Brexit’s Back: The Five Issues That Will Shape Science

Holly Else & Elizabeth Gibney

Nature | October 19, 2020

A British citizen living in Brussels waving EU and British flags
The United Kingdom will have a new arrangement with the European Union from 1 January.Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty

Many researchers might wish they could forget about Brexit. But they can’t. The United Kingdom has left the European Union, and for the past ten months it has been in a ‘transition period’ during which little changed. On 1 January 2021, that will end, bringing changes to public life and policy — including that governing research.

UK and EU negotiators are still trying to agree a trade deal that will determine their future relationship, including issues that affect science. But with only weeks left to make an agreement that can be approved in time, talks have stalled. The alternative ‘no deal’ scenario is widely predicted to cause chaos, because regulations that control people, goods and services would change abruptly overnight.Read More »


Probing Fine-scale Connections in the Brain

Esther Landhuis

Nature | October 19, 2020

Neurons in the right superior lateral protocerebrum of Drosophila

Tracing connections, such as those in this section of the fruit-fly brain, could uncover links between neural architecture, biology and disease. Credit: FlyEM at HHMI/Google Research

There are 70 million neurons in the mouse brain, and Moritz Helmstaedter wants to map them all. He was a medical student at Heidelberg University in Germany when psychiatrists there suggested that some aspects of the human psyche lack a biological explanation. “I was totally appalled,” recalls Helmstaedter, who is now a director at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, Germany.

Although the brain remains a mystery, Helmstaedter was convinced that what goes on there “must be a mechanistic phenomenon in the end, as complex as it may be”. He has dedicated the past two decades to working those mechanisms out — and he and other neuroscientists are finally starting to scratch the surface, one cubic micrometre at a time.Read More »


The Radical Extension of Reality: Jorge Luis Borges

Jim Aitken

Culture Matters | October 22, 2020

The Radical Extension of Reality: Jorge Luis Borges

It was his fellow Argentinian writer and, like his mentor, a former Director of the National Library of Argentina, Alberto Manguel, who told us in Packing My Library (2018) that Borges, while trapped in Geneva during the Second World War, came across the story of the Golem. Borges was sixteen years old and reading Gustav Mehring’s book The Golem (1915), which totally captivated his mind and helped to form the writer he became.

The story of The Golem has quite a lineage. The word is first mentioned in Psalm 139: ‘Thine eyes did see my golem.’ In the 1st century C.E. it was Rabbi Eliezer who wrote that the golem was ‘an inarticulate lump.’ And in the fourth century C.E. the Babylonian teacher Rava created a creature out of clay and sent it to Rabbi Zera. The Rabbi attempted to speak with it and in anger at its refusal to reply, the Rabbi said ‘return to dust’ whereupon the creature crumbled into a shapeless heap.Read More »


Revenge Capitalism: The Ghosts of Empire, the Demons of Capital, and the Settling of Unpayable Debts by Max Haiven

Reviewed by John Thompson

Marx and Philosophy | October 06, 2020

Revenge is in the air, something brimming as an affective dimension of these contemporary times. It is detachable and quite easily displaced. One evocative episode from Max Haiven’s Revenge Capitalism: The Ghosts of Empire, the Demons of Capital, and the Settling of Unpayable Debts underlines this point. It is a story his father told him of his grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor, a man his father admired for his forgiving nature and lack of ill will towards Germany. One day as the Six Day War plays on the television screen, this man, never previously interested in Zionist politics, becomes elated at the violence meted out to the Arabs on the television. The rage was there alright, but it emerges displaced from the Nazis to the Arabs.Read More »