Essay

  • Essay |

    The Western public's misapprehension that genius in science is always male and caucasian is partly a legacy of Victorian politics, says Christine MacLeod.

    • Christine MacLeod
  • Essay |

    Venture funding is declining quickly and is unlikely to bounce back. But less money means lower expectations — good news for smaller science start-ups, says John Browning.

    • John Browning
  • Essay |

    Giovanni Bignami reflects on the people who persuaded him that we must send humans beyond Earth's orbit to inspire public and political support for science.

    • Giovanni Bignami
  • Essay |

    We must look for mental commonalities between humans and other animals to understand the minds of either, says Frans B. M. de Waal, rebutting a recent claim to the contrary.

    • Frans B. M. de Waal
  • Essay |

    In the first of three essays, Toby Murcott argues that the process of science needs to be opened up if journalists are to provide proper critique.

    • Toby Murcott
  • Essay |

    In the second of three essays, Boyce Rensberger tracks the progression of scientific correspondents from cheerleaders to watchdogs.

    • Boyce Rensberger
  • Essay |

    As research increases in Arab countries, the media is stepping up to report on it. In the third of three essays, Nadia El-Awady says the local journalism has much room for improvement.

    • Nadia El-Awady
  • Essay |

    Fossil finds of early humans in southeast Asia may actually be the remains of an unknown ape. Russell Ciochon says that many palaeoanthropologists — including himself — have been mistaken.

    • Russell L. Ciochon
  • Essay |

    As letters and diaries give way to e-mails and laptops, fresh challenges and opportunities have emerged for archivists. Jeremy Leighton John explores the digital wilderness for the British Library.

    • Jeremy Leighton John
  • Essay |

    The earliest microscopes shed light on a once-invisible world. But, Patricia Fara explains, microscopists were uncertain about how well the images reflected reality — just as they are today.

    • Patricia Fara
  • Essay |

    Patients and politicians anxiously await and increasingly demand a 'cure' for cancer. But trying to control the disease may prove a better plan than striving to cure it, says Robert A. Gatenby.

    • Robert A. Gatenby
  • Essay |

    As bodies piled up, the United States' response to the 'Spanish flu' was to tell the public that there was no cause for alarm. The authority figures who glossed over the truth lost their credibility, says John M. Barry.

    • John M. Barry
  • Essay |

    Scientists and philosophers are using new discoveries in neuroscience to question the idea of free will. They are misguided, says Martin Heisenberg. Examining animal behaviour shows how our actions can be free.

    • Martin Heisenberg
  • Essay |

    Stephen Schneider explores what a world with 1,000 parts per million of CO2 in its atmosphere might look like.

    • Stephen Schneider
  • Essay |

    Comparing gene networks to Greek philosophy could help biologists to see the truth, argue Mark Isalan and Matthew Morrison.

    • Mark Isalan
    •  & Matthew Morrison
  • Essay |

    Biologists have tended to assume that closely related species will have similar cognitive abilities. Johan J. Bolhuis and Clive D. L. Wynne put this evolutionarily inspired idea through its paces.

    • Johan J. Bolhuis
    •  & Clive D. L. Wynne
  • Essay |

    Barack Obama's choice of science advisers is cause for celebration. Yet history shows that an impressive academic record doesn't guarantee good, impartial advice, cautions Robert Dallek.

    • Robert Dallek
  • Essay |

    Wendy Barnaby was asked to write a book about water wars — then the facts got in the way of her story.

    • Wendy Barnaby
  • Essay |

    Scientists have been too dogmatic about scientific truth and sociologists have fostered too much scepticism — social scientists must now elect to put science back at the core of society, says Harry Collins.

    • Harry Collins
  • Essay |

    A theory of how microbes 'wake up' from dormancy could help to solve scientific mysteries and improve disease control, says Slava S. Epstein.

    • Slava S. Epstein
  • Essay |

    Henry Nicholls wonders how things would be different had Charles Darwin given in to pressure from his publisher to rewrite Origin of Species into a popular book about pigeons.

    • Henry Nicholls
  • Essay |

    In the last in our series on being human, Melanie Moses gets to grips with humanity's greatest challenge: how to reduce the demand for energy in increasingly complex, networked and energy-dependent societies.

    • Melanie Moses
  • Essay |

    The global problem of a safe and reliable supply of radioactive isotopes for use in critical hospital procedures can be solved with accelerators, not nuclear reactors, says Thomas Ruth.

