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New Scientist The Collection Issue Three

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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New Scientist Ltd
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access_time1 min.
reduce or replace?

One obvious way to cut down on sugar is to switch to artificial sweeteners. Unfortunately, recent research casts doubt on their effectiveness.Instead of helping us skimp on calories while getting the same hit of sweetness, artificial sweeteners may prompt us to eat more. That’s because real sugar gives you two hits of sweetness. First, it activates sweet receptors on your tongue, boosting dopamine in the brain. Later, as glucose is absorbed during digestion, the reward system gets a second hit. With artificial sweeteners, you only get the first hit. So by decoupling sweetness from satisfaction, people may be left unsatisfied, and compensate by eating more. ■…

access_time1 min.
diy brain enhancement

Zapping your brain with a small current seems to improve everything from mathematical skills to marksmanship (see main story). Since the science is still immature, the safest way to experience this boost is probably to sign up for a lab experiment.That hasn’t stopped a vibrant community of DIY tDCS enthusiasts from springing up. Their online forums are full of accounts of their homemade experiments, including hair-curling descriptions of blunders that, in one case, left someone temporarily blind.What drives people to take such risks? Roy Hamilton, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, thinks it is part of a general trend he calls cosmetic neuroscience, in which people try to tailor their brains to the demands of an increasingly fast-paced world.“In a society where both students and their professors…

access_time12 min.
inner healing

Use the placebo“I TALK to my pills,” says Dan Moerman, an emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. “I say, ‘hey guys, I know you’re going to do a terrific job’.”That might sound eccentric, but based on what we’ve learned about the placebo effect, there is good reason to think that talking to your pills really can make them do a terrific job. The way we think and feel about medical treatments can dramatically influence how our bodies respond.Simply believing that a treatment will work may trigger the desired effect even if the treatment is inert – a sugar pill, say, or a saline injection. For a wide range of conditions, from depression to Parkinson’s, osteoarthritis and multiple sclerosis, it is clear that the placebo response is far…

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sugar basics

“Sugar” refers to a large class of sweet-tasting, energy-dense carbohydrates. The simple sugars glucose, fructose and galactose, and the more complex sucrose and lactose, are the most familiar.The sugar added to food by manufacturers is usually either table sugar, which is sucrose, or high-fructose corn syrup. Sucrose is made up of a molecule of glucose and a molecule of fructose bonded together; they are split during digestion. High-fructose corn syrup, a mixture of glucose and fructose, is often portrayed as unhealthier than sucrose, but most researchers now agree that they are largely the same.Calculating how much added sugar is in your diet is difficult. Food labels don’t distinguish between natural and added sugar – a loophole the food industry is in no hurry to close.Nutrition scientists also talk about “free…

access_time10 min.
old dog, new tricks

Some people approaching their fifth decade choose to collect vintage wine, vinyl records or sports memorabilia. For Richard Simcott, it is languages. His itch to learn has led him to study more than 30 foreign tongues – and he’s not ready to give up.During our conversation in a London restaurant, he reels off sentences in Spanish, Turkish and Icelandic as easily as I can name the pizza and pasta on our menu. He has learned Dutch on the streets of Rotterdam, Czech in Prague and Polish during a house share with some architects. At home, he talks to his wife in fluent Macedonian.What’s remarkable about Simcott isn’t just the number and diversity of languages he has mastered. It’s his age. Long before grey hairs appear and waistlines expand, the mind’s…

access_time8 min.
focus, focus, focus

I’VE NEVER thought of myself as particularly distractible, but today the evidence seems to suggest otherwise. While wondering how to start this article I have: 1) opened an email alert telling me I have spam; 2) stared at a colleague’s new haircut; and 3) watched a cloud shaped like a cow turn into a sad face, and wondered if it meant anything. Getting down to work is proving to be rather a struggle.Wandering attention is an occupational hazard for the average office worker; research suggests that interruptions can take up to 2 hours out of the working day. Of the many things that disrupt our flow, visual distractions, like email notifications, flashing telephone message lights or people walking past the window, are among the most difficult to ignore. In the…