Science

Nature, nurture: mind the trap

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Is it the DNA we are born with or our environment that determines how we act? John Parrington, author of The Deeper Genome, looks beyond this false dichotomy to a dialectical approach.

Imagine if someone invented a portable supercomputer that required only the wattage of a light bulb to run, but had the literary imagination of a William Shakespeare or Emily Brontë, the scientific genius of an Albert Einstein or Marie Curie, and the musical talent of an Amadeus Mozart or Billie Holliday. In fact such a computer already exists — it’s called the human brain.

Genes, Cells and Brains

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As the 20th century ended, there were many predictions about what we might expect from the next century but one particularly resonated with policy-makers across the world. It was the claim that whereas the past century had been characterised by advances in physics - the fridge, washing machine, television, computer, but also the atom bomb - the 21st century would be dominated by developments in biology.

Bad science, worse politics

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The new policy briefing on children's education by Michael Gove's top advisor is a justification for inequality

A leaked policy document from Michael Gove's top adviser, Dominic Cummings, shows the vision underpinning educational policy in England. The claim that intelligence is mainly inherited attracted most attention, and is used to justify closing hundreds of Sure Start children's centres for the most disadvantaged.

According to Cummings, these parents are poor because they are stupid, and pass on stupidity genes to their children, so it is futile to provide nurseries.

Silent Spring

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The publication of Silent Spring 50 years ago in September 1962 caused shockwaves through an America dominated by the belief that, through technology, humans could dominate nature in their own interests. The book and its author, Rachel Carson, are credited with inspiring the modern environmental movement.

Born in 1907 Rachel Carson had been a biologist working for the US Fisheries Bureau, but became a full-time writer in the 1950s. Her trilogy of books on the sea explored ocean life and had been bestsellers. In Silent Spring she examined the growing environmental problems caused by pesticides, locating the problem in the wider interaction of humans and the natural world. It was a book that was rooted in growing environmental awareness, particularly public understanding of the dangers from radiation.

The speed of science

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The scientific world has been shaken by developments in the OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tracking Apparatus) collaboration. Researchers from over 48 different institutions across the world have recorded neutrinos travelling 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light in a vacuum between a source and a detector.

This finding could overturn one of the most fundamental laws in modern physics - that nothing travels faster than the speed of light.

The Science and Humanism of Stephen Jay Gould

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Richard York and Brett Clark


Stephen Jay Gould was one of the most important evolutionary theorists since Charles Darwin. His enormous final work, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, was published shortly before his death in 2002 and will long remain a key text for understanding the natural world and its development. The prominent left wing biologist Steven Rose argues that Gould's book represents "perhaps the most important advance in evolutionary theory since Darwin wrote The Origin of Species".

Charles Darwin: Revolution of evolution

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Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace formulated the theory of evolution and fought for its acceptance across the scientific community, writes John Parrington.

I recently made a pilgrimage to Westminster Abbey. I was not there for religious or aesthetic reasons, but to visit the grave and honour the memory of Charles Darwin, who was born 200 years ago this month.

From great to disgrace

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When Nobel prize winner James Watson made racist comments about black people and intelligence last month, he was using his scientific credentials to legitimise bigotry.

It has been said that if the 20th century was the age of the atom, the 21st century will be the epoch of the gene. With the completion of the human genome project we are offered a future in which the genetic basis of disease has been fully worked out and medical treatment is tailored to each individual.

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