We spoke to Uta Frith, author of Autism: A Very Short Introduction and asked her about diagnosis, the perceived links between autism and genius, and how autism is portrayed in culture.
By Peter Holland
The metaphor of the ‘evolutionary tree’ is powerful. Closely related species, such as octopus and squid, can be pictured as twigs sitting near each other on a small branch, in turn connected to larger and larger branches, each representing more distant evolutionary relationships. Every animal species, past and present, is a twig somewhere on the vast tree of life. But what is the shape of this metaphorical tree? Can we find the correct place for all the twigs, or perhaps even just the largest branches? In short, who is related to whom? To solve this would be to reconstruct the history of animal life on our planet.
By David Sterritt
Jack Kerouac, the novelist and poet who gave the Beat Generation its name, died 43 years ago on 21 October 1969 at the age of 47. On Friday, the long-delayed movie version of Kerouac’s autobiographical novel about crisscrossing the United States with his hipster friend Neal Cassady in the 1940s, On the Road will be released. When the novel was published in 1957, six years after he finished writing it, Kerouac dreamed up his own screen adaptation, hoping to play himself (called Sal Paradise in the novel) opposite Marlon Brando as Dean Moriarty, the Cassady character.
By Jolyon Mitchell
It was agonizing, just a few weeks before publication of Martyrdom: A Very Short Introduction, to discover that there was a minor mistake in one of the captions. Especially frustrating, as it was too late to make the necessary correction to the first print run, though it will be repaired when the book is reprinted. New research had revealed the original mistake. The inaccuracy we had been given had circulated the web and had been published by numerous press agencies and journalists too. What precisely was wrong?
Governance, governance everywhere – why has the word “governance” become so common? One reason is that many people believe that the state no longer matters, or at least the state matters far less than it used to. Even politicians often tell us that the state can’t do much.
By David Rothery
So Mars is ‘Place of the Year’! It has the biggest volcano in the Solar System — Olympus Mons — amazing dust storms, and the grandest canyon of all — Valles Marineris. Mind you, the surface area of Mars is almost the same as the total area of dry land on Earth, so to declare Mars as a whole to be ‘place of the year’ seems a little vague, given that previous winners (on Earth) have been islands or single countries.
“Spirituality” is a word that defines our era. The fascination with spirituality is a striking aspect of our contemporary times and stands in stark contrast to the decline in traditional religious belonging in the West. Although the word “spirituality” has Christian origins it has now moved well beyond these – indeed beyond religion itself.
By Les Iversen
When Drugs: A Very Short Introduction was published in 2001, drugs were relatively hard to obtain. Recreational users could buy illegal drugs from back-street dealers, while prescription medicines required a trip to the doctor to obtain a script. The Internet has changed all that. Nowadays in Western Europe and in North America there are dozens of website dealers offering novel psychoactive drugs (“legal highs”) and prescription medicines at modest prices. The market for designer drugs has grown hugely.
By Geraldine Johnson
When the latest news in the art world is all about record-breaking prices for contemporary works and the celebrity buzz of London’s Frieze Art Fair, thinking about Renaissance art might seem, well, a little old-fashioned, if not downright eccentric. But if the two experiences I had recently are anything to go by, maybe we need to think again.
By Alexander C. Diener and Joshua Hagen
The idea that the twenty-first century will be marked by the ascendency of Asia, and more specifically the rise of China as a global superpower, has gained broad currency in academic discussions, policy decisions, and general public opinion around the world. After focusing on the Middle East for much of the last two decades, the United States has recently declared a pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, for example, while opinion surveys show majorities of Americans already believe China’s economy has overtaken that of the US.
By Andrew Scull
Fights over how to define and diagnose mental illness are scarcely a novel feature of the psychiatric landscape, but their most recent manifestation has some unusual features. For more than a decade now, the American Psychiatric Association has been preparing a new edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the fifth (or by some counts the seventh) edition of that extraordinary tome, each incarnation weightier than the last. Over the past two years, however, major attacks have been launched on the enterprise, replete with allegations that the new edition shows signs of being built on hasty and unscientific foundations
The biennial International AIDS Conference was held in Washington D.C. in July of 2012. This was the first time that the conference had been on US soil for 20 years. The International AIDS Society had previously decided that while legislation prevented HIV positive people from travelling to the States, the conference would not be held there. However, these laws were repealed by the Obama administration in 2010. The meeting was huge: 25000 people. Speaking at the conference, I identified three key issues…
Some of my more radical academic colleagues remain inordinately sceptical of the role of individual leaders set against the tectonic plates of economic systems, social classes, genders, political alliances and ethnic groups. To suggest that individual leaders might make a difference is to place an unwarranted responsibility upon mere actors when the real issue is ‘the system’ – whatever the system is.
By Sandy Maisel
Presidential campaign watching is a great American game. Did Romney respond correctly when challenged on why he failed to mention our men and women in uniform in his convention speech? Does President Obama really like hanging out in sports bars and receiving giant bear hugs from pizza shop owners? How big was the Obama convention bounce and what does it mean?
By William Doyle
Born to tenants of a country squire in Yorkshire, I knew about what my grandmother called ‘toffs’ at an early age. The squire was a toff. As a child I scarcely realised that the squire and his lifestyle were already relics of a fast-disappearing pattern of society.
By Andrew King
What are you made of? You may never have thought about it before, but every atom in your body was once part of a star, even several stars in succession. And almost all the elements that make up your body – carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and so on – would not exist at all without the stars.