Brian Cox and Robin Ince to guest-edit the Christmas issue of the New Statesman

A special edition on evidence, out Wednesday 19 December.

Next week will see a special issue of the New Statesman, featuring contributions from Ricky Gervais, Alan Moore, Mark Gatiss, Phill Jupitus, Alexander McCall Smith, Ben Miller, Maggie Philbin, Laura Bates, Tom Humberstone, Natalie Haynes, Josie Long, Ralph Steadman, Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Mehdi Hasan, Jim Al-Khalili and an exclusive interview with David Attenborough.

Inside the 100-page double issue, Brian Cox and Robin Ince address the question of evidence – Why do we need it? How can we evaluate it?

They speak to some of the brightest thinkers in the world of science, investigate the year’s discoveries and bid farewell to Voyager-1 as it leaves the solar system. Inside, Mark Gatiss discusses ghost stories, Alexander McCall Smith writes a short story, Ralph Steadman draws the Large Hadron Collider and Alan Moore demolishes the very concept of evidence.

There are also cartoons from Phill Jupitus and Tom Humberstone, a galaxy of space images and faith leaders addressing the conflict between religious belief and science . . . and Ricky Gervais talking about atheism.

Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman, said:

“Brian and Robin will be familiar to millions as champions of science, through their join Radio 4 programme The Infinite Monkey Cage, and their separate endeavours. Robin’s Nine Lessons have become a Christmas institution, and Brian’s programmes have brought physics into the nation’s living rooms.

“As David Attenborough says in his interview with them, to be a full citizen in the modern world, it is vital to understand science and technology. We are delighted to devote a whole issue to the cause. This special issue is full of wonder and surprise.”

Robin Ince and Brian Cox said:

“One of the delights of working on Infinite Monkey Cage is the variety of ideas trawled through in the green room beforehand and the pub afterwards. 

“So when asked to hijack a magazine and fill it with our worldview and the views of others we like, obviously our monstrous egos demanded that we say yes.”

The issue will be on sale in London on Wednesday 19 December and in the rest of the country from Thursday 20 December. International buyers can obtain copies on our website at www.newstatesman.com. It will be on sale for two weeks, with the next issue out on Thursday, 3 January.

Other New Statesman guest editors have included Rowan Williams, Richard Dawkins, Jemima Khan, David Miliband and Ai Weiwei.

Brian Cox and Robin Ince. Photo: Muir Vidler for the New Statesman
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Leader: History is not written in stone

Statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political.

When a mishmash of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Trump supporters and private militias gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August – a rally that ended in the death of a counter-protester – the ostensible reason was the city’s proposal to remove a statue of a man named Robert E Lee.

Lee was a Confederate general who surrendered to Ulysses S Grant at the Appomattox Court House in 1865, in one of the last battles of the American Civil War – a war fought to ensure that Southern whites could continue to benefit from the forced, unpaid labour of black bodies. He died five years later. It might therefore seem surprising that the contested statue of him in Virginia was not commissioned until 1917.

That knowledge, however, is vital to understanding the current debate over such statues. When the “alt-right” – many of whom have been revealed as merely old-fashioned white supremacists – talk about rewriting history, they speak as if history were an objective record arising from an organic process. However, as the American journalist Vann R Newkirk II wrote on 22 August, “obelisks don’t grow from the soil, and stone men and iron horses are never built without purpose”. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that few Confederate statues were commissioned immediately after the end of the war; instead, they arose in reaction to advances such as the foundation of the NAACP in 1909 and the desegregation of schools in the 1950s and 1960s. These monuments represent not history but backlash.

That means these statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political. They were designed to promote the “Lost Cause” version of the Civil War, in which the conflict was driven by states’ rights rather than slavery. A similar rhetorical sleight of hand can be seen in the modern desire to keep them in place. The alt-right is unwilling to say that it wishes to retain monuments to white supremacy; instead, it claims to object to “history being rewritten”.

It seems trite to say: that is inevitable. Our understanding of the past is perpetually evolving and the hero of one era becomes a pariah in the next. Feminism, anti-colonialism, “people’s history” – all of these movements have questioned who we celebrate and whose stories we tell.

Across the world, statues have become the focus for this debate because they are visible, accessible and shape our experience of public space. There are currently 11 statues in Parliament Square – all of them male. (The suffragist Millicent Fawcett will join them soon, after a campaign led by Caroline Criado-Perez.) When a carving of a disabled artist, Alison Lapper, appeared on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, its sculptor, Marc Quinn, acknowledged its significance. “This square celebrates the courage of men in battle,” he said. “Alison’s life is a struggle to overcome much greater difficulties than many of the men we celebrate and commemorate here.”

There are valid reasons to keep statues to figures we would now rather forget. But we should acknowledge this is not a neutral choice. Tearing down our history, looking it in the face, trying to ignore it or render it unexceptional – all of these are political acts. 

The Brexit delusion

After the UK triggered Article 50 in March, the Brexiteers liked to boast that leaving the European Union would prove a simple task. The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, claimed that a new trade deal with the EU would be “one of the easiest in human history” to negotiate and could be agreed before the UK’s scheduled departure on 29 March 2019.

However, after the opening of the negotiations, and the loss of the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority, reality has reasserted itself. All cabinet ministers, including Mr Fox, now acknowledge that it will be impossible to achieve a new trade deal before Brexit. As such, we are told that a “transitional period” is essential.

Yet the government has merely replaced one delusion with another. As its recent position papers show, it hopes to leave institutions such as the customs union in 2019 but to preserve their benefits. An increasingly exasperated EU, unsurprisingly, retorts that is not an option. For Britain, “taking back control” will come at a cost. Only when the Brexiteers acknowledge this truth will the UK have the debate it so desperately needs. 

This article first appeared in the 24 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia