent of cases, … Continue reading

Green tea could mask testosterone doping

Peter Aldous ATHLETES who cheat by doping themselves with testosterone may be able to mask their actions by drinking green tea. Large quantities might even provide a legal performance boost by raising levels of testosterone in the blood. Abuse of testosterone is hard to spot because the steroid hormone is found naturally in men and … Continue reading

The Big Lesson of a Little Prince

Maria Konnikova  My heart leaps up when I behold A rainbow in the sky: So was it when my life began; So is it now I am a man; So be it when I shall grow old, Or let me die! The Child is father of the Man; I could wish my days to be … Continue reading

Deep Thought is Dead, Long Live Deep Thought

Amr Abouelleil ‘Where are these jobs that will require such rapid “searching, browsing, assessing quality, and synthesizing the vast quantities of information”? We don’t need those skills to drive a truck or manage company accounts or sell clothes or do IT customer service or write novels or write code or give inoculations to patients or … Continue reading

Some Antioxidants Can Damage DNA, but May Treat Cancer

High-Throughput Screening Finds Surprising Properties for Antioxidants: Some Compounds Can Damage DNA, but May Treat Cancer Antioxidants have long been thought to have anti-aging properties, primarily by protecting a person’s genetic material from damaging chemicals. The story, however, now appears to be much more complicated. … Read More>>

Runner’s High

In the last century something unexpected happened: humans became sedentary. We traded in our active lifestyles for a more immobile existence. But these were not the conditions under which we evolved. David Raichlen from the University of Arizona, USA, explains that our hunter-gatherer predecessors were long-distance endurance athletes. ‘Aerobic activity has played a role in … Continue reading

Seeing Is Unbelieving

PHILIP KITCHER How then could Leon Wieseltier select THE ATHEIST’S GUIDE TO REALITY: Enjoying Life Without Illusions (Norton, $25.95), by Alex Rosenberg, as the “worst book” of 2011? Although the award is almost certainly misplaced, what inspired it is readily understood. The book expands the campaign of militant modern atheism, the offensive launched against religion … Continue reading

Haruki Murakami

The secret to his success. Hint: It’s not great writing. Nathan Heller Who’s ripping off whom, though? When writers like Chabon, Franzen, and Smith speak about their efforts in those novels, they tend to discuss a “return” to old values or long-lost literary pleasures. What joins the books is an effort to escape from the … Continue reading

Why You Can’t Be Both French and Jewish

The Toulouse school shootings were horrible. But they should come as no surprise. Rachael Levy But what seems so simple in the United States is anything but in France. In the end, the trouble stems from the idea that “French” means you follow the values of the state—in this case, secularism. What Americans often believe … Continue reading

A cloaking device from off-the-shelf superconductors and magnetic tape

Matthew Francis This artist’s depiction shows how to make a magnetic cloaking device. Ferromagnetic materials attract magnetic fields (left), while superconductors expel magnetic fields (middle). Combining the two in a particular way cancels out the individual effects, l The dream of turning solid objects invisible is an ancient one. In recent years a number of … Continue reading

Drug resistant malaria takes new ground

Robert Fortner A resident of Myanmar with a severe case of malaria. In Southeast Asia, drug-resistant malaria may have evolved resistance to another frontline therapy and established itself in new territory in western Thailand, according to the World Health Organization. The new area in Thailand joins previous hot spots in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar, with … Continue reading

The Birth and Death of Words?

CHRISTOPHER SHEA Can physicists produce insights about language that have eluded linguists and English professors? That possibility was put to the test this week when a team of physicists published a paper drawing on Google’s massive collection of scanned books. They claim to have identified universal laws governing the birth, life course and death of … Continue reading

Angry Words

Will one researcher’s discovery deep in the Amazon destroy the foundation of modern linguistics? By Tom Bartlett A Christian missionary sets out to convert a remote Amazonian tribe. He lives with them for years in primitive conditions, learns their extremely difficult language, risks his life battling malaria, giant anacondas, and sometimes the tribe itself. In … Continue reading

Word for Word

Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Peter Mark Roget I can see my own copy up on a high shelf. I rarely open it, because I know there is no such thing as a synonym and because I get nervous around people who always assemble with their own kind, forming clubs and nailing signs to … Continue reading

How to have a conversation

It’s a dying art, struck down by text, email and messaging. So can we be taught how to talk to each other? John McDermott Perhaps it was the opium talking, but Thomas de Quincey once wrote that an evening in the company of Samuel Coleridge was “like some great river”. The poet “swept at once … Continue reading


