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New Scientist The Collection

New Scientist The Collection Essential Knowledge

New Scientist covers discoveries and ideas in science and technology that will change your life and the way you understand the world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields to provide in-depth but accessible coverage of the developments that matter. New Scientist: The Collection is a themed compilation of recent articles and special reports from our back catalogue, providing a book-length examination of some of the deepest questions known to humanity.

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United Kingdom
New Scientist Ltd
Back issues only

in this issue

3 min.
smarten yourself up

SCIENCE can be exhilarating and awe-inspiring. Who could fail to be moved by the warping space-time described by Einstein’s theory of general relativity, or by evolution’s breathtaking perspective on the story of life? But it can often feel abstract and remote from everyday concerns. Grasping quantum mechanics won’t help you understand the migration crisis, for instance, and knowing your neurons from your dendrites doesn’t mean you can overcome your irrational brain’s tendency to make bad decisions. The good news is that there is another side to science, one that can help you make sense of our rapidly changing world. This issue of New Scientist: The Collection serves up the stuff you need to know to understand – and negotiate – life in the 21st century. We start by going back to basics. Chapter…

17 min.
inside knowledge

“ Knowing something is a far richer, more complex state than merely believing it” WHAT IS KNOWLEDGE? I’VE won the lottery. I haven’t checked my numbers yet, but I just know. You know what it’s like, when you just know you know. Knowledge is a slippery concept: what we know, how we know we know it, what we know others know, what others know of what we know, how what we or they know differs from what we just believe. You would probably argue that, until I see the winning numbers, I can’t know I have won the lottery – I can only believe it. Yet how do you know that? Most of us make our way through life without peering too closely under the bonnet of epistemology – the theory of knowledge. “We…

3 min.
cognitive bias

Menu Breakfast Full English breakfast £9.95 Smoked salmon & scrambled eggs £5.95 Waffles with maple syrup £4.75 Boiled egg and soldiers £4.00 IT’S Sunday morning and I’m feeling a bit impulsive, so I head to a cafe near my home in London for breakfast. I open the menu and see the following: What would you have picked? I went for the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. And a surprising number of you would have done the same. Why so? Understanding the often irrational factors that affect how we make decisions has been a key aim of psychologists over the past few decades – and we’re just getting to the stage where we can begin to apply their insights. That menu first. The reason why many of us would plump for the smoked salmon (besides, perhaps, liking smoked salmon) is…

3 min.

AH YES, statistics. The temptation to start any discussion of this subject with the aphorism popularised by Mark Twain is almost overwhelming. “Lies, damned lies, and…” You know the rest. We can’t afford to be that dismissive. Statistics is the science of drawing informed conclusions from large amounts of data. In a sense, then, it is modern science. From trials of the latest wonder drug to the discovery of the Higgs boson, breakthroughs that advance human knowledge are these days seldom made without someone somewhere applying statistical reasoning. And as those bits of knowledge filter down to the rest of us, we are increasingly expected to make decisions – from the political to the medical – on the basis of numbers with that confidence-inspiring suffix “per cent”. Trouble is, few of us…

3 min.
placebo effects

“ We feel better if we believe a treatment will work – even if the treatment is a sham” MY MUM swears that reiki, a technique claimed to channel healing energy through touch, cured her painful frozen shoulder. And my sister promises me a homeopathic remedy will relieve my frequent stomach aches. Such claims raise eyebrows among those who champion rational thinking. There is often no physiological mechanism by which these and other alternative therapies could work, and they regularly fail to pass the standard tests for efficacy in medicine. But if someone feels better after their chosen remedy, who are we to say it didn’t work for them? At the heart of such questions lies the placebo effect – the way that we tend to feel better just because we believe a…

3 min.

“ Given a large enough sample, any improbable thing is eventually bound to occur” IMAGINE you receive an envelope addressed in an unfamiliar hand. Enclosed are predictions for this weekend’s football matches and an offer to invest in the sender’s foolproof betting syndicate. What tosh, you think, shoving it in the recycling bin. But come the weekend, you notice that those tips turned out to be correct. And then comes the really strange bit. The next week, an identical letter arrives with predictions for that weekend’s games – and they turn out to be accurate too. At this point, you send off your cash, convinced that whoever this person is possesses some genuine insight. (Either that, or you go to the police to report that you’ve uncovered the biggest match-fixing scandal yet.) Or if…