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A red deer stag in autumn mist. Photo by Arterra/Sven-Erik Arndt/Getty

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Biology
Sex is real

Yes, there are just two biological sexes. No, this doesn’t mean every living thing is either one or the other

Paul Griffiths

A polio patient receives treatment via an ‘iron lung’, the nurse adjusting the flow of air pressure. United States c1955. Photo by Three Lions Inc/Getty

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Medicine
Life and breath

There’s a strange, and deeply human, story behind how we taught machines to breathe for critically ill patients

Sarah Ruth Bates

Detail of Sunrise III (1936-37), by Arthur Garfield Dove. Gift of Katherine S Dreier to the Collection Société Anonyme/Yale University Art Gallery

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Evolution
Origin story

Perched on the cusp between biology and chemistry, the start of life on Earth is an event horizon we struggle to see beyond

Natalie Elliot

The view towards Milano Centrale station down via Vittor Pisani during lockdown, 29 March 2020. Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket/Getty

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Engineering
Uncertain times

The pandemic is an unprecedented opportunity – seeing human society as a complex system opens a better future for us all

Jessica Flack & Melanie Mitchell

Detail from La Malade (1892) by Felix Vallotton. Courtesy Wikipedia

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Illness and disease
No rest

In the 19th century, the rest cure tested women’s sanity. Today, it challenges cherished myths about work and productivity

Alicia Puglionesi

Illustration by Richard Wilkinson

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Evolution
Catastrophes and calms

Evolution is extraordinarily creative in the wake of a cataclysm. How does life keep steadily ticking over in between?

Renée A Duckworth

Photo by Richard Kalvar/Magnum Photos

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Language and linguistics
The space between our heads

Brain-to-brain interfaces promise to bypass language. But do we really want access to one another’s unmediated thoughts?

Mark Dingemanse

Viewed from the International Space Station, stars glitter in the night sky above the Earth’s atmospheric glow. Photo courtesy Nasa

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Cosmology
Big space

Our planet is a tiny porthole, looking over a cosmic sea. Can we learn what lies beyond our own horizons of perception?

Katie Mack

Laugharne, Wales, 1959. Photo by Philip Jones Griffiths/Magnum

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Language and linguistics
Hand to mouth

If language began with gestures around a campfire and secret signals on hunts, why did speech come to dominate communication?

Kensy Cooperrider

Guilin, China. 1979. Photo by Hiroji Kubota/Magnum

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Economic history
Counting China

By rejecting sampling in favour of exhaustive enumeration, communist China’s dream of total information became a nightmare

Arunabh Ghosh

Photo by George Georgiou / Panos Pictures

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Illness and disease
On Matthew’s mind

An operation to remove a brain cyst changed Matthew’s identity. Who will he become after the next round of surgery?

Ben Platts-Mills

A facsimile of the Carta marina (1539) by Olaus Magnus. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

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Astronomy
Here be black holes

Like sea monsters on premodern maps, deep-space images are science’s fanciful means to chart the edges of the known world

Surekha Davies

Scientists near the Daneborg research station in Greenland, July/August 2014. Photo by Jean Gaumy/Magnum

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Philosophy of science
The necessity of awe

In awe we hold fast to nature’s strangeness and open up to the unknown. No wonder it’s central to the scientific imagination

Helen De Cruz

Photo by Martin Roemers/Panos

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Mental health
Unboxing mental health

Our system for diagnosing mental disorders doesn’t work. The transdiagnostic model offers a humane, clinically sound alternative

Melissa Black

The cleaner wrasse (pictured here accompanying the larger black-and-white snapper) can seemingly recognise itself in a mirror. Photo by Ullstein Bild/Getty

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Biology
The face of the fish

They’re not cuddly, they don’t behave at all like us – yet they are sentient. Why fish belong in the moral community

Michael Woodruff

A group gather to watch another victim taken to a hospital during the 1956 polio epidemic in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

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Illness and disease
Stealth infections

From the Black Death to polio, the most dangerous pathogens have moved silently, transmitted by apparently healthy people

Wendy Orent

Joan Miller in labour. Chicago, 19 September 1946. Photo by Wayne Miller/Magnum

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Pleasure and pain
The hysteria accusation

Women’s pain is often medically overlooked and undertreated. But the answer is not as simple as ‘believing all women’

Elizabeth Barnes

A section of the Andromeda galaxy M31, from the largest and most detailed image ever taken with the Hubble telescope. The full image shows more than 100 million stars stretching across more than 40,000 light years. Photo courtesy NASA, ESA, J Dalcanton, B F Williams, L C Johnson (University of Washington), the PHAT team and R Gendler

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Astronomy
Does dark matter exist?

Dark matter is the most ubiquitous thing physicists have never found: it’s time to consider alternative explanations

Ramin Skibba

A hunting scene discovered painted in a cave in Sulawesi, Indonesia, is thought to be 44,000 years old. Photo courtesy Ratno Sardi/Griffith University

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Human evolution
Ancient yet cosmopolitan

Art, adornment and sophisticated hunting technologies flourished not only in prehistoric Europe but across the globe

Gaia Vince