How the great American novelist became the literary equivalent of the Nike swoosh. Nathan Heller Ernest Hemingway would be aghast to see what has become of Ernest Hemingway. Against the gray obscurity that awaits most writers in death, his image, 50 years later, has become the literary equivalent of the Nike swoosh or golden arches. … Continue reading

Wikipedia Didn’t Kill Britannica

Windows Did Tim Carmody First edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Photo: Courtesy Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. The encyclopedia in the living room wasn’t a reference tool so much as aspirational furniture, a sign to visitors but mostly ourselves that our living room wasn’t dedicated in its entirety to that pagan idol television. That we were consecrated … Continue reading

Where’s _why? Ruby

What happened when one of the world’s most unusual, and beloved, computer programmers disappeared. Annie Lowrey In March 2009, Golan Levin, the director of Carnegie Mellon University’s interdisciplinary STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, invited an enigmatic and famed computer programmer known to the virtual world only as “Why the Lucky Stiff” or  “_why”—no, not a typo—to … Continue reading

Bulgur: Natural Weight-Loss Food

This Middle Eastern staple sounds more exotic than it is; bulgur is what’s left after wheat kernels have been steamed, dried, and crushed. This cereal grain has been a food staple for years because it offers an inexpensive source of low-fat protein, making it a wonderfully nutritious addition to your low-calorie meal plan. High in … Continue reading

Sex-Deprived Flies Seek Swig Solace

Sexually frustrated fruit flies preferred alcohol-laced food more than their satisfied compatriots did. Cynthia Graber You know the scene—it’s a Friday night, and your date just canceled. You’re bummed, maybe a little hurt. You think now might be a good time for a beer, maybe a bourbon. And you have good company: fruit flies. Turns … Continue reading

Why Finish Books?

Tim Parks “Sir—” remarked Samuel Johnson with droll incredulity to someone too eager to know whether he had finished a certain book—“Sir, do you read books through?” Well, do we? Right through to the end? And if we do, are we the suckers Johnson supposed one must be to make a habit of finishing books? … Continue reading

Tips from John Steinbeck

On the value of unconscious association, or why the best advice is no advice. Maria Popova “If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to … Continue reading

Proust and mater

Michael Wood There are texts that seem to require a certain craziness of us, a mismeasure of response to match the extravagance of their expression. But can a mismeasure be a match? All we know is that we don’t want to lose or reduce the extravagance but can’t quite fall for it either. An example … Continue reading

Teaching and Students

CHARLES KENNY The bad news is that many of the billion-plus kids in school today aren’t learning very much. In fact, in public schools in the developing world, many are learning close to nothing — many kids leave school unable to read or do simple sums. If we’re going to convert more kids in class … Continue reading

The QWERTY Effect

How Typing May Shape the Meaning of Words Dave Mosher A keyboard’s arrangement could have a small but significant impact on how we perceive the meaning of words we type. Specifically, the QWERTY keyboard may gradually attach more positive meanings to words with more letters located on the right side of the layout (everything to … Continue reading

The myth of Chinese exceptionalism

Yuan-kang Wang All nations tend to see their history as exceptional, and these beliefs usually continue a heavy dose of fiction. Here are the top three myths of contemporary Chinese exceptionalism. Myth #1: China did not expand when it was strong. Myth 2: The Seven Voyages of Zheng He demonstrates the peaceful nature of Chinese … Continue reading

Why moralism spoils the appetite

Adam Gopnik makes a powerful and entertaining case for why we shouldn’t ruin the aesthetic pleasure of food by adding a side order of moralism. Kirk Leech Gopnik believes that, ‘Having made food a more fashionable object, we have ended by making eating a smaller subject.’ When ‘gastronomy’ was on the margins of attention it … Continue reading

The God wars

To hardline atheists, it is now unreasonable and “dramatically peculiar” to argue that religion is not altogether evil. How did such intolerance become acceptable to rational minds? Bryan Appleyard Two atheists – John Gray and Alain de Botton – and two agnostics – Nassim Nicholas Taleb and I – meet for dinner at a Greek … Continue reading

Gogol* Explains the Post-Soviet World

(*And Chekhov and Dostoyevsky.) The case for (re)reading Russia’s greatest literary classics. THOMAS DE WAAL Twenty years ago, 15 new states emerged from the wreck of the Soviet Union, uneven shards from a broken monolith. One story turned into 15. Most Soviet watchers have been struggling to keep up ever since. How to tell these … Continue reading

Barefoot Versus Running Shoes

Running in shoes takes less energy than running barefoot. The heavier your shoes are, the less efficiently you run. Running barefoot "offers no metabolic advantage over running in lightweight, cushioned shoes." Alex Hutchinson The topic is a very cool and thought-provoking new study, from Rodger Kram’s lab at the University of Colorado, just published online … Continue reading

The State of the Anglosphere

The decline of the English-speaking world has been greatly exaggerated. Joel Kotkin and Shashi Parulekar It’s indisputable that the Anglosphere no longer enjoys the overwhelming global dominance that it once had. What was once a globe-spanning empire is now best understood as a union of language, culture, and shared values. Yet what declinists overlook is … Continue reading

Which e-book reader should you buy?

