Frontiersmen: the 1962 US Mercury crew
Show Hide image

The best of the NS in 2014: Science

Our best pieces from the past year. In this selection, the best articles about science.

Apocalypse soon: the scientists preparing for the end times

By Sophie McBain.

A growing community of scientists, philosophers and tech billionaires believe we need to start thinking seriously about the threat of human extinction.
 

This is (maybe) how we’d have colonised the Moon if the Soviet Union had got there first

By Ian Steadman.

A fascinating documentary from 1965 shows what Soviet scientists hoped would be possible with colonisation of the Moon.
 

The great ebola scare

By Michael Brooks.

It is being called the most severe health emergency of modern times. But are the fears of mass contagion in the west overblown?  


 

The sexist pseudoscience of pick-up artists: the dangers of “alpha male” thinking

By Ian Steadman.

We can mock the men in silly hats who claim to be experts in picking up women, but their weird anthropological worldview – of “alpha males” competing for “targets” – is a nonsense that has bled out into other sexist discourse.

 

Wandering in the heavens: how mathematics explains Saturn’s rings

By Ian Stewart.

How maths is changing cosmology - and why the best way to reach a comet near Mars is to go round the back of the sun.  

 

We may never teach robots about love, but what about ethics?

By Emma Woollacott.

Do androids dream of electric Kant?

 

The Periodic table versus the Apocalypse

By Michael Brooks.

Not just a faded poster on a lab wall, but “as impressive as the Pyramids or any of the other wonders of the world”. The table also holds the key to finding replacements for antibiotics.  

 

“Jews are adapted to capitalism”, and other nonsenses of the new scientific racism

By Ian Steadman.

Nicholas Wade's A Troublesome Inheritance argues that the genetic differences between racial groups explain why the West is rich and Africa is poor - but beneath the new science lies an old, dangerous lie.

 

Maths is all Greek to me: how language barriers influence mathematics

By Michael Brooks.

The Navier-Stokes equations, which describe how fluids such as air and water flow, may finally have been proved to work in every situation.  

 

Explorers … or nosy parkers

By Colin Pillinger.

The planetary scientist Collin Pillinger, who died aged 70 this year, argues that it’s our thirst for discovery that makes us human.

Death on Mars: would you take a one-way trip to space?

By Helen Lewis

Within a few decades, we will have the technological ability to send humans to the red planet - as long as they don't want to come back home again.

Show Hide image

The Autumn Statement proved it – we need a real alternative to austerity, now

Theresa May’s Tories have missed their chance to rescue the British economy.

After six wasted years of failed Conservative austerity measures, Philip Hammond had the opportunity last month in the Autumn Statement to change course and put in place the economic policies that would deliver greater prosperity, and make sure it was fairly shared.

Instead, he chose to continue with cuts to public services and in-work benefits while failing to deliver the scale of investment needed to secure future prosperity. The sense of betrayal is palpable.

The headline figures are grim. An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that real wages will not recover their 2008 levels even after 2020. The Tories are overseeing a lost decade in earnings that is, in the words Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, “dreadful” and unprecedented in modern British history.

Meanwhile, the Treasury’s own analysis shows the cuts falling hardest on the poorest 30 per cent of the population. The Office for Budget Responsibility has reported that it expects a £122bn worsening in the public finances over the next five years. Of this, less than half – £59bn – is due to the Tories’ shambolic handling of Brexit. Most of the rest is thanks to their mishandling of the domestic economy.

 

Time to invest

The Tories may think that those people who are “just about managing” are an electoral demographic, but for Labour they are our friends, neighbours and the people we represent. People in all walks of life needed something better from this government, but the Autumn Statement was a betrayal of the hopes that they tried to raise beforehand.

Because the Tories cut when they should have invested, we now have a fundamentally weak economy that is unprepared for the challenges of Brexit. Low investment has meant that instead of installing new machinery, or building the new infrastructure that would support productive high-wage jobs, we have an economy that is more and more dependent on low-productivity, low-paid work. Every hour worked in the US, Germany or France produces on average a third more than an hour of work here.

Labour has different priorities. We will deliver the necessary investment in infrastructure and research funding, and back it up with an industrial strategy that can sustain well-paid, secure jobs in the industries of the future such as renewables. We will fight for Britain’s continued tariff-free access to the single market. We will reverse the tax giveaways to the mega-rich and the giant companies, instead using the money to make sure the NHS and our education system are properly funded. In 2020 we will introduce a real living wage, expected to be £10 an hour, to make sure every job pays a wage you can actually live on. And we will rebuild and transform our economy so no one and no community is left behind.

 

May’s missing alternative

This week, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, gave an important speech in which he hit the proverbial nail on the head. He was completely right to point out that societies need to redistribute the gains from trade and technology, and to educate and empower their citizens. We are going through a lost decade of earnings growth, as Carney highlights, and the crisis of productivity will not be solved without major government investment, backed up by an industrial strategy that can deliver growth.

Labour in government is committed to tackling the challenges of rising inequality, low wage growth, and driving up Britain’s productivity growth. But it is becoming clearer each day since Theresa May became Prime Minister that she, like her predecessor, has no credible solutions to the challenges our economy faces.

 

Crisis in Italy

The Italian people have decisively rejected the changes to their constitution proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with nearly 60 per cent voting No. The Italian economy has not grown for close to two decades. A succession of governments has attempted to introduce free-market policies, including slashing pensions and undermining rights at work, but these have had little impact.

Renzi wanted extra powers to push through more free-market reforms, but he has now resigned after encountering opposition from across the Italian political spectrum. The absence of growth has left Italian banks with €360bn of loans that are not being repaid. Usually, these debts would be written off, but Italian banks lack the reserves to be able to absorb the losses. They need outside assistance to survive.

 

Bail in or bail out

The oldest bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, needs €5bn before the end of the year if it is to avoid collapse. Renzi had arranged a financing deal but this is now under threat. Under new EU rules, governments are not allowed to bail out banks, like in the 2008 crisis. This is intended to protect taxpayers. Instead, bank investors are supposed to take a loss through a “bail-in”.

Unusually, however, Italian bank investors are not only big financial institutions such as insurance companies, but ordinary households. One-third of all Italian bank bonds are held by households, so a bail-in would hit them hard. And should Italy’s banks fail, the danger is that investors will pull money out of banks across Europe, causing further failures. British banks have been reducing their investments in Italy, but concerned UK regulators have asked recently for details of their exposure.

John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor


John McDonnell is Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and has been shadow chancellor since September 2015. 

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump