Why dogs have floppy ears

3 minutes

Sabine Hossenfelder: searching for beauty in mathematics

9 minutes

A small antelope horn

2 minutes

EXCLUSIVE

Conor and Kobe

6 minutes

How Big Tech betrayed us

4 minutes

Why do domesticated animals tend to have floppy ears, short snouts and lighter skin?

Charles Darwin’s The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication was published in 1868, nine years after On the Origin of Species. Among a number of topics related to domestication and heredity, the book asked why tamed animals tend to have floppier ears, shorter snouts and lighter, blotchier skin than their wild counterparts – a set of traits he referred to as ‘domestication syndrome’. The question went unanswered during Darwin’s lifetime but, as this animation from NPR’s Skunk Bear reveals, scientists might have recently discovered the answer hiding in the cellular makeup of domesticated animal embryos.

Video by Skunk Bear

Producers: Adam Cole, Ryan Kellman

Against ‘beauty’ in science – how striving for elegance stifles progress

That there is an inherent ‘beauty’ and ‘elegance’ to the laws of nature is a view that permeates the field of physics. But, according to the German theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder, the notion that the further you peer into reality, the easier the equation gets, has no basis in reality. Indeed, since the mid-20th-century, the maths of physics has become increasingly knotty, even as many physicists have continued to search for a path back to simplicity. In this interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn for the PBS series Closer to Truth, Hossenfelder makes the case that this fixation on beauty isn’t just misguided – it’s stifling scientific progress.

Video by Closer to Truth

Sitting by the fire with a nomadic tribe, a physicist ponders the many shapes of wisdom

The Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli is a pioneer in the field of quantum gravity, and often thought of as one of the world’s foremost scientific thinkers. In this brief animation by James Siewert, which features narration from the Swazi-English actor Richard E Grant, Rovelli recalls communing with members of the Hadza tribe of northern Tanzania – one of the last hunter-gatherer societies on Earth. Sitting by the fire, thoughts of the peculiar trajectory of Homo sapiens and the many shapes of human wisdom flicker in his head, as he ponders the gaps, large and small, between his world and theirs.

Video by rubberband.

Animator: James Siewert

Website: Alexander

Grieving Kobe Bryant, Conor wonders: why do untimely celebrity deaths hit so hard?

‘It’s weird, like – I’m tearing up for someone I didn’t even know…’

Kobe Bryant’s death on 26 January 2020 in a helicopter crash, alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, was met with public displays of mourning in the hours, weeks and months that followed. One of the most beloved basketball stars from a league with a global fanbase, the tragedy prompted innumerable tributes to the NBA legend, scrawled everywhere from the sidewalks of Los Angeles to the Chinese social media platform Weibo – alongside plenty of discussions and think-pieces about his complicated legacy, on and off the court.

This short documentary from the US filmmaker Derek Knowles is constructed from phone conversations between Knowles, his brother Conor and the siblings’ parents in the wake of Bryant’s death. Conor, the family’s biggest Bryant fan, meets the news with a distinct combination of shock, sadness and confusion over how the death of someone he never truly knew could affect him so powerfully. The result is a poignant and intricate reflection on celebrity, mourning and death, crafted from just a few intimate words between family members.

Director: Derek Knowles

Tech companies shroud their algorithms in secrecy. It’s time to pry open the black box

The so-called father of capitalism, Adam Smith, would frown upon the ‘free markets’ of the 21st century, argues the US economics writer Rana Foroohar. For Smith, a functioning market required transparency, a mutual understanding of exchanges and a shared moral framework. And, as Foroohar puts it in this brief animation for the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), surveillance capitalism – pioneered by Google, and now, to varying degrees, ubiquitous worldwide – comes up short on all three fronts. Featuring excerpts from a presentation given by Foroohar at the RSA House in London in 2019, this brief animation lays out the many ways in which surveillance capitalism continues to encroach unchecked, and one potential plan for course correction.

Video by the RSA

Director and Animator: Thomas Kilburn

Producer: Phoebe Williams

Why do domesticated animals tend to have floppy ears, short snouts and lighter skin?

Charles Darwin’s The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication was published in 1868, nine years after On the Origin of Species. Among a number of topics related to domestication and heredity, the book asked why tamed animals tend to have floppier ears, shorter snouts and lighter, blotchier skin than their wild counterparts – a set of traits he referred to as ‘domestication syndrome’. The question went unanswered during Darwin’s lifetime but, as this animation from NPR’s Skunk Bear reveals, scientists might have recently discovered the answer hiding in the cellular makeup of domesticated animal embryos.

Video by Skunk Bear

Producers: Adam Cole, Ryan Kellman

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Kirsten Thompson, the lead scientist on the Arctic Sunrise, takes water samples for eDNA sampling near Paulet Island at the entrance to the Weddell Sea. Photo by A Trayler-Smith/Greenpeace/Panos

Essay/
Thinkers and theories
The abuses of Popper

A powerful cadre of scientists and economists sold Karl Popper’s ‘falsification’ idea to the world. They have much to answer for

Charlotte Sleigh