    • Thomas Ruth
  • Essay |

    Our notions of family, population and race may need revising in the age of personal genomics, argues Aravinda Chakravarti.

    • Aravinda Chakravarti
  • Essay |

    Powerful chemical signals have been identified in moths, elephants and fish, recounts Tristram D. Wyatt. But, contrary to stories in the popular press, the race is still on to capture human scents.

    • Tristram D. Wyatt
  • Essay |

    Poetry it is not. Nor is it particularly romantic. But reducing love to its component parts helps us to understand human sexuality, and may lead to drugs that enhance or diminish our love for another, says Larry J. Young.

    • Larry J Young
  • Essay |

    The movement of people into societies that offer a better way of life is a more powerful driver of cultural evolution than conflict and conquest, say Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd.

    • Peter J. Richerson
    •  & Robert Boyd
  • Essay |

    Mathematical models can reveal how prosocial human behaviour — and even social intelligence and language — have evolved, argues Martin A. Nowak.

    • Martin A. Nowak
  • Essay |

    Generosity and solidarity towards one's own may have emerged only in combination with hostility towards outsiders, says Samuel Bowles.

    • Samuel Bowles
  • Essay |

    Anniversaries of Charles Darwin's life and work have been used to rewrite and re-energize his theory of natural selection. Janet Browne tracks a century of Darwinian celebrations.

    • Janet Browne
  • Essay |

    We must discover why cognitive differences are related to morbidity and mortality, argues Ian Deary, in order to help tackle health inequalities.

    • Ian Deary
  • Essay |

    Language evolved as part of a uniquely human group of traits, the interdependence of which calls for an integrated approach to the study of brain function, argue Eörs Szathmáry and Szabolcs Számadó.

    • Eörs Szathmáry
    •  & Szabolcs Számadó
  • Essay |

    Financial engineers have put too much faith in untested axioms and faulty models, says Jean-Philippe Bouchaud. To prevent economic havoc, that needs to change.

    • Jean-Philippe Bouchaud
  • Essay |

    Fundamental misunderstandings about classification can lead scientists down unproductive or dangerous paths, argue Jeffrey Parsons and Yair Wand.

    • Jeffrey Parsons
    •  & Yair Wand
  • Essay |

    Atheism will always be a harder sell than religion, Pascal Boyer explains, because a slew of cognitive traits predispose us to faith.

    • Pascal Boyer
  • Essay |

    Why does a developing nation have such an ambitious space programme? Subhadra Menon traces its foundations back to the work of one visionary physicist 60 years ago.

    • Subhadra Menon
  • Essay |

    Two decades ago, Deng Xiaoping welcomed nations to an international meeting in Beijing. Mohamed Hassan recalls how China's leaders set out their plans for the nation to rejoin the world's scientific elite.

    • Mohamed Hassan
  • Essay |

    The first mass data crunchers were people, not machines. Sue Nelson looks at the discoveries and legacy of the remarkable women of Harvard's Observatory.

    • Sue Nelson
  • Essay |

    A tug-of-war between the mother's and father's genes in the developing brain could explain a spectrum of mental disorders from autism to schizophrenia, suggest Christopher Badcock and Bernard Crespi.

    • Christopher Badcock
    •  & Bernard Crespi
  • Essay |

    Could the end of US world dominance over research mark the passing of national science giants, ask J. Rogers Hollingsworth, Karl H. Müller and Ellen Jane Hollingsworth.

    • J. Rogers Hollingsworth
    • , Karl H. Müller
    •  & Ellen Jane Hollingsworth
  • Essay |

    An English biochemist single-handedly changed the West's perception of China, revealing its past scientific glories and predicting more to come. Simon Winchester investigates the ongoing legacy of Joseph Needham.

    • Simon Winchester
  • Essay |

    Ruth Deech, former chair of Britain's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, reflects on how the science that gave an infertile couple a baby has been extended to saving lives.

    • Ruth Deech
  • Essay |

    To understand how mirror neurons help to interpret actions, we must delve into the networks in which these cells sit, say Antonio Damasio and Kaspar Meyer.

    • Antonio Damasio
    •  & Kaspar Meyer
  • Essay |

    In the last of nine Essays on science and music, John Sloboda argues that researchers must study music as people actually experience it, if they are to understand how it affects thoughts and feelings.

    • John Sloboda