Tiny elephants in the room: attitudes to microplastics and the environment

microbeads in cosmetics Humans have been drastically altering our environments for millennia. The bare, bleak hills of Dartmoor in the southwest of England were heavily forested ten thousand years ago, before Stone Age inhabitants started clearing trees to boost hunting and farming. Worldwide deforestation has accelerated in the industrial era, Continue reading

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Learning to love robots: First impressions count

icub-scitos-g5 Think of a robot and you will probably picture something that looks a bit like us. From faithful companions like C-3P0 and Wall-E to the rather less friendly Cybermen, most robotic creations of popular culture have some recognisable human features.

Robots have been assembling cars for decades and are now starting to enter our homes. Continue reading

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Of flops and teraflops: In search of the perfect poker player

straightI’ve just taken a beating at poker. When the chips were counted after one hundred hands of Texas hold ‘em against the former European champion, I was down by almost 10,000.

The beating, although inevitable, wasn’t unrelenting. I’d successfully slow-played my pocket kings, and apparently not broken into a giveaway grin when I’d hit trip threes on the flop. Continue reading

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Clever forever?

EinsteinAlbert Einstein comes near the top of any list of famously clever people, even 60 years after his death. His face is likewise instantly recognisable: the unruly white hair and grey moustache have adorned countless t-shirts, posters and popular science articles about the nature of genius. Fewer would recognise a photograph of the 26-year-old Einstein, at his remarkable peak of scientific productivity. Continue reading

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Can emotional intelligence lead you astray?

4474619288_463dc89a99_o (2) Some personality traits seem obviously desirable. Who would not want to have above-average humour, intelligence or self- confidence? So it is surprising that high emotional intelligence is associated with so-called “delinquent” behaviour – from school truancy and smoking cannabis to physical aggression – in female adolescents. By contrast, males with relatively high emotional intelligence tend to engage in fewer socially transgressive acts. Continue reading

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What is it like to wake up during surgery?

surgeon The benefits of anaesthesia are enormous. Being prepped for surgery two hundred years ago, you might be offered a few numbing swigs from a brandy bottle. Occasionally, the surgeon would attempt to spare your agony by punching you unconscious. Most operations were amputations, so we can be very thankful for the medical advances of the intervening years.
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Fear, prejudice and pharmaceuticals

3058701116_99e888fd21_oTaboos against giving offence to people from other social groups and cultures are very widespread. Indeed, showing kindness and generosity to strangers could be regarded as an important marker of human civilization.

Social codes that are sometimes bracketed under the heading of “political correctness” actually reflect longstanding conventions about the responsibilities of hosts towards their guests. Continue reading

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