With ultra-affordable e-ink readers, mid-priced color tablets like the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, and even the more expensive iPad all vying for your e-book dollar, what’s the best choice for you? It depends. John P. Falcone Shopping for an e-book reader? At first glance, the task seems daunting–there are more choices than ever before. … Continue reading

Evolutionary Mystery of Female Orgasm

David Barash Believe it or not, there may be a connection between the mating behavior of grizzly bears and the evolution of the human female orgasm … In his poem “Of the progress of the soul,” John Donne once eloquently described a young lady he admired (one Elizabeth Drury), by observing that “Her pure, and … Continue reading

Night in Arzamas

How Tolstoy’s obsession with mortality became a teachable moment. Jordan Smith In 1869, just after he finished War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy experienced a profound spiritual crisis as the result of an incident during a journey through the city of Arzamas, which is on the Tyosha River about 250 miles east of Moscow. As he … Continue reading


Once a mark of the cultured, language-learning is in retreat among English speakers. It’s never too late, but where to start? Robert Lane Greene launches our latest Big Question …   From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, March/April 2012 For language lovers, the facts are grim: Anglophones simply aren’t learning them any more. In Britain, despite four … Continue reading

The brainstorming myth

Jonah Lehrer In the late nineteen-forties, Alex Osborn, a partner in the advertising agency B.B.D.O., decided to write a book in which he shared his creative secrets. At the time, B.B.D.O. was widely regarded as the most innovative firm on Madison Avenue. Born in 1888, Osborn had spent much of his career in Buffalo, where … Continue reading

Fields Apart

By Sam Kean “Shut up and calculate!” As physics became more mathematical and abstract during the past century, that phrase—first uttered by physicist David Mermin—became its mantra. Indeed, the more that physicists stopped worrying about what their complicated equations meant and simply ran the numbers, the more progress they made. Some of their predictions have now … Continue reading

Judging Books by Their Covers

C. Max Magee … we thought it might be fun to compare the U.S. and U.K. book cover designs of this year’s Morning News Tournament of Books contenders. Book cover design never seems to garner much discussion in the literary world, but, as readers, we are undoubtedly swayed by the little billboard that is the … Continue reading

Christian Jihad

Patrick Allitt Is it true that the Bible teaches peace and the Koran war? Only if you approach the books selectively, taking the gentlest of Jesus’ teachings and setting them against the harshest of Muhammad’s. Philip Jenkins’s challenging new book Laying Down the Sword shows that the Bible contains incitements not just to violence but … Continue reading

Why Are Men So Violent?

Why Are Men So Violent? Jesse J. Prinz It will not have gone unnoticed that men are more violent than women. Men perpetrate about 90 percent of the world’s homicides and start all of the wars. But why? A recent article in a prominent science journal contends that evolution has shaped men to be warriors. … Continue reading

Daddy Issues

Why caring for my aging father has me wishing he would die Sandra Tsing Loh Recently, a colleague at my radio station asked me, in the most cursory way, as we were waiting for the coffee to finish brewing, how I was. To my surprise, in a motion as automatic as the reflex of a … Continue reading

Poverty as Destiny

Isaac Chotiner … a Mumbai garbage-sorter takes the witness stand to defend the honor of his dead wife. A trial is being held to determine whether the defendant beat, and drove to suicide by self-immolation, the woman everyone in Annawadi calls The One Leg. After an argument with her neighbors, she poured cooking fuel over … Continue reading

Literally figuratively

All patriotic Americans ought to stand up and say enough is enough. We need a law to put a stop to this literally-abuse. A. Barton Hinkle … Literally? Yikes. The last time a Cat-5 hurricane made landfall in the United States was seven years ago, when Katrina slammed into New Orleans. Tuesday’s primary was eventful, … Continue reading

Farm life and the Immune System

Immunological diseases, such as eczema and asthma, are on the increase in westernised society and represent a major challenge for 21st century medicine. A new study has shown, for the first time, that growing up on a farm directly affects the regulation of the immune system and causes a reduction in the immunological responses to … Continue reading