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How extreme rituals bond us for life

On the Day of Ashura, Shia Muslims around the world gather to mourn the Imam, Husayn ibn Ali, and his defeat in the battle of Karbala (in present-day Iraq) in 680AD.

Giving up on wilderness means a barren future for the earth

Several years ago, I asked a biologist friend what she thought of a recently fashionable notion in environmentalist circles: that pristine nature was an illusion, and our beloved wilderness an outdated construct that didn’t actually exist.

How mathematics can make epidemics history

When Ronald Ross tipped over the water tank outside his bungalow in Bangalore, it began a lifelong battle against mosquitoes.

Do cricket dynasties prove that sporting success is genetic?

In their final Test match against Australia last winter, the England cricket team fielded two players — Stuart Broad and Jonny Bairstow — whose fathers also happened to play cricket for England.

Is today’s global travel any better than the Grand Tour?

I stood atop Mount Vesuvius with a small band of American classicists, reading a letter (it was not addressed to us but then that has never stopped classicists).

Can humanitarian agencies be reinvented in a networked age?

I became an aid worker in the 1990s, just as the break-up of Yugoslavia and the genocide in Rwanda cast a long shadow over the humanitarian sector.

If you were circumcised, are you a victim?

My first encounter with an ‘intactivist’ was in my freshman speech class. Our assignment was to sway our classmates on a contentious issue, and she opened her speech by asking if any man in the class still had his foreskin.

The warped world of marriage advice before feminism

In April this year, the Meredith Corporation announced that it would reduce Ladies’ Home Journal to a shadow of its former self.

Humans are wired for negativity, for good or ill

I have good news and bad news. Which would you like first? If it’s bad news, you’re in good company – that’s what most people pick.

Do we really want to use predictive policing to stop crime?

When a troubled young man named Adam Lanza stormed into Sandy Hook Elementary School and slaughtered 20 first-graders and six teachers in a small Connecticut suburb in December of 2012, a shroud of sorrow and confusion engulfed the United States and countries all over the world.

How the brain rewrites its own story as a heroic tale

People change, don’t they? That’s what everyone says. I once met a man who changed more than you could imagine.

Should a writer protect the medical privacy of the dead?

As I sat amid stacks of boxes in a stranger’s living room in Fairfield, California, back in 2008, I saw that my search was over.

The US gun lobby says that guns save lives – do they?

The first gun massacre in Blacksburg, Virginia, probably occurred on 8 July, 1755, when a group of native Americans entered Draper’s Meadow and killed four settlers – probably, because there are no rules as to how many killings make a massacre, and because the number of victims is disputed.

Are myths about the rejuvenating power of young blood true?

Saul Villeda, who leads a stem-cell research lab at the University of California, San Francisco, is not concerned about a black market for baby blood.

Our genome is not a blueprint for making humans at all

What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable!

Why the next pandemic will be nothing like Ebola

The latest epidemic to terrify the Western world is Ebola, a virus that has killed hundreds in Africa in 2014 alone.

Why my generation forgot to rebel against China’s overlords

When I first read the Chinese edition of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl in 1988, I was a skinny 15-year-old girl who had lived all her life in a southern Chinese province surrounded by stubborn bamboo mountains.

My Asperger’s son and the day the hate-circus came to town

In high school, my son Carson developed a fascination with Fred Phelps, the way a more typical teenager might obsess about the Marvel universe or The Vampire Diaries.

How New Orleans became America’s ground zero for HIV

As far as aspirations go, MarkAlain Dery’s might seem strange: giving rapid, mouth-swab tests for human immunodeficiency virus to celebrities.

The original meaning of laughter, smiles and tears

About four thousand years ago, somewhere in the Middle East — we don’t know where or when, exactly — a scribe drew a picture of an ox head.